There is a new push to open a daytime drop-in center for the homeless in Astoria.
A group, headed by interfaith ministers Nelle Moffett and Rick Bowers, plans to present the seeds of an idea at a Lower Columbia Diversity Committee meeting Sunday afternoon.
The group is informal, made up in large part by people who have been participating in the city’s homelessness task force meetings, but who “wanted to see what action we could take,” Moffett said.
As sketched out in a draft proposal, the drop-in center would offer a one-stop shop to connect people to social services, as well as provide a safe place for people to socialize, rest and access amenities like showers, restrooms and storage lockers.
Moffett and Bowers, who are board members for the Astoria Warming Center, an emergency shelter, modeled the concept on a similar facility in Portland.
“We are at the beginning stages of defining the concept of what we want to create and vetting the concept with the community,” Moffett said.
The group has yet to apply for tax-exempt status or establish a formal board of directors.
Members include representatives from social service organizations, including Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare and Clatsop Community Action, as well as Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria.
Erin Carlsen, of Filling Empty Bellies, a nonprofit that provides lunch to anyone in need and offers other services to the homeless in Astoria, is involved with the group, along with Vernon Hall, a homeless advocate who was formerly homeless and served on the Filling Empty Bellies board.
Last year, Filling Empty Bellies made some headway toward opening a drop-in center, even partnering with an employment agency to lease property off state Highway 202.
But the nonprofit later learned the property owners faced foreclosure from Clatsop County for unpaid property taxes, throwing the future of the site in question. Plans to open the center stalled and, ultimately, did not proceed.
Moffett and Bowers’ group still has a long way to go. It will need to develop a business plan and secure formal commitments from partner agencies and social service organizations. They have yet to find a building and will need to consider fundraising strategies.
Moffett and Bowers have spoken to the city about where, and in what kinds of zones, a drop-in center could be located. There appear to be options in two types of commercial zones for a public access-type facility.
“Before we do any of those things, however, we need to ensure that there is support in the community,” Moffett said.
Moffett and Bowers have expressed frustration with some of the city’s decisions regarding the homeless — in particular a sweep of camps in the woods last year — and wanted to see the task force take on more concrete projects.
Former Mayor Arline LaMear has said a drop-in center is critical in addressing homelessness and it was something she would have liked to see established during her time as mayor. But she and other city leaders were doubtful that city resources could create and maintain a facility.
However, LaMear did believe the city could play an important role in supporting and advocating for the efforts of a group or organization interested in opening a drop-in center.