A new shelter and re-entry program for the homeless in Clatsop County could open in Uniontown as early as July.
Helping Hands, which runs similar facilities across four counties in Oregon from its base in Seaside, will not need to go through a conditional-use process with Astoria, Raven Brown, the nonprofit’s development director, announced Tuesday.
The city determined Helping Hands is taking the former Finnish boarding house on Marine Drive next door to Motel 6 back to its initial use, with the same number of units and parking spaces.
“That’s going to get us up and running a lot faster,” Brown told a city homeless solutions task force at the group’s third meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Helping Hands has a purchase agreement with Northwest Oregon Housing Authority, which owned the property. The sale was contingent on the nonprofit obtaining any necessary permits from the city to operate and on placing the four occupants of the building into housing.
Helping Hands has given the occupants up to 90 days to find new housing. All of the tenants except for one have housing vouchers and will be able to have their rent paid wherever they go, said Todd Johnston, executive director of the housing authority, earlier this month.
“The staff is actively working with landlords we have relationships with,” he said, adding, “We certainly don’t want to displace anybody.”
The old Uniontown Apartments do need some interior work before Helping Hands can be fully operational, but most of that work is cosmetic. Exterior work will be more substantial, however. Alan Evans, the nonprofit’s executive director, said this work can be tackled over time and does not need to be completed in order for Helping Hands to open its doors.
The organization works with people who are homeless to get them back on their feet with jobs, skills and permanent housing. People must be referred to the program by other groups and abide by strict requirements while enrolled. The nonprofit does not accept sex offenders. The Astoria location will allow Helping Hands to offer services in both the northern and southern portions of Clatsop County.
Helping Hands hopes to provide up to 70 beds in a dorm-style setting. Most of these beds would go to people enrolled in the nonprofit’s re-entry programs. Some of the beds will be set aside for emergency shelter.
Since Helping Hands announced it would be purchasing the building earlier this month, the nonprofit has faced some pushback, Evans said. He and Brown, along with community partners, plan to hold an informational community meeting in March, though a location has yet to be announced.
Comments on The Daily Astorian’s story online announcing the purchase were mixed. One commenter said they had “no problem with this. It is not a handout, it is a hand up.”
Diana Kirk, who purchased the Workers Tavern in Uniontown last summer, has said she was interested in buying the Uniontown Apartments property and turning it into affordable housing, but never got a chance to put in an offer. Online, she has commented that the shelter will not be good for the neighborhood.
“It’s good for the people that want to move homeless out of downtown,” she wrote.
Northwest Oregon Housing Authority and Helping Hands have collaborated in the past. The housing authority offered the property to the nonprofit first.