Arrangements have been made to transport Lincoln City’s homeless to Newport in cold-weather situations and temporarily house them at Grace Wins Haven at the County Fairgrounds.
According to a recent email obtained by Homepage, Lincoln City City Manager Ron Chandler has informed Lincoln City Warming Shelter President Patrick Alexander that those needing temporary overnight housing will be bused 30 miles south to Newport under an agreement to purchase vouchers from Lincoln County Transit.
“The Lincoln City Warming Shelter believes that busing can only be considered as a short-term stopgap measure while a local shelter site is worked out,” Alexander said.
Chandler has scheduled two “neighborhood meetings” this week to discuss overnight housing in the Taft area – 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 20, at the Driftwood Public Library, and 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 21, at the North Lincoln County Historical Museum.
“Please note that this is not a City Council meeting nor is it a public hearing. It’s an opportunity for me to meet with the people that live and work in Taft and provide the Council with information,” Chandler said.
“We encourage anyone interested to attend and have their say,” Alexander said.
In the email, Chandler said the arrangements with Grace Wins Haven and Alexander’s desire to use the emergency powers of the City to use Taft Hall or First Baptist Church in Lincoln City won’t solve the shelter’s long-term problems.
“If you want to permanently remain in Taft Hall or permanently move to the First Baptist Church you should apply to the City to change the zoning ordinance to allow this use as a permitted or conditional use,” he said.
Meanwhile, volunteers will be needed to assist in the care and travel of Lincoln City patrons, Traci Flowers, of Grace Wins Haven, said. The last stop of the bus route is located across the street from the Fairgrounds.
In email correspondence with the City Council prior to Chandler’s announcement, Alexander said the transportation plan would mark the first time he could recall in his 12 years in Lincoln City that officials have moved in favor of centralized services in Newport as opposed to locally provided services in North County.
“In speaking with the organizer of the Newport shelter, I have learned that while the fairgrounds has ample space for people to sleep, it does not have sufficient cots or volunteers to handle an increase of as many as 40 additional clients each night,” he said.
Alexander also warned that some volunteers might be able to make the trip to Newport, but that road conditions are likely to be poor and many might not feel safe making the trip. Questions have also been posed in regards to transporting clients’ belongings and possibly their pets.
Alexander also pointed out that the fairgrounds are unavailable as a shelter on Friday nights, when it moves to a smaller alternate site due to a standing booking.
“Whether that alternate premises could handle an influx of North County clients remains unclear,” he said.
Alexander also said the Newport shelter has a lower temperature trigger than the below 40-degree mark his operation utilizes and shared other concerns:
“The opening criteria could leave homeless clients unsheltered on nights as cold at 33 degrees,” he said. “Our group believes that is unacceptable, especially when there are suitable premises to provide a higher level of care right here in Lincoln City, complete with a dedicated pool of volunteers who have a proven track record of operating a shelter in a safe manner.
“Busing homeless people to Newport also has the side effect of making their already hectic lives even more stressful. It is a little-known fact that many of the people who stay overnight in our shelter have jobs to get to in the morning. Forcing them to commute back from Newport to get to work adds an unnecessary complication to their day. Even our clients who are unemployed have hectic lives as they try to get to appointments and fulfill personal obligations while relying on public transport and often carrying all their belongings with them.
“The city’s internal debate about what constitutes ‘Accessory Use’ presented our group with a moving target as we sought permission to operate this year. Our group worked in good faith in accordance with the guidance presented to us. Since that guidance changed in September, we have tried to adjust our strategy accordingly, presenting alternate premises for consideration as a shelter and trying without success to find a new home within a commercial or industrial zone in order to pursue a ‘Conditional Use’ permit.
“The failure of these efforts should not be used to justify a policy of busing, with all the associated shortcomings laid out above.
“Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, our group does not feel busing homeless people to Newport represents the community values of Lincoln City, especially in light of Council’s admirable actions in recent years to triple its funding for nonprofit groups that largely work to provide comfort to this vulnerable population.”