Community

Springfield council considers pallet warming shelters

EMMA ROUTLEY/FILE PHOTO

Pallet warming shelters were opened in Cottage Grove for several nights this winter.

SPRINGFIELD – Looking for a solution to slow the spread of the coronavirus among the unhoused, the City of Springfield is considering setting up pallet shelters.

Lane County is partnering with cities, property owners and service providers to provide non-congregate temporary housing options for the unhoused. County staff will set up pallet shelters in small settings with basic services, and under Springfield’s existing emergency declaration, upon request, the City’s community development coordinator Tom Boyatt could do the same.

The program would come at no cost to the City, said Erin Fifield, community development analyst, at this week’s council meeting. The county is using federal and state COVID-19 response money to pay for the program, and will also contract and pay for basic services. Additional site preparation costs services would be borne by the property owner.  

The county last year purchased 120 temporary pallet shelters to place them in small groupings throughout Lane as needed. These shelters can be set up in an hour, moved and reused. They come in two sizes – one that sleeps two and one that sleeps four. 

Other cities already have these shelters in place, including Cottage Grove, Veneta, Eugene and Florence. Creswell city manager Michelle Amberg said the county has not pitched these shelters to Creswell. 

Local property owners who want to host pallet shelters and participate in this project must obtain approval from Boyatt, and affordable housing-developer Mainstream Housing, Inc., is already seeking city approval to place pallet shelters on its vacant parcel, Fifield said. 

It has plans to develop a 1-acre lot with new affordable housing off South 42nd Street; in the meantime, they are volunteering it as a pallet shelter site, Fifield said. She noted that they are preparing the site for long-term development and want to house both families experiencing homelessness and unhoused clients they serve with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

A key component of Lane County’s program is services and management, Fifield said. Property owners agree on having shelters on their property, and designated providers manage the shelter and its clients. 

Those providers are also in charge of enforcing COVID-19 safety protocols in addition to other shelter rules. 

“The program is also connecting folks to basic services, like making sure sanitation is on site, and connecting the unhoused to permanent affordable housing opportunities,” she said. 

At minimum, the County’s intent is that basic services must be provided for the duration of an individual’s stay. 

Council president Joe Pishioneri noted that some Mainstream Housing neighbors are concerned about building permanent bathrooms on its property for this project, and asked if this means permanent sewer lines will need to be installed. 

Fifield said that Mainstream Housing will be at an upcoming meeting to discuss developmental issues to present its plants for permanent housing and logistics around sewer structure. Fifield said Mainstream wants permanent bathrooms because it would be better for both neighbors and clients; however, are willing to put up temporary porta potties if it sped up the process. 

Councilor Marilee Woodrow asked what kind of transition would be needed from pallet shelters to permanent housing. 

“I don’t think that’s been answered, Fifield said. “Throughout the region right now there is a need that folks are looking to solve, and in some ways, they’re saying, ‘We’ll address other issues later.’”

“This is the latest and the greatest, and we’re starting to see these happen. My concern is that we put so much energy and time into the quick latest in the greatest and we’re not also still making a plan for more substantial housing for people,” councilor Kori Rodley said. “I am concerned about how we make sure that what we’re looking at is going to create stable housing.”

The City’s allowance for this type of project exists under its emergency declaration for COVID-19. Project authorization would end when the city is no longer operating under the emergency declaration.

EMMA ROUTLEY/FILE PHOTO

The pallet warming shelters come in two sizes – one equipped for two people and one that accommodates four persons.

The County’s timeline for this project is through December 2021. However, the County can continue to loan out the pallet shelters for the unhoused if the interest and need is there. Depending how this pilot project goes, “Lane county is willing and open to it, depending on how this pilot project goes, the relationship with the property owners, and if they are willing to consider it longer term,” Fifield said. “Right now we’re looking at it under the COVID-19 umbrella.”

Pishioneri said he wants to see a long-term plan because he doesn’t want the City to be on the hook if or when the county money dries up, and doesn’t want to be responsible for having to evict the unhoused in the shelters if the program ends. “I don’t want to be in that position,” he said.

“When you said people are taking the stance of, ‘we will figure this out later, that really bothers me,’’ Pishioneri said. He said that while he agrees it is a needed service, “we should have a very clear plan. And if we’re in a position where we will figure something out later, I cannot support this.”

“Where do people go after the program ends? Right now they don’t have a place to go,” Fifield said. “This is a way to give them someplace to go for eight months … we don’t know where we’re going to be in eight months. But right now people also don’t have a place to go. That is where the willingness to set something up, and give us time to figure out what to do in the end, rather than not or waiting.”

Mayor Sean VanGordon said that while there are questions, councilors were generally in agreement. 

“I hear either sort-of support across the board from the council and some questions about the operating plan …. there’s some questions, but in general, we want to go forward,” he said. 

“It’s very simple. We need this, we have a population that needs this housing. I want to satisfy the neighbors around there, and I want to figure it out,” said councilor Steve Moe.