By Elon Glucklich

The Bulletin

Bethlehem Inn officials want help from the city of Bend to purchase the homeless shelter they have operated since 2007 and began leasing from Deschutes County in 2011.

Shelter administrators met with Bend’s affordable housing advisory committee Thursday, petitioning for a $300,000 loan that would pay a fraction of the cost to buy the former Econo Lodge hotel property on Northeast Third Street south of Empire Avenue.

The advisory committee approved the request, but the terms of the loan still have to be worked out, Bend Affordable Housing Manager Jim Long said. The Bend City Council also has to approve the loan at an upcoming meeting.

The $300,000 would come from about $550,000 collected over the last year in Bend’s affordable housing fund, which gets money from a fee totaling one-third of 1 percent of the value of each building permit applied for in the city.

Shelter officials have tried for several years to buy the 1.2-acre site from the county, but the two sides haven’t been able to agree on a price.

Deschutes County bought the Econo Lodge property for $2.5 million in 2007. Bethlehem Inn’s lease expires in June.

Gwenn Wysling, Bethlehem Inn’s executive director, said she would rather acquire the property than renew the lease.

With 78 single beds, but just five rooms for families, she said Bethlehem Inn needs to be able to meet future demand.

She cited recent studies showing hundreds of homeless students in Bend-La Pine Schools.

“In order to serve the growing number of people who need basic necessities, the Inn will need to expand” in the coming years, Wysling told the committee.

On Wednesday, Deschutes County commissioners signed a letter of understanding, broadly outlining their support for an eventual sale of the Bethlehem Inn, Susan Ross, Deschutes County property and facilities director, told the city’s affordable housing committee.

After Thursday’s meeting, Wysling declined to comment on any possible expansion plans, saying her focus was on negotiating a purchase from the county.

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