If the Sisters Cold Weather Shelter receives the $1 million they are requesting from Deschutes County as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) distribution, they would use most of it to purchase an existing building at 192 E. Tall Fir Ct. to provide a more sustainable winter shelter. In time, it could evolve into a year-round resource center for Sisters’ houseless population.

The 3,400-square-foot house has been on the market for a year and is priced at $795,000. The shelter board has made an offer on the property.

After relying on several local churches for three years to provide a rotating winter shelter, and having no shelter last winter due to COVID-19, the shelter board of directors decided to move forward boldly by applying for the funding through the ARPA monies administered by Deschutes County.

County Commissioner Phil Chang had a tour of the facility and responded favorably. Shelter Board Co-chair Jim Prichard said the other two commissioners, Patti Adair and Tony DeBone, didn’t seem as excited. Three members of the Homeless Coalition also toured the house and seemed positive about the possibilities it offers.

Pritchard thinks the house is only appropriate for a congregate-living type of setup. There is no yard and no driveway, and the interior is designed as a communal living space.

The board is currently investigating possible ways to pay for a live-in supervisor, hopefully partnering with local churches, citizens, and/or organizations as well as the City of Sisters and Deschutes County. They are also looking for local volunteers willing to work as shelter monitors in the winter. The board was hoping to use the balance of the million dollars after purchasing the house to provide three years of staffing for the Cold Weather Shelter. However, the County is encouraging partnerships with other organizations to create multiple sources of funding.

At last week’s Sisters City Council meeting, board member Bonnie Lamont Rose asked the City Council to support the shelter’s funding request by sending a letter of support to the Deschutes County Commissioners. Individual community members, several Sisters businesses and churches, Bethlehem Inn, and Shepherd’s House have so far agreed to provide letters of support. The Council will take up consideration of the letter at their next workshop.

City Manager Cory Misley expressed concern that he is unaware of any community conversations regarding the shelter and the possible purchase of the Tall Fir property.

According to Rose, the building was specifically designed for adult foster care and has operated as such in the past. It includes seven bedrooms, each with a locking door for individual and family privacy. Five bedrooms have private toilet and sink. The other two rooms have bathrooms with private showers, and one of those is built as a live-in manager’s apartment with a small living room. There is also a community bathroom with shower. All rooms are currently furnished with one bed and an overstuffed chair; more beds would need to be purchased.

In the Sisters Cold Weather Shelter and Resource Center Plan, which accompanied a letter to the Council from co-chairs Prichard and Evelyn Bellotti-Busch, the advantages of the property were outlined:

The living area is large and fully furnished. A separate area is designed as a workspace for both staff and guests for computer needs and cell phone charging. The kitchen is fully functional and capable of feeding large numbers. Additionally, there is a laundry room with storage space for individual lockers and kitchen and cold-weather supplies. The facility’s current full-house furnishings will remain, including washer/dryer, refrigerators, and freezer.

To start, the Tall Fir facility would act as a place for individuals experiencing unsafe and unsustainable shelter during the winter storms, offering safety and warmth overnight. In future years, the shelter board hopes to coordinate with other community and county partners to offer more comprehensive services and possibly year-round transitional housing opportunities. The facility could be open during the day as a year-round resource center offering basic necessities including showers, laundry, phone charging, food, trash services, respect, and empathy.

The target population to receive services would be currently unhoused adults and families with children. The Cold Weather Shelter would be staffed from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. seven days a week during winter months by a combination of paid staff and volunteers. If needed, the living area is large enough for multiple cots and/or sleeping bags beyond the six bedrooms for overnight winter warmth and safety. A hot evening meal would be provided daily during winter months, in the same fashion as has been offered through churches in the past. Also, a take-away breakfast and snacks would be available.

According to the shelter board, there are currently approximately 80 people living in Deschutes National Forest near Sisters, some living alone, some living in family units including children, some in tents, some in RVs or trailers. Many have full-time jobs in Sisters.