New state-funded homeless shelter opening in former Salem hotel

One of the first homeless shelters created by a $50 million investment the Oregon Legislature made last spring is set to open soon in northeast Salem with rooms for about 100 people. 

The ARCHES Lodge, in a former hotel in northeast Salem, is among the first projects that received funding from the 2022 iteration of Project Turnkey, a state program launched in 2020 that helps pay to turn unused hotels and motels into shelters. The idea is to give people a temporary place to stay so that they can find stable housing.

Gov. Tina Kotek, local elected officials and nonprofit leaders huddled under the former hotel’s veranda for speeches and a ceremonial ribbon cutting during a brief break from the rain that has blanketed the Willamette Valley for months.

At least 1,800 people were homeless in Marion and Polk counties, the two counties that include Salem, on a single night in January 2022. Fewer than 700 were in shelters, while many slept in cars or on city sidewalks and parks. 

About 18,000 people are homeless statewide, and about 62% of homeless Oregonians lack shelter. Lawmakers have allocated nearly $125 million since 2020 to build more shelters through Project Turnkey, creating nearly 900 new beds. 

The Arches Lodge is the capital city’s third shelter built with funds from Project Turnkey, and Mayor Chris Hoy wants to do more. When Clackamas County reversed course last month on using state money to purchase a motel for a shelter, Hoy tweeted at Kotek that Salem would happily take the money. 

“We are committed to ending homelessness here in Salem,” he said Wednesday. “People have been dying on our streets, but because of projects like these we are ending it.” 

Kotek added that Salem’s work to reduce homelessness in the past has been “absolutely phenomenal” and that she’ll work with community leaders to find more money for homeless shelters, social service programs and housing. 

“I can’t wait to see the next project,” she said. “I know you probably don’t want to have me say that, but we have to continue to serve people from beds here to the navigation center to the work on the streets.” 

The shelter is in over the former Capital Inn and Suites next to Interstate 5 in northeast Salem. The hotel first opened in 1988 under the name Oasis, and stubby palm trees still fan the entrance. 

Inside, it still closely resembles a hotel. It didn’t take much work to turn into a functioning shelter, said Ashley Hamilton, chief program officer for the ARCHES project. The building had new windows, flooring, heating and ventilation and an elevator when the agency purchased it last month, so renovations mostly involved work on the facade, cleaning and fixing the on-site laundry. 

It has both standard rooms and rooms designed to be accessible for people who use wheelchairs or otherwise have limited mobility. People will have their own rooms with locking doors and in-room bathrooms and kitchenettes. 

“One of the more humanistic aspects of a Project Turnkey is that door,” Hamilton told the Capital Chronicle. “When you live a life of homelessness, it’s incredibly traumatic. The bulk of individuals who go into a homeless experience will be victimized on some level within the first 48 hours. You just have this heightened state of fear and anxiety and lack of safety.”

Shelter for veterans

The shelter’s target demographics are veterans and people with acute health needs, including unsheltered people being released from clinics or emergency rooms. Many homeless veterans tend to be older and may have been living on the streets for years or decades, Hamilton said. While the end goal of shelters for younger people and families is to get into permanent housing, the goal for older homeless people may be to gain public funding to move into nursing homes or assisted-living facilities where they can continue to receive care they need. 

The shelter will have staff on site at all times and offer programs including addiction treatment and mental health treatment, as well as help getting residents medical care, job training and opportunities to move into permanent affordable housing. 

People won’t be required to participate in services, but Hamilton said she expects most will. ARCHES opened a similar shelter with Project Turnkey funds in northeast Salem in December 2021, and 87% of the people who have stayed there chose to participate in onsite services. 

It’s a low-barrier shelter, meaning people don’t need to pass drug tests or stay sober to receive shelter, though they can’t use drugs or alcohol on site. People can also keep their pets and stay with their partners, two things that keep many homeless people from seeking services in more traditional shelters that often prohibit pets or are gender specific. 

Project Turnkey began in 2020 with a $65 million allocation to turn 19 unused hotels and motels across the state into shelters. Lawmakers added another $10 million in 2021 for three more shelters and appropriated $50 million last spring for another dozen shelters. 

Other projects announced this year include a 69-bed shelter in Lincoln City, which received nearly $1 million in January to finish renovating a building donated by the city. When it opens later this spring, the Lincoln City HOPE Center at the LeRoy Benham campus will include space for 55 people in dormitory style rooms with three or four people per room, as well as two rooms for families with children and at least a dozen emergency beds for people entering the shelter.

Clatsop County in March received $2.8 million to buy and renovate a hotel in downtown Astoria that will provide 22 rooms. The Mid-Columbia Community Action Council received $4.2 million to turn a hotel in The Dalles into a shelter for 15 families with children and at least 30 other adults experiencing chronic homelessness. 

Last month, the Legislature approved and Kotek signed laws allocating $200 million for housing and homelessness, including money to add at least 600 new shelter beds in urban areas and 100 new beds in rural Oregon. The shelter funding isn’t specific to Project Turnkey, though counties may use hotels and motels to meet their bed goals. 

Andrea Bell, executive director of Oregon Housing and Community Services, described Kotek’s goals of building hundreds more shelter beds and helping at least 1,200 people move into permanent homes by January 2024 as aggressive, but achievable. 

“We don’t accept homelessness as a fact of life,” she said. “We don’t accept that housing instability has to be.” 

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Julia Shumway is deputy editor of Oregon Capital Chronicle and has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.