Editorial: Sell the Bethlehem Inn

Published Jun 22, 2014 at 12:01AM

Deschutes County can’t afford to ignore the homeless, but what should be done?

One answer is, the Deschutes County Commission should move ahead with the sale of the Bethlehem Inn property to the nonprofit that operates the emergency homeless shelter.

If there is any issue at all in the sale, it’s the difference between the sale price and what Deschutes County paid. Deschutes County bought the Bethlehem Inn property in 2007 for $2.5 million at a relative high point in the real estate market.

Commissioners agreed Monday to the principles of a sale for $1 million. The final sale agreement still has to be written and, of course, Bethlehem Inn needs to come up with the money.

You could argue that the county is not making back its purchase price. And that’s true, but the county is basing its price on a current appraisal that set the value at $1 million. Selling it is the right thing to do.

The Bethlehem Inn began in 1999. It moved from church to church on winter nights. It became a permanent year-round shelter and for a while was located at the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office work release center. In 2007, it moved where it is now, on Northeast Third Street in a former Econo Lodge hotel.

It’s almost always full, with 78 single beds and five larger rooms for families. Gwenn Wysling, the Bethlehem Inn’s executive director, said families tend to stay about 30 days. That’s usually how long it takes to find them more permanent housing, particularly with Bend’s tight housing market.

The Bethlehem Inn needs improvements. It could use a commercial kitchen. It could use enough space for everyone to sit indoors at meal times or for classes. It has some plumbing insulation problems. But it has been successful at providing for an important need in the community.

The county does not want to own the property. It’s also better for the Bethlehem Inn if it wants to do fundraising for its needs if it owns the property, rather than leases. The Bethlehem Inn could use your support to make the sale happen.