In the community

Key meeting scheduled to develop blueprint to address Malheur County homeless situation

ONTARIO – An array of local agencies, elected leaders and community members will meet this week to create a committee to develop a plan for using state money to address homelessness.
The meeting is set for 9 a.m., Friday, April 14, at River Bend Place at 998 Fortner Street in Ontario. The meeting is open to the public. The meeting was originally slated to begin at 10 a.m. but the time was changed earlier this week.
The formation of a committee is a crucial requirement before the state earmarks any money for the local area from a $27 million allotment to tackle homelessness in rural areas of Oregon.
The Malheur County Court declared an emergency regarding the county’s homeless challenge March 8 and forwarded it to the state. Gov. Tina Kotek then notified the county its emergency declaration was accepted and the county could be covered by provisions of the statewide Homelessness State of Emergency.
Tom Vialpando, Vale mayor and also a member of the Oregon Mayors Association’s task force on homelessness, said forming the committee could lead to a significant infusion of funds from the state to battle homelessness.
“If we do it right, we are looking at a couple of million dollars at least,” said Vialpando.
He said the session will include a “lot of people from different agencies, agencies such as behavioral health, medical, or ones that serve the homeless population.”
“It’s a big deal. I’ve been involved in homelessness for the previous 20 years and I started to blow the whistle about two years ago about the growing homeless population we were seeing in Ontario,” said Vialpando.
Vialpando said the group that forms would then plan on how to use state money. The plan then goes to the Oregon Department of Emergency Management and the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department.
Vialpando said the plan will include a budget.
“They will look it over and then give us approval on what our funding will be,” he said.
The meeting is spearheaded by Lt. Rich Harriman, Malheur County Emergency Service director.
He said the first priority of the meeting will be to select a chairman.
Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director, said the session is needed.
“We know we have a housing problem. Hopefully we can find local solutions with local people involved. This seems like a situation to me where we should receive funding that would help us alleviate these (homeless) issues,” said Poe.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

Previous coverage:

Homeless count effort tallies 266 unhoused in Malheur County

Oregon mayors, city officials lobby for more money for homelessness

Governor approves county homeless emergency declaration

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