A permanent supportive housing project, which would provide services and housing to people who are chronically homeless, could be a reality soon in Bend.
The project, which would be called Cleveland Commons, would sit at the corner of Fifth Street and Cleveland Avenue, and offer 36 housing units, according to Housing Works, the housing authority behind the development of the project.
The project would be the first of its kind in Deschutes County, and make a significant impact in the community, said Colleen Thomas, the county’s homeless services coordinator.
“This is huge for us,” Thomas said.
On Wednesday, the Deschutes County Commission decided to allocate $2 million of American Rescue Plan Act funding toward the project. Between this allocation, and $3.8 million that Housing Works has already received with other kinds of financing, the project has a $2.2 million funding gap remaining, according to county documents.
Getting money from local governments is crucial because receiving federal or state funding for this kind of project has proven difficult, said David Brandt, the executive director of Housing Works on Wednesday, because most of the money is directed toward the Portland area.
“Nobody from east of the Cascades has gotten one of those projects funded since it’s been started,” Brandt said, referring to the state’s housing stability council.
Cleveland Commons would be unique compared to other homeless-related project proposals in Central Oregon because it would serve a very specific slice of the homeless population, Thomas said.
The project would house people who are considered vulnerable and chronically homeless, Thomas said. Vulnerability can be measured by a variety of characteristics, including the number of times a person has had contact with law enforcement or visited the emergency room; mental health and physical health; and the amount of time a person has been homeless.
This often includes people who have underlying severe and persistent mental illness diagnoses, Thomas said.
The most recent survey done in 2019 to identify this chronically homeless population found roughly 220 homeless people in Central Oregon qualify for this kind of housing. Thomas suspects the number is now much higher.
“The hope is over time that providing an individual a safe place to call home, we can start to address their barriers to mainstream housing,” Thomas said.
Some on the commission questioned the overall price tag for the project — $8 million — and asked what the benefit was to putting this money into 36 units rather than a different kind of project that could feasibly host more shelter beds.
Thomas said the facility would serve the population that incurs some of the highest costs. According to a study from Oregon Housing and Community Services, a chronically homeless person spending one night in a hospital emergency room costs $500 on average, and one night at the county jail costs on average $125.
Permanent supportive housing in contrast costs between $59 and $64 a night, she said.
“We’ll really see a return on investment,” Thomas said.
A timeline for when the project could be finished remains unclear. Housing Works plans to apply for state money to close the $2.2 million funding gap for the rest of the project at the beginning of next year.