City to explore new homeless shelter site

The old Covered Bridge Church of the Nazarene has been proposed as a potential alternative homeless shelter site.

Eyes have turned to a new potential homeless shelter site following a Cottage Grove City Council meeting on June 13.

In the ongoing debate about how to address homelessness in Cottage Grove, the city council, city staff and the public have been grappling with how to respond to the local homelessness situation since lengthy council discussion sessions began in February this year.

Last week, the council directed city staff to explore the possible purchase and development of a site at 152 South M Street, property which is home to the old Covered Bridge Church of the Nazarene. The church is no longer in service and the property is currently for sale.

After some discussion at the June 13 meeting, the council voted unanimously to bring a floating motion back to the table and amend it to refocus attention on the alternative property.

The council had previously voted to
begin development on a proposed Highway 99 site to create a low-barrier shelter with wraparound services. However, the council subsequently backtracked on the decision following a reconsideration put forward by Councilor Chalice Savage, who had initially voted in favor of the motion.

Due to various turns the item had taken in council meetings, the city council opted to suspend council rules on May 23 in order to “keep the conversation going” and postpone voting on the Hwy 99 site proposal. The council unsuspended those rules last Monday to bring that motion back on the table with an amendment to explore the Church of the Nazarene site.

The most recent vote does not commit the city to begin development nor to purchase the site as the direction was purely exploratory in regard to pricing and potential grant funding for the project. The vote does, however, take the Hwy 99 site proposal off the table for the time being, and a complete restart of the process would now be required to revisit that option.

Meanwhile, a process of hearing solutions from the public is still underway. In a June 6 work session, the council agreed to receive proposals from community organizations to consider solutions to homelessness. The decision stemmed from a desire from some councilors to explore alternatives to the Hwy 99 site option.

That public meeting is scheduled for July 18 at 6 p.m.

The latest alternative option of the Church of the Nazarene site came up during the “Concerns from Council” portion of the June 13 city council meeting and was not an agenda item.

Councilor Savage raised the topic. “I have been trying to think outside the box and come up with different ideas,” she said. In the process, she came across the South M Street site and brought it to city staff. It was her subsequent motion to explore the option which resulted in the vote.

The Site

The roughly 1.25-acre site poses a potential solution to the council’s stalemate on the issue as it is bigger than the half-acre Hwy 99 site and thus holds more potential for various services. The building itself is 7,900 square feet, also substantially larger than the structure at the proposed Hwy 99 site. 

The property’s realtor has quoted a price of $895,000, but City Manager Richard Meyers has said the city would make a lower offer if it were to move forward with the idea.

The site is about a five-minute walk from local services South Lane Mental Health and Community Sharing, though on the opposite side of Main Street.

One commonly expressed concern around the Hwy 99 site project was its location, sitting on the outskirts of town, far from services, on a road dangerous to travel by foot, and its proximity to concerned businesses and the Cottage Grove High School.

While the new church site option is closer to services, it is in a mostly residential area, which may bring a new host of concerns to be navigated should the idea move forward.

In a discussion with The Sentinel, Meyers said that the site could potentially house multiple levels of shelter management such as low-, middle- and high-barrier facilities.

The spacious parking lot, for example, could be used for low-barrier entrants while land in the back of the building could be used to house people capable of sustaining more long-term housing situations. All housing facilities would act as transitional stepping stones toward more permanent housing, Meyers said, though he pointed out it was too early to make definite project plans.

Council Discussion

The council’s decision to explore the new site as an option was in part informed by the time sensitivity around grant funding.

An American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) community grant is currently available, with a July 6 deadline. Grant awards range from $10,000 to $500,000 and are focusing on rural communities and their local programs. Some $3.3 million is available, but the grant is expected to be competitive.

If the city does not successfully get the grant, the Church of the Nazarene site proposal may fall by the wayside and Cottage Grove would be back to reconsidering other options.

The grant can be turned down if the award amount is insufficient to accomplish the intended project. It would also have to come through the city council for approval.

Meyers said the city would likely apply for the maximum award of $500,000.

Councilor Kenneth Roberts said he had toured the site and was encouraged by what he saw.

“I’ve been talking about having a program that is bold and different,” he said. “I look at that property and I think we can almost emulate what the Eugene Mission does and have low, medium and high barrier all under one …  I think there’s enough room on that property to do that.”

However, not all councilors had had a chance to tour the site before last Monday’s council meeting.

Councilor Candace Solesbee expressed concern because that night was the first she had heard of the option.

“I am frustrated with this process and I’ve been saying this all along,” she said. “I feel blindsided every time. And that’s what is upsetting to me. … It’s strange to me the way we’re doing this.”

Councilor Jon Stinnett echoed the concern that the proposal of this new site seemed sudden.

Councilor Mike Fleck clarified that the motion would not commit the city to move forward with any project, adding that his understanding was that “if we don’t take some action on this, we lose out on a chance for a piece of property. But we’re not actually making any decisions beyond that we want to explore trying to purchase this piece of property.”

Meyers continued, “It gives us the opportunity to start finding out what we can get, make a grant application to see if we can secure funding to get the property, and that’s it.”

Meyers said he felt that Cottage Grove has “a pretty good chance” of being awarded the ARPA grant.

Councilor Roberts repeated his approval of exploring the site, citing the need to find a solution soon in light of a looming recession.

“We’re going to be seeing a lot more people needing help in our community. I think we need to be ready for that,” he said. “And that’s why I’ve been saying we need a program that can deal with low, medium and high — so we can put these people into the proper type of thing they need to rehouse themselves, because everybody is different. You can’t just have one program. And I just think that this site gives us that best opportunity.”

City staff are planning to bring more information regarding the property price and grant opportunities to the council at its June 27 meeting.

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