A temporary 116-room homeless shelter at Motel 6 in east Vancouver will remain open through the end of October.
The state Department of Commerce funded $1.1 million for the site, established in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, through the end of June. While that money will be depleted, Michael Torres, program manager at Clark County Community Services, said the county plans to use CARES Act Title V funds to keep the Motel 6 shelter open.
“It is a state requirement to maintain isolation and quarantine capacity to qualify moving through the phases,” Torres said.
Since the shelter opened in April, 15 people experiencing homelessness have stayed there to quarantine because they were exposed to someone who had COVID-19. Six people have been there for isolation, meaning they contracted the virus and needed a place to recover. Currently, there are three people in isolation and none in quarantine.
While one building is used for quarantine and isolation, another is used as emergency shelter for particularly vulnerable unhoused people, such as seniors and those with underlying health issues. The county began using the facility this way after not seeing many unhoused people directly impacted by COVID-19.
Torres said transportation and cleaning costs were lower than projected and shifted to hire more staff. There are 83 people staying in the shelter expansion, which is full.
“It’s been a lot of work, but things have been going pretty smoothly,” Torres said.
Kate Budd, executive director of Council for the Homeless, said the Motel 6 site has worked well considering four months ago there was no formal relationship with Motel 6 and no worry around coronavirus.
Having Motel 6 open through Oct. 31 means people can transition to a Winter Hospitality Overflow shelter, which are slated to open Nov. 1.
H&R Management Inc., which is governed by Hitesh “Henry” Patel, runs the motel at 221 N.E. Chkalov Drive.
“The county’s been great to work with,” Patel said.
He’s had a few calls with other people in the industry who are interested in using their properties this way and curious about Patel’s experience.
In late March and early April, the Washington Hospitality Association surveyed its lodging members to see who was interested in offering their properties for a quarantine or insolation site, or housing for first responders and health care workers.
Eighteen hotels in Vancouver and Battle Ground signed up. Statewide, 130 properties signed up and another 251 through the association’s federal partners. A confidential list of volunteer hotels was provided to health authorities seeking lodging services.
With many communities using motels for quarantine and isolation sites, there are conversations happening around how motels can address homelessness. California, for instance, developed an entire initiative around placing people in motels called Project Room Key.
“It’s given us an opportunity to pilot a different approach, one we’ve not used as largely in the past,” Budd said.
In a short time, master leasing a motel created an infrastructure that Budd said adds a level of dignity to the shelter experience. People have their own private space and restroom. The outside entry allows for less interaction with neighbors. People also feel safer in motel rooms than in cars or on the streets.
“The greatest drawback of a motel is simply the cost,” Budd said.
A night in a motel costs on average $60 per person, not including the cost of support staff or food. By comparison, a night in a more traditional congregate shelter is $22 per person. A night at a Winter Hospitality Overflow shelter, which are staffed primarily by volunteers, costs $18 per person.
The area’s ongoing motel voucher program is the more conventional way of using motels for emergency shelter. Vouchers cover stays at lower-cost motels around the county, such as Rama Inn in Washougal.
The number of vouchers given out during the pandemic was not available by press time.
Council for the Homeless has received extra financial support to use motel vouchers during the pandemic. Supporters including United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, the Washington State Student and Youth Homelessness COVID-19 Response Fund, and PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center.
Budd said this helped get people into motels as soon as COVID-19 hit — before Motel 6 opened.
Cascade AIDS Project is another organization that received Community Foundation grant money to use for motel vouchers or emergency rent assistance.
Marisa McDowell, Southwest Washington housing team lead, said the nonprofit wanted to keep its 410 clients and their families safe during the pandemic. Those who have HIV or AIDS have an increased risk of contracting COVID-19, making it important to be inside.
Cascade AIDS Project ended up putting money toward just three motel vouchers because the nonprofit was able to leverage most of the money to keep people in long-term housing or move them into long-term housing. McDowell considers this a major success.
“There is a direct correlation between housing and a reduced viral load,” McDowell said. “People are able to get better and feel better when they’re housed.”
Budd noted the pandemic — in addition to showing the pros, cons and costs of using motels for emergency shelter — has highlighted the relationship between health and housing.
“It all intersects,” she said.