Purchase and citing of a total of 18 Pallet emergency shelters for the homeless was given the go ahead by The Dalles City Council in a 3 to 2 consensus at the regular Council meeting Dec. 14. Twelve additional shelters will be purchased and installed just west of the six shelters currently in place on city property along Bargeway Road.
Additional CARES Act funding already allotted by the city included $10,000 each for St. Vincent dePaul and Windy River Gleaners and $5,000 for Point Man Ministries, all of which provide immediate needs assistance in the city. Remaining funds, which must be spent by the end of December, will be used to compensate the city’s first responders, primarily the city’s police department. That amount was estimated to be about $250,000.
Councilor Darcy Long-Curtiss, who has been working on the emergency shelter project since its inception both as a council member and as a private citizen, said she was hoping to use some of the remaining CARES Act funding to max out available shelters at the city-owned site.
“I was hoping to use some of this funding for more shelters,” Long-Curtiss told the council. “We have to do this isolation (using shelters) because of COVID-19. We would like to use some of these funds to max out our shelter capacity.” She said the current site, which will be in place through March, has room for a total of 18 shelters. Six are currently in use, and an additional six already approved by the council. “There is room for 18, it’s laid out that way. The waiting list is very long,” she said.
She said St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was purchasing a shelter unit as well, so five additional units, for a total of 18, would max out the site.
Public Works Director Dave Anderson noted that although the city had accounted for additional units, the Pallet shelters required more electricity than anticipated and the current wiring would only serve about 12 units in total. The current power service drop cost about $6,000, and expanding for 18 units would cost about the same. “PUD donated all their work,” he added.
Long-Curtiss responded that funds were available to cover that cost, and would not need to be provided by the city. The project is working with the YWCA of greater Portland, a registered non-profit serving as a fiscal sponsor. “They handle a lot of Federal funds, they do this for a lot of projects, so they don’t have to become a 501c3 organizations,” she said. Donations can be drawn from as needed, she explained.
Councilor Timothy McGlothlin noted he had concerns in regards to funding and having 18 units on site. “This might pull funding from our first responders,” he noted. “And when you compress 36 people within a small, confined areas, I have concerns as to the capacity of the area. Are they going to spread COVID with that kind of capacity? We are responsible for making a safe environment,” he said.
Long-Curtiss responded that she has been in discussions regarding that with shelter providers and employees around the state, as well as local agencies. “All the shelters are more than six feet apart, and we encourage them to sleep head-to-foot. Its a close-knit community, they are already hanging out together. Other communities have much larger programs than we have,” she said.
Councilor Rod Runyon noted that because the funds are COVID funds, not city funds, the city manager could spend them without council approval. He added, however, that he was concerned the project was attracting homeless people to the area. “All of a sudden, we are having more people coming for these services, new faces. I’m fine with 18, but no more than that,” he said.
Long-Curtiss said it was true there were many new faces. “In regards to all the new faces, it is true that our homeless population has expanded,” she said. “There are a lot of new faces that I didn’t even know. But in talking to the referring agencies, I am discovering that these are people who are from The Dalles, even long-term residents, who have lost their jobs recently during this COVID time.
“I am not accepting people who are not from The Dalles, because the council was very clear they did not want that,” she added. “Everybody is already known by me, the police department, St. Vincent dePaul or one of the referring agencies, to verify they really are residents of The Dalles.”
Councilor Linda Miller noted she had heard derogatory comments regarding the project from businesses in the area, specifically a restaurant west of the project site.
Long-Curtiss said she had heard those complaints but questioned their accuracy. “That restaurant is .4 miles away. There are portable toilets at the project site, why would anyone walk that far to use the toilet when there is one right there?” An encampment near the restaurant had been removed prior to the project being established, she added.
Long-Curtiss noted the city would not be on the hook for any funding beyond that used to purchase the final units. “This is a stand-alone program. I needed the city to help with the space. The city is not on the hook to make up any difference, they are just a piece of the funding, I’m not asking for anything else. Just for the COVID funding for the additional units and permission to put them up.”
Ownership of units purchased by the city will be transferred to the Mid-Columbia Community Action Council. Units will remain in place through March.
With a majority of the council supporting the CARES Act funding for the additional units, the project will move forward.