The Oregon State Capitol. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Salem city councilors hope the legislature will come through with millions to bridge a shortfall to construct a navigation center that would help homeless people move into housing.

The Oregon Legislature in May allocated $5 million to fund two years of the center’s operations, but there are millions more needed to cover additional costs that have increased because of fire and safety standards for sheltering, rising construction costs and supply chain issues, according to a city staff report provided to the council.

The center will be located at 1185 22nd St. S.E. in a building that’s being used for a warming shelter.

Eventually it’s meant to serve as short-term shelter for 35 to 40 people, where they can stabilize for two to four months until they get into housing.

The facility would be open 24 hours a day to help people with other more immediate basic needs, such as toilets or potable water.

Gretchen Bennett, the city’s homelessness liaison, told the city’s legislative committee on Dec. 10 that it could be upwards of $5.2 million to cover additional costs needed to convert the building.

She said that cost doesn’t include furniture or fixtures.

The legislative committee is comprised of Mayor Chuck Bennett and Councilors Tom Andersen, Chris Hoy and Jim Lewis.

At the meeting, Bennett said the navigation center needed to go to the top of the list of funding priorities.

He said they’ve alerted the federal government about the need and may seek other funding sources as well.

“We’re going to chase this one real hard,” he told committee members.

Bennett said because of the dynamic economy with construction and supply costs continuing to increase, they don’t what those prices will look like in six months to a year.

The Salem City Council on Monday also approved three other legislative priorities for the 2022 session which starts on Feb. 1 and runs for 35 days.

One is to construct a regional 911 center. The Willamette Valley Communications Center is currently in a leased building that isn’t built to current seismic standards, a city staff report said.

During the Dec. 10 legislative committee meeting, members put the cost at $12 million for a new building.

Hoy, who was recently appointed representative of House District 21, told committee members he introduced a legislative concept that would allow the city to use state property for microshelter sites. Microshelters are small buildings managed by a homeless service provider that are intended to serve as a stepping stone out of homelessness.

Lewis said the issue isn’t necessarily use of state property, but the time it takes to get approval. When the city was considering using a Park and Ride owned by the Oregon Department of Transportation off Wallace Road for a microshelter site, it determined it would take years to be allowed to use the property.

“It’s not that we can’t use the property… It’s just that it would take two to three years to get it accomplished. It should be taking two to three minutes to get it accomplished. That’s the crucial part,” he said during the meeting.

Hoy said his concept had that in mind.

The fourth item on the priority list was money to help restore Peace Plaza, in between Salem City Hall and the Salem Public Library, ahead of a 50th anniversary scheduled for Aug. 18. It would include work to restore the fountain, add greenspace and parking.

Courtney Knox Busch, Salem's strategic initiatives manager, told the legislative committee that project would cost about $1 million. 

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] 

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