The Benton County Board of Commissioners took another crack at the question of funding a men’s cold weather homeless shelter on Tuesday, although it won’t make a final decision until next week.
After ruling out any funding for the Housing Opportunities Action Council’s proposed Second Street site at an under-the-radar June 14 meeting that has raised questions about process and transparency, the commissioners backed away from that position and agreed to hear presentations on that location and two alternative sites.
More than 90 people crammed into the large meeting room of the county’s Sunset Building for Tuesday’s three-hour session, with more following the proceedings from the lobby.
The first order of business was to hear a 15-minute presentation from the champion of each location:
• Shawn Collins of HOAC is backing leased space at 545 SW Second St. that would house the men’s shelter along with the Stone Soup meal service and the Corvallis Daytime Drop-In Center.
• Developer and high-tech entrepreneur Rich Carone wants to use a building near Northeast Walnut Boulevard and Belvue Street as a temporary shelter this winter. He and an unnamed group of investors propose to build an 18,000-square-foot structure on the same 11-acre site that would house the shelter along with Stone Soup, the drop-in center and other amenities.
• Catherine Mater, an engineer and downtown property owner, proposes using the city-owned Flomatcher property on the east side of the Willamette River, in Linn County, as the site of a men’s cold weather shelter.
Carone and Mater, both major owners of property on the same block as the Second Street location, started promoting their alternatives after HOAC announced its plans for the downtown site in May.
Collins began his remarks by noting there are now just 114 days left before the shelter is supposed to open for the season Nov. 1.
He argued that housing Stone Soup and the drop-in center with the men’s shelter in a combined “Corvallis Service Center” downtown is the best way to serve the homeless in the area where they already congregate.
“We believe the Corvallis Service Center provides an opportunity to improve downtown livability,” he said.
Mater called the Flomatcher site (which Linn County officials have pledged to oppose) a “backup option” but praised the “natural buffer” of its isolated location as a good site for an emergency men’s shelter that does not screen for sobriety. The site would also allow for an on-site, enclosed smoking area, which would help keep clients from wandering into populated areas.
She said research shows shelters with those two factors have a much higher success rate than those that don’t and called the Second Street site’s lack of those factors “a formula for failure.”
Carone pointed out that while he does own property downtown, his largest holding is the Korvis Automation complex on Northeast Jack London Street, near his proposed shelter site. He said the site is just over 2 miles from downtown and argued the 11-acre property has room for lots of amenities, including a smoking area, pet area, gardens and bike parking. Eventually, he said, he’d like to see additional services such as managed camping and transitional housing.
“My opinion is we need to do an overall strategy here,” he said. “We keep focusing on the temporary winter shelter, which is 40 or 50 people, but there are about 1,000 homeless in the community.”
The commissioners grilled the three presenters on the merits of their plans, zeroing in on the Second Street and Belvue sites, which have emerged as the leading contenders.
Commissioner Anne Schuster drew gasps from the crowd when she prodded Collins on the Second Street site’s potential impact on downtown, saying “nobody wants this thing.”
And Carone got a similar reaction from some north side neighbors when he implied that Korvis Automation is the only development on Jack London Street, saying it’s “not a residential area.”
When the public got its turn to talk, the comments ran strongly in favor of the Second Street site and strongly against the Belvue location. Of the 18 people who spoke on the topic, none indicated strong support for the north side site and none said anything positive about the Flomatcher property.
Support for the downtown location came from the League of Women Voters, the elders of First Presbyterian Church, former City Councilor Jeanne Raymond and Sami Al-AbdRabbuh, vice chair of the Corvallis School Board, among others.
Opposition to the north side site came primarily from two sources: residents of the Regency Park Place retirement and assisted living facility and residents of the North Star Manufactured Housing Community, both near the proposed shelter on Northeast Jack London Street.
North Star manager Casey Hutchinson said he already has problems on a weekly basis with homeless campers who disturb his tenants.
“In our park, we have numerous seniors and lots of children,” he said. “When somebody says it’s not going to affect our community, it is going to affect our community.”
Rick Guthrie, a regional manager for Regency, said a homeless shelter that opened near another of the company’s properties “was a disaster,” generating crime and driving away residents.
“We have an obligation to provide … safety for our most vulnerable that we serve, and that is our seniors,” he said.
Several people suggested it might be best to utilize both sites, putting the men’s shelter, Stone Soup and the drop-in center on Southwest Second and using the larger Northeast Belvue property to build transitional housing.
“Use all locations to their potential and not just push people away, almost as if it was a Holocaust,” said Angela Stumbaugh, a former homeless person now living in transitional housing.
Max Mania, who’s running for the board seat that will be vacated by Schuster’s retirement, called out Schuster for her Facebook posts opposing the downtown location and said she should recuse herself from voting on shelter funding.
That comment earned Mania cheers from the crowd but drew a rebuke from Xan Augerot, the board’s chair, who said Schuster had the same right as anyone to express an opinion.
The commissioners did not vote on shelter funding at Tuesday’s meeting. They plan to make their decision at their regular noon meeting next Tuesday. The location for that meeting has yet to be determined.
The Corvallis City Council, meanwhile, is expected to make a decision Monday on how to award $60,000 in funding it has set aside for services to the homeless.