After eight years of serving Central Oregon as the area’s largest emergency shelter — first out of local churches and then out of a temporary site on the Deschutes County Public Safety Campus – the Bethlehem Inn finally has a permanent home thanks to a partnership with the City of Bend and Deschutes County.
The Bethlehem Inn will purchase the former Econo Lodge site at 3705 N. Hwy. 97 and anticipates opening by early August. However, securing the property’s purchase price of $2.5 million will require a lot of fundraising, as will a collaboration with the City of Bend and Deschutes County.
The Bend City Council expects to award approximately $230,000 in Community Development Block Grant Funds to the Inn for use as a down payment to purchase the site. The Deschutes County Board of Commissioners will assist with the down payment, as well as facilitate the purchase and seek additional public funding to support acquisition.
Jen Rusk, board president for the Bethlehem Inn, said the need for emergency shelter, job skills training and case management services has increased every year. Recent statistics show that approximately 2,000 people are without shelter on any given night throughout Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties – more than a 50 percent increase over last year.
“As more people came to us for help, we realized we need a permanent place,” Rusk said. “Deschutes County offered to provide a building, beds, dining hall and offices while we searched for a more permanent solution. Our search for a permanent facility took much longer than we anticipated. At site after site we learned things wouldn’t work out for one reason or another.”
After county officials made a decision to reopen the public safety campus, it became apparent that time was up for the Bethlehem Inn’s temporary solution and the search took on a new urgency. Rusk said they are elated to have finally found a permanent home, especially one that is close to public transportation and job opportunities.
With three buildings already on the site and a modular to be moved in, the Inn will be able to offer more services. In the first 90 days the shelter will offer space to 12 emergency housing clients and 24 transitional housing clients, as well as provide six family units at 63323 NW Britta. After the first three months housing will be increased to offer shelter to 24 emergency clients and 36 transitional clients.
“We couldn’t be more pleased about this project and partnership,” Rusk said.
Bend Mayor Bruce Abernethy said finding the Inn a new home has taken many months and a lot of hard work by many people.
“As someone who has had a chance to tour through the Vista Bethlehem Inn and has been involved with the issue of affordable housing from its conception as a rotating homeless shelter, It’s really a very exciting time for me,” he said. “The Bethlehem Inn is an incredibly valuable resource to our community because it’s a primary provider of emergency services such as housing, food and focused case management for the homeless of Central Oregon.”
Abernethy said he is glad so many people were willing to work together to make this happen.
“One thing I’m particularly proud of is our ability to advocate together to form this partnership to leverage the resources to assist Bethlehem Inn at providing a roof over people’s heads and a warm meal.”
Deschutes County Commissioner Mike Daly said once it was apparent the Inn could not continue to stay on the public safety campus, he knew it was up to the county to help.
“As temporary landlords, it would have been easy for Deschutes County to walk away from the situation, leaving the Bethlehem Inn to find its own solution,” he said. “But it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do. Homelessness is a community problem and we knew we had the resources to help.”
Daly said the county has already secured $30,000 from the Central Oregon Community Investment Board to help fund the shelter.
“Helping those among us who are less fortunate is a responsibility of local governments,” he said. “But local governments work best when we are working with others in the community. The partnership between Deschutes County, the City of Bend and the Bethlehem Inn is a great example of how cooperation can get the job done.”