Cold shelters open for homeless in Deschutes County

Homeless people line up to receive dinner at the Bethlehem Inn in Bend in January 2013.

Bethlehem Inn, a homeless shelter based in Bend, hopes to expand to Redmond with the help of a grant.

The homeless shelter aims to submit a grant application to the Oregon Community Foundation through a program called Project Turnkey. The state Legislature recently allocated $35 million for local governments or nonprofit organizations to buy hotels and set up homeless shelters. The program was originally established to set up shelters for people displaced by wildfires this summer.

The city of Bend announced its intention to apply for money from the same program last week.

Gwenn Wysling, the executive director of Bethlehem Inn, said it was important to seize on the opportunity, especially as economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to ripple through the community.

“The funding really couldn’t come at a better time,” Wysling said

Wysling said the board of directors of the shelter was already looking into expanding before Project Turnkey was a reality, and Redmond was one of the cities on the list.

Receiving the grant would help expedite the process, Wysling said.

Wysling said Bethlehem Inn isn’t applying for a specific amount, and has not identified a property yet. The board would hope to make decisions about facility location by the end of the year, she said.

The shelter would operate the same as the one in Bend, Wysling said, which is considered a “high-barrier” shelter. This means someone would have to be able to pass a drug and alcohol test and not be a registered sex offender to be admitted to the shelter.

Wysling said she knows the process will be competitive, especially as there will be high demand in bigger cities.

“But we’re becoming that,” she said.

Bethlehem Inn also already has the experience of buying a hotel and turning it into a shelter — that’s how its current Bend campus was developed.

The grant would cover the cost of buying the hotel and some initial operations, but Wysling said Bethlehem Inn would look to the community, business and public agencies to help support the shelter long term.

“Our safety net is a strong one in this region, and we all want to make certain that these endeavors are successful,” she said.

Redmond City Manager Keith Witcosky said the city is working with the shelter on the application process, and intends to help support the shelter if it is awarded grant money.

“Homelessness is a big problem in Central Oregon,” Witcosky said. “We’ve been talking with Bend and Deschutes County for quite awhile about how to tackle this regionally.”

Witcosky said while he knows Bend is where most of the homeless-related services are, Redmond also has a growing homeless population to serve.

“Our council and this city needs to try to move the ball forward as well,” he said.

Reporter: 541-633-2160,

bvisser@bendbulletin.com

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