Kaia Sand | Central City Concern turned a hotel into accommodation

The Comfort Inn sign is now wrapped in black plastic, but many hotel amenities remain at River Haven, a housing program for people in early recovery run by Central City Concern.

The art of the hotel remains, like a photograph of the lobby of a kayak moored near the steel bridge. A sign that reads “guest laundromat” is still useful: now washers and dryers provide laundry service for residents of River Haven. The “pool rules” sign, on the other hand, will disappear: at a later stage, the pool will be filled and laid out in several rooms.

The upholstered furniture and wool carpeting of the old conference rooms that now host group meetings for those recovering still have a hotel feel.

And the approximately 30 residents of River Haven have private rooms equipped with hotel amenities. “I think it’s also a good thing that the hotel just left all of its beds, the coffee makers, the microwaves, the small refrigerators and the TVs,” the Central City Concern policy director told me. , Mercedes Elizald.

Residents of River Haven have private bathrooms with showers, another hotel perk often lacking in single-room buildings.

River Haven, a bright red and yellow building at Northeast 102nd Avenue and Sandy Blvd., is Portland’s only first-round site of the state-funded Project Turnkey program administered by the Oregon Community Foundation in late 2020. It provides a model for what local governments could also fund.

I visited a number of turnkey project sites: the Peace at Home site in Douglas County, the Coastal Phoenix Rising site in Lincoln City, Arches Inn in Salem, the Bridge Shelter program in Hillsboro. I walked past Operation Homefront in Klamath Falls.

There are also locations in Ashland, Bend, Corvallis, Forest Grove, McMinnville, Medford, North Bend, Pendleton and Redmond. In total, the first round of the turnkey project transformed 19 former hotels and motels into housing across the state for people coming out of homelessness. The legislature funded a runoff in February.

Every place I’ve been, I’ve noticed a similar trend: hotel amenities are well-suited to a fast-moving housing model. The hospitality industry is designed to be both welcoming and sustainable, qualities that are reflected in the provision of housing for people emerging from homelessness.

All of the sites I’ve visited have both housed people coming out of homelessness – due to the 2020 fires or otherwise – while offering particular niches. Peace at Home, for example, helps people escape violent situations. Phoenix Rising has provided a number of recovery rooms for people being discharged from hospitals who would otherwise return to homelessness. River Haven specializes in recovery.

“The overall vision is a stabilization program,” explained Joey Johns, associate director of supportive housing and reintegration programs at Central City Concern. If people are “struggling with addiction, homelessness, mental health, or whatever the scenario is, they come here, start the stabilization process, and work with case managers.”

Central City Concern has about half of the 70 hotel rooms filled, a phased rollout as they raise more operating funds and later renovate the building more. There is an additional parking lot where they could extend the accommodation.

The Native American Rehabilitation Program refers people to 15 of the chambers, as does Central City Concern’s Puentes Program, and each offers culture-specific models of recovery.

As I was walking through River Haven with Johns and Elizalde, we stopped at a kitchen where a resident was cooking mac and cheese.

Next, we caught up with River Haven case manager Ricco Mejia, who proudly described a woman who recently left the program and returned to her family. He described himself as a cheerleader for people’s recovery.

“We stay excited,” he said, “and just when we’re a little exhausted and a little tired, something happens that really energizes our spirit and our attitudes here.”

He began to describe how a person could transform destructive behaviors – “dangers”, as he put it – until they “became assets to their families and communities”.

His point of view was hard won.

“At one point, I was one of the biggest dangers Multnomah County had to face,” Mejia said with a smile. “I’ve done five (Central City Concern) programs and today they say I’m one of the best assets.”

The hotels are there, and so are the successful models. What is missing ? The political will.

As he spoke of this philosophy – that one person’s recovery can be healing not just for themselves but for a community – he began to apply it to the very building we were in.

Shelters and transitional housing can be NIMBY nightmares, after all. But Mejia sees it differently:

“One thing people don’t realize is how great a program like this can be,” he said. “It’s something that’s full of positivity, all these positive people trying to do positive things, isn’t it?”

It really struck me. Mejia is right. The transformation of these spaces is healing for society as a whole, not just for individuals.

Street Roots has been advocating for this kind of model since the early months of the pandemic, and it’s heartwarming to meet people who are, in fact, benefiting from it.

“We get people in pretty quickly here,” Elizalde said. “It’s great compared to what usually takes two or three years to put together.”

That’s the goal: people deserve to have safe, stable places to live as soon as possible, but over time, if purchased, those same properties can be developed for longer-term housing. . This is one of the main tenets of the 3000 Challenge campaign that Street Roots supports: rapidly opening up more housing for people experiencing homelessness, paired with services for those who need it.

There are many more hotels in Portland similar to River Haven: in good condition, with hotel amenities, accommodating 70-80 people. Some have parking lots which could be turned into accommodations later.

I have researched some of these properties with Elizalde, as well as Brandi Tuck of Portland Homeless Services, as we advocate for a turnkey portland inspired turnkey project.

The hotels are there, and so are the successful models. What is missing ? The political will.

Correction: An earlier version described this as the only turnkey project site in Multnomah County. There are two other sites in Multnomah County; it is the only site in Portland.

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Sandy A. Greer