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Lane County To Consider Ordinance Allowing Unhoused To Stay In Hotels

Brian Bull

Lane County staff are drafting a proposal that would require lodgers to allow unhoused individuals with COVID-19, or those awaiting test results, to stay in their facilities. The Board of County Commissioners greenlit the effort Tuesday.

County Director of Health and Human Services and acting Incident Commander Karen Gaffney said hotels that were initially onboard to rent out rooms to the county, have since backed out. This has complicated plans to use hotels as a bridge until the River Avenue site is ready for occupancy.

Credit Melorie Begay/KLCC News
The Lane County Board of County Commissioners authorized the $1.8 million purchase of a former veterans clinic, last week. The site located at 100 River Avenue in Eugene is currently undergoing preparations for occupancy.

“The need for [hotel rooms] is really not large in number, but it’s a critical part of our response to be able to isolate people who are awaiting their test results, or who test positive and don’t have a home,” Gaffney said during a meeting with county commissioners.

The ordinance would likely mirror a measure passed in Multnomah County. According to the measure, lodging facilities that refuse individuals whose payment is subsidized by the county, or county contractors will be subject to fines and penalties.

“My hope is that we wouldn’t need to go to an ordinance enforcement effort in order to have the partnership we need with the lodging facilities,” Gaffney said. “But it does provide us with some leverage to be able to move those conversations forward.”

All five Lane County Commissioners supported the drafting of the proposal including Commissioner Jay Bozievich. He said he’s already seeing the impacts of lodging industries turn away clients in rural communities due to damage caused by previous guests.

“I would like to see something that allows us to be the deep pocket for damages, so that these lodging folks can feel like they’re not putting their property at risk,” he said.

Meanwhile, The Army Corps of Engineers is currently assessing the River Avenue site in Eugene for possible renovations. They conducted inspections on the 18,000 square foot building on Monday. The former veteran’s clinic could hold up to 100 beds and alieviate potential strain on hospitals.

Credit Melorie Begay/KLCC News
Cleaning crews were onsite at the River Avenue location on Tuesday. The Army Corps of Engineers is evaluating the building and will give recommendations to the county on Friday.

“We don’t anticipate any significant structural changes, which is a huge part so most of the improvements that we need to make will be cosmetic in nature, and really about the overall functionality,” said Lane County Public Health spokesperson Jason Davis.

Utilizing the Army Corps of Engineers helped streamline the process, Davis says. The corps was able to bring in COVID-19 considerations while reviewing the site. 

“They brought in a team of engineers, electrical engineers, HVAC specialists, and all manner of people that would normally be doing inspections over weeks, if not months…they did it in a day,” Davis said.

The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to give a final report to Lane County on Friday.

© 2020 KLCC

Melorie Begay is a multimedia journalist for KLCC News. She was the Inaugural KLCC Public Radio Foundation Journalism Fellow. She has a bachelors in Multimedia Journalism from the University of New Mexico. She previously interned at KUNM public radio in Albuquerque, NM and served as a fellow for the online news publication New Mexico In Depth.