LA GRANDE — Volunteers at the Pendleton Warming Station are waiting to see whether the Union County Warming Station in La Grande going on hiatus will lead to an uptick in guests.
Dwight Johnson, the executive director of the nonprofit that operates the Pendleton facility at 715 S.E. Court Ave., said he heard from a volunteer about a local conflict that will prevent the Union County Warming Station from opening on time, but he was hoping the issue would resolve itself before the facility was forced to close.
While Johnson didn’t know if the La Grande closure would affect Pendleton’s warming station, staff will be able to track a potential increase in non-local homeless people using their services because they ask all guests how long they’ve lived in Pendleton. He added most people who stay at the Pendleton Warming Station have some sort of connection the town.
Johnson said he’s concerned because the Pendleton Warming Station was at capacity last winter, but he doesn’t want to turn anyone away who is seeking the station’s help.
“People in need are people in need, regardless of where they’re from,” he said.
Back in La Grande, the Union Warming Station program is trying to overcome a roadblock to a new shelter site.
La Grande businessman Al Adelsberger on Oct. 18 appealed the city planning commission’s Oct. 8 decision to grant a conditional use permit to the warming station to operate in a portion of a commercial building at 2008 Third St. Adelsberger, who is working with others in the business community on this project, said the appeal is meant to help bring the community together to develop a long-term solution to the homeless situation in La Grande.
“We want to unite the community, not divide it,” he said.
Adelsberger said he greatly admires the work members of the Union County Warming Station Board are doing to assist the homeless.
“It is so awesome, the steps they have taken. They are fighting for people in need,” he said.
He also stressed he understands the need for a warming shelter in La Grande.
“I am all for it,” he said. “Anyone who is against helping the homeless is not a good person.”
Adelsberger explained he filed the appeal in part because only people with businesses and homes within 100 feet of the proposed warming station site received notices of the Oct. 8 planning commission hearing.
“A much larger demographic should have been notified,” Adelsberger said, including downtown businesses, because of the impact the shelter could have on them.
City Planner Mike Boquist said the city is required by state law to adhere to a 100-foot boundary when notifying property owners of a land use hearing and never informs property owners outside the 100-foot perimeter of such hearings by mail. He said the city does not expand this 100-foot boundary to avoid being accused of trying to influence the outcome of a hearing.
The Observer published the notice of the Oct. 8 planning commission meeting.
Through his appeal, Adelsberger also questions the size of the site at 2008 Third St. He said with 2,200 square feet and two bathrooms it may not be large enough to accommodate what may be a growing homeless population in La Grande.
“They need a bigger place,” he said.
Adelsberger also is concerned the building would be used in the fall and winter but not during the rest of the year, although the rent would have to paid every month all year.
Adelsberger said many members of the La Grande business community support the efforts to maintain a warming shelter and other efforts to help those in need. He noted one business donated a Christmas tree and gifts for children to the Union County Warming Station in 2018 when it was on Willow Street. He also noted Marco Rennie, the owner of Market Place Fresh Foods, every month donates food to the Fresh Alliance, which serves those in need.
“We advocate for the homeless. They need a voice. We have the best possible intentions,” Adelsberger said.
Warming shelter supporters addressed the possibility of a compromise that would involve a one-year occupancy, according to the appeal letter, and such a step would address the immediate needs of the applicant’s clients due to the upcoming colder season.
“This would enable several of us to assist the applicant in possibly locating a better and more suitable location, with a greater potential of expansion, and a more sustainable solution in meeting the greater needs of an expansive population of people in need,” the letter of appeal stated.
A spokesperson for the Warming Shelter Board told The Observer the board was not prepared to make a statement at this time.
The La Grande City Council will conduct a hearing on the appeal Dec. 4. Boquist said after testimony for and against the the appeal, the council could vote immediately to deny the appeal or support the planning commission’s Oct. 8 decision, or the council members could decide later. Should the council support the appeal, the warming station would not be able to open at 2008 Third St.
However, Boquist noted, any decision the council makes is subject to appeal with the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.
The Union County Warming Station Board applied to use the Third Street building in part because it has more space than the Willow Street building in 2018-19. Another plus is the Third Street site has rooms where families could stay, said Audrey Smith, a member of the Union County Warming Station Board. She explained the board wants to keep families together at its warming shelter.
Without the appeal, the conditional use permit for the warming station would have taken effect. Oct 23. Smith said the shelter would not have been able to open right away because of renovations required under the terms of the conditional use permit, including the installation of a sprinkler system, handicapped accessibility work and improved outdoor lighting. Smith said the goal was to complete the work by Nov. 15, when the shelter would have opened.