Insulation and drywall are starting to cover messages of hope scrawled in black marker on beams at Bethlehem Inn’s new family shelter.
Executive Director Gwenn Wysling’s favorite message — “you cared when no one else did” — is already buried under a layer of insulation in the future lobby. Other handwritten notes from current and former residents of the homeless shelter on Bend’s north side will be preserved inside new rooms that will house more families than the shelter’s been able to help before. “We have sealed these into the walls of our building,” Wysling said.
When it opens in June, the new building will house up to 10 families at a time, double Bethlehem Inn’s current five-family limit. It will also have a full commercial kitchen, meaning the shelter will be able to cook its own meals on site for the first time, and separate dining rooms for families and single residents.
The families now staying at Bethlehem Inn are crowded into five repurposed hotel suites, each with a couple of double beds and a bunk bed. They eat their meals with paper plates and plastic cutlery from mismatched tables in a nearby room where decades of use have worn the hardwood floor bare.
In the new building, eight families will stay in 350-square-foot rooms with a double or queen bed and a bunk bed, while two larger rooms for families with more children will have space for two bunk beds. Every room has its own bathroom with a tub, which Wysling said is important for small children.
The family rooms will all be on the second floor of the new building, near new administrative offices. Shelter staffers now work out of crowded temporary quarters adjacent to the decades-old converted Econo Lodge that’s housed Bethlehem Inn since 2007.
Intake offices and the lobby are downstairs, along with the kitchen and two dining rooms separated by a kitchen window. Single residents will have a separate entrance to their dining room, on the side of the building without access to stairs or the elevator to the second floor.
“We wanted secure access for families and their quarters,” Wysling said. “It’s safety and security for them and their children.”
Once the new family shelter opens this summer, Bethlehem Inn will move on to the second phase of its $9 million expansion: replacing the dormitory-style singles rooms. The inn can now take 84 single residents a night, and it plans to be able to accommodate 108.
Most single residents now sleep six to a room, on bunk beds covered with colorful donated quilts and comforters in motel rooms that weren’t designed for that many people. They each get two plastic totes and a 6-inch section of shelf for storage, and they share one bathroom per room.
The new singles building will still have six residents per room, but those rooms will be designed “more cohesively,” Wysling said. Both the family and singles shelters will also comply with modern accessibility standards — right now, even the bathroom doorways in the double rooms shared by veterans and people with disabilities are too narrow to fit a wheelchair, and residents must use stairs to reach the second floor of the singles building.
Bethlehem Inn’s fundraising just passed the $7 million mark, and the shelter would receive another $170,000 loan from the city of Bend under a proposal approved by the city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee last week. The shelter hopes to reach 90 percent of its $9 million goal by June, Wysling said.
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