After taking considerable heat for withdrawing financial support for a seasonal men’s homeless shelter in downtown Corvallis, the Benton County Board of Commissioners announced it would consider funding the shelter at a range of possible locations — including the downtown site.
At its monthly “information sharing” meeting on Tuesday, the board announced it would hold a special meeting to discuss the issue at noon on July 10 in the county boardrooms, 205 NW Fifth St. in Corvallis. Board members said they would invite presentations from supporters of the downtown location as well as backers of possible alternate sites.
The commissioners caused a stir when the Gazette-Times reported they had decided to withhold $60,000 from the men’s cold weather shelter because of objections from some downtown business and property owners to the shelter’s proposed new location at 545 S.W. Second St. The June 14 meeting where the decision was made was not attended by any member of the public, and the topic of shelter funding was not included on the published agenda.
At Tuesday’s meeting the commissioners offered assurances that they support services for the homeless but said they want to make sure all viable options for a shelter are considered before deciding whether to award funding.
“We’ve gotten a lot of feedback on that (funding decision), both positive and negative,” Chair Xan Augerot said. “And I think we want to have a more informed discussion.”
Commissioner Anne Shuster, who co-chairs the Housing Opportunities Action Council, the coalition of nonprofits and government agencies working to address homelessness in the area, said the board has gotten a bad rap for the decision to withhold funds from the Second Street shelter.
“I think some people have interpreted the fact that we held off on the 60,000 as we’re not supporting the issue, and that’s not true,” she said. The commissioners’ intent, she said, was “to just slow things down and have a better conversation.”
However, she added, “I do think there is a better location than the Second Street site,” although she said she was not at liberty to discuss specific alternative locations.
Commissioner Annabelle Jaramillo said that “there are good arguments on both sides of the issue” and expressed frustration that possible shelter locations continue to be a subject of controversy every year.
“I just want to make sure at some point in time we have a discussion for a long-term solution,” she said.
That prompted a response from Shawn Collins, project manager for the Housing Opportunities Action Council, who was sitting in the audience.
“Just to be clear,” he said, “the proposal for Second Street is a long-term solution.”
Seven people spoke during the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting. All of them expressed their support for the men’s cold weather shelter and urged the commissioners not to discount the Second Street site as a viable location.
One of those who spoke was Corvallis Mayor Biff Traber, the other co-chair of the Housing Opportunities Action Council. Speaking with a reporter after the meeting, he summarized his comments this way:
“I expressed my disappointment in their process and their extreme decision,” Traber said. “They could have offered their opinions about the Second Street site rather than completely unfund it.”
The city has included $60,000 for shelter operations in its budget but has not yet allocated the funds. The Corvallis City Council is scheduled to hear presentations on possible alternative locations at its July 2 meeting.