Ashley Hamilton, ARCHES program director, cuts the ribbon at the new ARCHES Inn. (Ardeshir Tabrizian/Salem Reporter)

A Salem motel turned emergency shelter is days away from opening rooms to people displaced by the Santiam Canyon wildfires.

The Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency acquired the former Super 8 building, and ARCHES program director Ashley Hamilton said they plan to have 24 rooms available by Dec. 13, serving up to 45 people.

Now called the ARCHES Inn, the building will expand around early 2022 to have more than 70 rooms available, said program manager Andrew Marshall. 

It will operate as a 90-day low barrier shelter. Those who stay at the shelter won’t undergo drug testing and entry is allowed no matter the sobriety level, but alcohol and drug use is not allowed on the premises, Hamilton said.

“At 90 days, we don't kick someone out, but the expectation is that progress is made toward finding stable housing and working through removing barriers to that,” Marshall said. 

Hamilton said they pre-selected 15 households to stay at the inn, referred to them by the Santiam Canyon Long-Term Recovery Group, a coalition of government, nonprofit and private organizations helping to rebuild the canyon.

No later than spring 2022, she said they will pivot from sheltering wildfire survivors to providing shelter more broadly to homeless people using the Mid-Willamette Valley Homeless Alliance’s coordinated entry system.

A room at the ARCHES Inn on Dec. 7, 2021 (Ardeshir Tabrizian/Salem Reporter)

It cost $5.95 million to buy the motel, most of which came from Project Turnkey, a $74.7 million allocation of funds from the state Legislature to buy hotels or motels to use as shelters in the short term, and more permanent housing in the long term.

The Oregon Community Foundation oversaw a competitive grant process, through which 19 projects around the state were awarded funding, said Megan Loeb, program officer for the foundation.

Hamilton said her agency has secured the first year of funding for operations, paid for with federal Covid relief funding. They intend to apply for federal reimbursement through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for operations in future years, she said.

The building’s continued remodeling, which will include a commercial kitchen, will come with state funds that state Sens. Peter Courtney and Deb Patterson lobbied to get from the Legislature. Both senators were in attendance and gave speeches at an opening ceremony for the ARCHES Inn Monday, along with Gov. Kate Brown and Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett.

Bennett told a crowd at the event that he lost two houses to the Santiam Canyon wildfires, one of which he’d had for 45 years.

“I feel real strongly about how important this is going to be to my old neighbors up in the canyon,” he said. “This project is a tangible step towards housing our most vulnerable community members and helping them achieve stability, wellness and financial independence … I hope you will be as convinced as I am that housing-first is how you get houseless people away from being houseless.”

The Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency is also partnering with Salem-based J.D. Health and Wellness Center to provide health care, including mental health services, at the shelter.

Eric Davis, director of J.D. Health and Wellness Center and a social worker, said their staff will be at the shelter during designated times. Patients who get established with their primary care and behavioral health services will then have 24/7 access to the center’s services.

The center provides similar services at Union Gospel Mission’s new men’s mission, which opened in July.

“What we’ve found in working with the mission is that 80% to 90% of the individuals who come into a setting like this struggle with some type of primary care or mental health concern,” Davis said. “By combining those together all in the same location, we're able to address those symptoms, address those concerns, together collaboratively, help reduce hospitalizations, help reduce some of the mental health symptoms. And as a result, we see an enhanced engagement with education and employment.”

“While they're here, at least they can get some brief crisis interventions or brief counseling, and then identify a long term treatment plan to address whatever those behavioral concerns might be,” he said.

PRIOR COVERAGE

Salem motel could become home for unhoused people under new program

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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