Staff, volunteers busy gearing up for Project PATH’s opening

HERMISTON — Tuesday, April 23, was moving day for Project PATH, the transitional homeless shelter in Hermiston.

Staff members and more than a dozen volunteers began bright and early moving beds, chairs, tables and other furniture into the Sleep Center.

“It’s been a busy morning,” said Jessica Cole, executive director of Stepping Stones Alliance, the nonprofit that is managing Project PATH — Practical Assistance through Transitional Housing. The intent is to bring together services to assist individuals and families facing homelessness with the objective of moving them into and through transitional housing to permanent housing.

Project PATH is one of eight pilot projects the state selected o develop services for the homeless. Each pilot project received $1 million from the state to develop the program. Stepping Stones Alliance received an additional $1.1 million in private and state funds for the project.

As part of its management responsibilities, Stepping Stones Alliance will provide 24-hour, seven-days a week onsite staffing to support the project buildings that include offices, resident showers, a food pantry, a community kitchen and 21 individual shelter units that will sleep one to two people

Cole said landscaping and some of the electrical work still needs to be completed but anticipated the the facilities will be ready sometime in May.

“Hopefully, in two to four weeks,” she said.

Cole said the Sleep Center is for people needing a place to stay on a night-to-night basis. The individual shelter units will be for those seeking assistance getting back on their feet and into a home of their own.

Among the services Stepping Stones Alliance will offer those folks are educational services including helping them earn their high school or General Educational Development diploma, counseling services to connect them with local or other traditional educational service providers (Blue Mountain Community College, Eastern Oregon University and others), and connecting individuals with employer education services (such as commercial driver’s license training, unemployment counselors or workforce partnerships).

Those working toward independence also will have access to basic medical, dental and vision services.

Project PATH, at 81535 Lind Road, also will provide transportation services to facilitate travel to work, educational programs or other support services deemed necessary for the individual’s transition.

Services also will be available for persons with behavioral health conditions and/or substance use disorders.

Along with Cole, Project PATH has two other full-time positions – Navigation Center director and Sleep Center coordinator.

The Navigation Center will provide support services such as counseling, recovery services, technology resources and ongoing education opportunities.

Project PATH is a partnership between Umatilla County and the cities of Umatilla, Hermiston, Stanfield and Echo.

The impetus for the project was a 2018 decision by the 9th Circuit Court in the case Martin v. Boise that ruled jurisdictions must provide a location for the homeless if community ordinances prohibit the homeless from camping in public places such as parks. In 2021, the Oregon Legislature made that ruling state law with a July 2023 deadline to implement a transitional housing program for the homeless.