Following a nearly monthlong delay, Clatsop County will create a fund to help the homeless.
In a 4-1 vote Wednesday, county commissioners approved an idea to sell a 14-acre parcel in Hammond that could bring in more than $500,000. About 12 percent of the revenue from the sale could be used to establish the homelessness fund.
Though the county has the 19th-largest population in the state, it has fifth-largest homeless population, according to 2017 statistics from Clatsop Community Action, a nonprofit that helps people find resources like housing.
“Currently financial resources are lacking to address either short or long-term strategies to reduce homelessness,” County Manager Cameron Moore wrote in a summary presented to commissioners. “Clatsop County has an obligation to support and assist in addressing community needs such as homelessness with whatever resources we can make available.”
Moore said, for instance, that money from the fund could go toward a new homeless shelter and re-entry program in a former Uniontown boarding house, which may hold up to 70 people. Helping Hands, a nonprofit that works with homeless people, recently bought the boarding house and plans to remodel it at an estimated $350,000 price tag.
“I think we can really make this a community effort to try to address homelessness,” Moore said.
Commissioners, in a 2-2 vote, rejected the idea when it was first presented at an April meeting. Commissioner Lisa Clement, who was absent for the April meeting, voted in favor of the proposal Wednesday.
Commissioners Lianne Thompson and Kathleen Sullivan voted “no” in April, asking for more time to discuss specifics about the fund, such as which organizations will receive money. Thompson reversed her vote Wednesday, while Sullivan maintained that the issue has still not been adequately discussed.
Moore said it didn’t seem prudent to discuss specific policies about how to manage the fund until it was established.
“I think that, to me, would be the next step,” Moore said. “If you indicated interest in moving forward with that, clearly you have to have to develop guidelines and policies, you know, regarding what types of projects you would fund and not fund.”
While no policies have been documented on paper, commissioners have already directed staff to address homelessness, Commissioner Sarah Nebeker said.
“What I see is that the county manager and staff have worked to help us begin setting up this fund and policies that will benefit our community,” Nebeker said. “I don’t think we have to have everything perfect in order to do something good, and I think this is good.”
But Sullivan reiterated that commissioners should develop written policies for the fund first. She introduced a separate motion — which failed — to require specific discussion and documentation of those policies.
“OK, so we’re establishing a fund that hasn’t been defined yet,” Sullivan said just before the final votes to establish the homelessness fund were counted. “Just making that clear.”