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Corvallis officials unsure of nonprofit homeless shelter proposal

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A proposal to provide emergency shelter for the unhoused is on hold until Corvallis officials can get more information from Benton County.

With $1 million in funding designated by the Oregon Legislature, Corvallis put a call out for proposals to create new shelter or housing. Applications from Benton County and Unity Shelter are up for consideration.

However, neither application fully hit the mark on cost benefit, leading city staff to draft counterproposals for significantly less money in both cases. Before tabling the matter, the City Council discussed the county’s plan at a meeting Tuesday, Jan. 17.

What’s proposed isn’t ideal, conceded Brigetta Olson, Housing and Neighborhood Services manager. But she said people are suffering, and there’s not enough shelter or housing to get them off the streets in dangerous weather, hot or cold.

“Is this a viable solution that could be addressed intermittently until we can have a better solution?” Olson asked. “I think so.”

The city’s request for proposals paralleled one from the Benton County Health Department, seeking providers for emergency inclement weather shelter. There were no takers on the county request, according to Olson.

That allows the county to partner with the nonprofit Faith Hope and Charity on emergency cold weather sheltering in hotel rooms, Olson said. The Benton County Board of Commissioners approved a contract with FHC at its Jan. 3 meeting.

Based on experience during this winter’s ice storm, Olson said the need was calculated at 45 people for 34 nights at a cost of $133.97 a night per person — more than $200,000 overall. The county would put in $50,000 and Corvallis would provide $166,500 under the counterproposal.

The county’s original request was for $250,000 a year for one to three years, a cost of $227,964 per “full-time bed equivalent.” The city’s counter amounts to $44,726 per bed.

A question raised by Council President Tracey Yee regarded the county’s intent to contract the FHC nonprofit headed by Fred Edwards, who also owns a security company, Knight Vision, which would be hired as part of the deal. The company would provide security for four hours a night at $39 an hour.

Edwards was awarded the 2019 Robert C. Ingalls Business Person of the Year at the 70th Annual Celebrate Corvallis Awards.

Councilor Paul Shaffer pointed out that this would be a county program, but the city of Corvallis would foot the bulk of the bill. He said it feels like the city is being asked to do more than its share.

But Community Development Director Paul Bilotta said it’s hard to pick apart the “fair share” because of so many intermingled efforts, citing several examples.

The council voted unanimously to table the discussion until county staff is available for questions.

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Cody Mann covers the cities of Corvallis and Philomath. He can be contacted at 541-812-6113 or Cody.Mann@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter via @News_Mann_.

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Cody Mann is an experienced, relentless journalist, who is currently working as a local government news reporter for the Corvallis Gazette-Times. He earned journalism bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Oregon.

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