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Commitment needed to address homelessness

Addressing the challenge of homelessness can seem overwhelming, a problem so big and so complex that it can’t be solved. But a pioneering program underway here and elsewhere in Oregon offers a counterpoint. Homelessness is solvable. It will take determination, teamwork and a willingness to spend what is necessary to make it happen.

It seems obvious that, if the problem is a lack of housing, the answer is to provide more of it. Project Turnkey is doing that, slowly at first but poised to pick up speed as more resources are provided.

The concept is simple: Purchase run-down motels in communities across the state, remodel the rooms into small apartments and provide them to people who need emergency housing — as survivors of the fires of Sept. 2020 did — or transitional housing, for those now on the street who need shelter while they rebuild their lives and find permanent places to live.

An initial round of funding from the Oregon Legislature in November 2020 led to 19 new shelters in 13 counties. Project Turnkey has now received an additional $50 million in state funding.

One of the new projects is the former Redwood Inn in Medford, purchased a year ago by Rogue Retreat. Eventually, the project will provide 47 dwelling units, but only 14 have been upgraded with kitchenettes and bathrooms because most of the $2.3 million grant went to buy the building.

Executive Director Chad McComas says it will take another $2.3 million to do the necessary renovations.

That’s where the community — the city, the county, local nonprofit agencies and donors of all kinds — will make the difference, for this project and for more in the future. The Redwood Inn’s 47 units won’t house everyone who needs shelter, although it will certainly help.

The new allocation of $50 million should fund the purchase of 10 more buildings around the state, according to Rep. Pam Marsh, a key supporter of Project Turnkey. Again, more money will be needed to renovate the new properties.

Beyond financial support, which is vital, projects such as these need community support for their very existence. That means residents need to accept housing projects in their neighborhoods, not insist that they be built “somewhere else.”

Communities have a choice to make: Commit to do what is necessary to provide housing when and where it is needed, or continue to complain about people living on the streets because they have nowhere else to go.