PENDLETON — The soft opening for the motel formerly known as The Whiskey Inn began on a sidewalk on Southeast Second Street.
About a half-dozen of Pendleton’s unhoused residents gathered Thursday, April 1, across the street in front of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, where Paula Hall, the chief executive officer of the Community Action Program of East Central Oregon, explained why the new homeless shelter and transitional housing project had been renamed the Promise Inn.
“We are making a promise to the homeless population and a promise to the community that we are going to keep this as an asset,” she said.
Among the assembly was Bob Beltran, who said he has been living on the streets on and off since he moved to Pendleton in 2008.
Beltran said he usually works as a restaurant cook or waiter as a way to make a living, but the COVID-19 pandemic made finding a job difficult as most restaurants shut down or curtailed their services.
Beltran was hopeful about what the Promise Inn could do for him.
“I’ve been in a tent and I don’t mind, but to stay in a room, it makes a difference,” he said.
CAPECO has a wider vision for what its motel can do, but in the short term, it’s just trying to offer the unhoused a place to sleep from night to night.
In March, the Oregon Community Foundation granted CAPECO $1.3 million to buy the Whiskey Inn and turn it into a facility that would serve the unhoused.
Once the facility is fully renovated, CAPECO plans to split the inn’s 35 rooms between a nightly shelter and transitional housing where the formerly unhoused can stay for longer periods of time while they search for permanent housing.
But CAPECO still needs more time to make the necessary renovations to make rooms permanently habitable. In the meantime, Hall said CAPECO felt like it could open a dozen rooms for shelter services.
While the building isn’t ready for full use, CAPECO is already staffing up in preparation for a fully functioning Promise Inn.
Hall said they’ve hired a homeless service manager in addition to two case workers that will serve the inn’s guests full time. These staff members are complemented by a street outreach coordinator who will go out into the field to work with the homeless directly and connect them with services. Hall also hopes to eventually hire an on-site manager who will live at the inn full time.
Facilities that serve the unhoused can become community flashpoints, a prospect CAPECO is trying to mitigate by putting together a task force that will address neighborhood concerns. Hall said the inn will have a second task force that will look at guest misconduct and determine whether they will be allowed to stay at the Promise Inn again.
The Promise Inn represents a first-of-its-kind facility for a region that is starting to reckon with its homelessness issues, but Hall warned that more was needed.
“We are not a silver bullet,” she said.
The inn started checking in guests with the help of Neighbor 2 Neighbor Pendleton, the nonprofit that usually runs the city’s warming station. In light of the pandemic, Neighbor 2 Neighbor had been offering motel room vouchers to give the unhoused a safe place to sleep during the cold weather months.
With the Promise Inn now duplicating some of Neighbor 2 Neighbor’s services, Executive Director Dwight Johnson said the nonprofit will take the next year or two to figure out what it should offer. He added that they did not want to rush into eliminating services or dissolving completely while the Promise Inn establishes itself.
In the meantime, Neighbor 2 Neighbor plans to continue offering its day center program, a weekly service that gives the unhoused a place to shower and acquire essential supplies.
As Beltran waited to be checked in to the Promise Inn for the night, he said he was interested in eventually joining its transitional housing program.
For Beltran and others sitting on the sidewalk of Southeast Second Street, it might be a chance at getting on their feet again.