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UPDATE: Construction on Ontario's homeless night shelter will continue as planned

Posted at 9:46 PM, Feb 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-04 17:30:51-05

ONTARIO, Ore. — UPDATE (February 4, 2020, 3:15 p.m.):

Construction on Ontario's homeless night shelter project will continue as planned. According to Ontario City Manager Adam Brown, in a hearing on Tuesday, a judge did not grant the injunction that Nichols Accounting Group was seeking.

Brown said five shed-like homes could be open for intake starting as soon as next week, and the remaining units will open over the course of the next few weeks. Intake applications will be handled at New Hope Day Shelter located inside Origins Faith Community Church, according to Brown.

As aforementioned, Nichols Accounting is a longtime Ontario business that neighbors a new homeless shelter pilot project hosted on city-owned property.

The pilot project is scheduled to be reassessed on April 30, at which point Brown says city staff and community partners will look at different options and decide whether it stays at that location or moves elsewhere.

"The goal is to provide some type of services," said Brown. But what that looks like, he says, depends on how the pilot project goes.

Ontario residents interested in providing feedback on the pilot project "can and should" reach out to the city, according to Brown. For contact information, click here.
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ORIGINAL STORY:

The City Manager in Ontario, Adam Brown, says Malheur County's biggest city is seeing an increase in families dealing with homelessness, and the closest shelter isn't for another 40 miles in Nampa.

"We know we have a housing shortage -- that is for sure," said Brown.

Because of this, Ontario's first overnight homeless shelter is in the works; however, it could be facing a potential setback.

The pilot project, comprised of 20 shed-like homes, is being developed on city-owned property between Northeast Fourth and Third avenues, and is being led by Origins Faith Community Church and nonprofit Community in Action.

A neighboring business to the developing shelter project, Nichols Accounting Group, is not too happy to be welcoming them as their next-door neighbor. The longtime Ontario business is suing the city and involved parties through the Malheur County Circuit Court on the basis of sanitation concerns for "irreparable harm."

The first listed complaint? Portable toilets, which the city plans to provide for the shelter guests. The complaint reads, "This sanitation and health issue will likely cause irreparable harm to the plaintiff’s business reputation.”

In addition, the complaint reads that the city is breaking its own rules, saying that the project is effectively permitting a residence in a heavy industrial zone.

On Tuesday, Nichols Accounting Group will get a court hearing for an injunction that -- if won -- will put the project on pause altogether.

"Helping somebody to hurt somebody else is not what we're trying to do," said Brown.

In a statement to the Argus Observer, members of the Origins Faith Community say they would be "very disappointed should this project be shut down out of fear of the worst-case scenario."

"Everybody has a compassion and the desire to do something, but when it comes down to it, it's also very challenging to find a site that everybody is okay with and that everybody could live with," said Brown.

Brown estimated there are currently about 180 homeless people in Ontario -- a number that is up about 80% since 2016. Many of them, he said, are families.

"We've heard reports from the school district that there's as much as 200 homeless kids in our school district," said Brown.

That's why Ontario city staff members like Brown felt it was important to host the project -- and get it up and running in the winter months. The project is being paid for by a $150,000 state grant received by the local nonprofit Community in Action.

If the injunction is not put in place, Brown said the pilot project will soon be open and will remain open until April 30. He added that community feedback will be taken into consideration before concrete plans are made.

6 On Your Side will keep you updated on the progress of Nichols Accounting Group's Tuesday hearing.