Steps are being made to give homeless people a warm place to sleep.
The Stepping Stones Alliance, in partnership with local cities, broke ground Tuesday, Nov. 29, on Project PATH — Practical Assistance through Transitional Housing. A ceremony kicked off construction at 81535 Lind Road, Hermiston.
In collaboration with Hermiston, Umatilla, Echo and Stanfield, Stepping Stones representatives said they look forward to providing transitional housing for the area, especially as the weather grows colder.
The groundbreaking was on a chilly day, and officials spoke on the perils of not having a safe space during the winter months.
“If we’re feeling this cold after 45 minutes, think of those who are sleeping without shelters,” Cathy Lloyd said.
Lloyd is the chair for Stepping Stones, which has spearheaded the PATH Project.
She was not alone in noting the cold weather and expressing sympathy for people without homes.
“The weather today should serve as a reminder to us of what people suffer every day when they do not have appropriate shelter,” Umatilla County Commissioner George Murdock said.
Other elected officials of contributing governments were in attendance, also. They boasted of the cooperation that made this project possible, as did Murdock.
“I don’t know of a homeless project in the state of Oregon where this many entities have worked together to make something happen,” he said.
The collaboration between these four cities is, in part, due to the fact that this project doesn’t cover one large urban region, according to Lloyd.
“What’s unique about our project is that it covers a rural area,” Lloyd said. “We’re pretty spread out here, so we felt like we needed to be a one-stop shop where people could get the help they need.”
She added that people behind the project wanted to “at least provide a safe space for people who don’t have shelter.”
A long path to groundbreaking
According to Lloyd, PATH is three years in the making.
“I had originally created this pitch for Hermiston,” she said, “but there were a lot of not-in-my-backyard people, and there were zoning issues, so that fell through.”
In 2021, Lloyd was given another opportunity to push for the project with an opening for a legislative grant. She said Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, told her about $2 million dollars in grants she should seek for the project.
PATH received $1 million from the legislative grant, which was supplemented by an additional $1 million from House Bill 4123, which the city of Umatilla reported distributes funding to strengthen the homelessness response of Oregon cities.
“We are one of eight pilot programs to receive this funding from the state to bring this effort together,” Umatilla City Manager David Stockdale said.
PATH has much to offer
The transitional housing, provided by the PATH, will be supplemented with other resources.
According to Lloyd, PATH will have parking, a bus stop and transportation. It will have a nightly sleep center, too, as well as a navigation center.
Lloyd said this navigation center will give those staying at PATH the opportunity to gain access to services, like receiving GEDs or getting identification.
“Many homeless people don’t have IDs, so we are going to be able to help them get access to these resources,” she said.
The mission of the Stepping Stones Alliance is to contribute to transitioning western Umatilla County’s homeless population to safe shelters and help get people back onto their feet.
“We’ll be the conduit,” Lloyd said. “We won’t be providing these services, but we will be helping to make these services more accessible.”
PATH is planned to include 25 Conestoga Huts, she said.
“For the homeless population working to get back on their feet, we have a longer-term set-up,” Lloyd said. “By establishing goals and keeping up with them, people will be able to stay in these more private shelters until they get back on their feet.”
Winter Sleep Center opens
While the PATH Project undergoes construction, the Stepping Stones Alliance is operating its Winter Sleep Center, which Lloyd said will serve as a nightly shelter for the winter months.
The Sleep Center, set to open Thursday, Dec. 1, is at 1075 S. Highway 395, Hermiston.
The building, which was used as an overnight warming station last year, is owned by Atkinson Staffing.
An Atkinson employee said more information about the center would be available in the coming days.
Looking forward to PATH
Lloyd said she hopes PATH construction will conclude by the spring of 2023.
“We’ll hopefully be finished by April, maybe May,” she said.
Speaking to a group of shivering city officials, Loyd expressed her excitement for PATH and its eventual completion.
“This is a community that’s going to provide these necessary steppingstones for others to have one of the very basic necessities of life, safe shelter,” Lloyd said.