The Bethlehem Inn wants a $300,000 loan from the city of Bend to help it purchase the shelter it has been operating.

But the city should recognize going into the “loan” that it may become a $300,000 gift.

The purpose is unquestionably worthy.

The Bethlehem Inn is the largest emergency shelter for homeless families and individuals in Central Oregon. More than 1,000 children and adults in housing crisis get shelter and services every year from the inn.

In 1999, it began by operating out of different churches on winter nights. It moved to its more permanent home in 2007, a former hotel on Northeast Third Street south of Empire Avenue.

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

The city’s contribution to the purchase from the county would come from the city’s affordable housing fund — a logical place.

The next step would be for the Bend City Council to approve a loan.

We don’t know every other alternative purpose for the $300,000. That’s something City Council will surely consider.

But the other reality is that government loans to nonprofits in Central Oregon sometimes have — at the least — complicated, longer-than-expected repayment schedules.

It’s unfortunate. It’s also understandable. Many nonprofits depend on donations. But donations don’t always equal needs.

That certainly does not mean the city should walk away from the Bethlehem Inn. We hope the city can justify supporting it. The loan just may turn out to be a $300,000 gift from the city to the county.