Efforts to house those suffering from chronic homelessness in Yakima are finally coming to fruition.
Yakima Neighborhood Health Services is now converting the 58-unit Yakima Valley Inn motel on North First Street into permanent supportive housing that will provide a place to live for those experiencing chronic homelessness.
Neighborhood Health recently purchased the 10,776-square-foot motel at 818 N. First St. for $2.7 million. The nonprofit, which provides health care to the homeless among its services, used state funds to buy it last year. Funds have been earmarked for projects across the state that could rapidly convert existing hotels, motels and other facilities into housing.
Now, staff are working to clean and prepare the units for occupancy, and it will be called Neighborhood Apartments, said Rhonda Hauff, CEO of Neighborhood Health.
“We’re cleaning up drives, we’re cleaning up and taking applications,” he said. “I suspect we’ll be moving attendees within the next week or so.”
Some units have kitchenettes and those that don’t will, Hauff said.
Four units will be adapted as isolation and quarantine units for COVID-19 or other diseases, he said.
“So if unprotected people come to us sick, we can use them so they can heal,” Hauff said. “Then they will be moved into affordable supportive housing.”
The city has yet to approve the conversion, said Joan Davenport, the city’s community development director.
“We will work on this with Neighborhood Health,” he said.
This project marks one of the few sustained permanent housing programs offered to those suffering from chronic homelessness in Yakima.
There were 670 people experiencing homelessness in Yakima County, of which 183 lived on the streets, according to the 2022 point-in-time count.
Lee Murdock, director of the Yakima County Homeless Network, applauds the project, saying it adds long-term solutions.
“It’s a much-needed addition to our homelessness response system because in 2022, the number of chronically homeless families who were also homeless increased 13 percent from a year earlier,” he said.
By definition, chronic homelessness is a person with a disability who lives in a place not intended for human habitation. Mental health problems and substance abuse are considered disabilities.
“This is a huge part of our population that lives outside,” Murdock said.
Those who have a chronic disability, have been homeless for a year, or have experienced four or more episodes of homelessness in the past three years are eligible to live in neighborhood apartments, Hauff said.
Residents will have to pay 30% of their income to live there.
Comprehensive services such as medical, mental health and substance abuse care will be provided.
There will be rules and security will be on hand at night, Hauff said. The Yakima Valley Inn is not to be confused with the Yakima Inn, another motel on North First Street nearby.
This new development adds to the 90 housing units Neighborhood Health already offers to those in need of homelessness assistance or in need of replacement care.
Hauff said people need a place to live before they can adequately address health problems or other life issues.
“It’s a big factor in why we, as a healthcare organization, are so involved in housing,” she said. “We know that lack of housing is bad for people’s health.”
Neighborhood Apartments is part of a growing movement in Yakima to provide housing to those in need.
More projects to come
Justice Housing Yakima recently received a nearly $4.6 million grant from the state’s Housing Trust Fund, Executive Director David Helseth said.
While Justice Housing will build the micro homes on more than 3 acres, Neighborhood Health and Comprehensive Healthcare will provide wraparound services, and Sunrise Outreach will handle it, he said.
“It’s the community working together, the resources that are already in place,” Helseth said. “We don’t want to duplicate services. They are the experts; we’ll put up the lodgings and they’ll do the rest.
The Yakima Housing Authority is undertaking a 54-unit housing project on Fruitvale Boulevard near Sixth Avenue geared towards helping the homeless.
And Catholic Charities will apply for state funding this fall to build a 73-unit complex behind Target in northeast Yakima that will serve families and individuals facing or suffering from homelessness, Director Bryan Ketcham said.
Catholic Charities has partnered with the Yakima Housing Authority and the state Department of Health and Human Services on housing vouchers for tenants to use.
Neighborhood Health has agreements with several housing providers, including Catholic Charities, to provide wrap services.
Teamwork between service providers is key, Ketcham said.
“None of us have all the keys to success,” he said.
Neighborhood Health’s presence on North First Street could engender a safer and healthier environment there, said Davenport of the city’s community development department.
“I think it will be a stabilizing presence on North First Street,” she said, emphasizing the services and outreach Neighborhood Health plans to offer. “Having boots on the floor that will be in the hallway where there’s a need will be helpful.”
Placing people in homes will provide them with the stability they need so they can be treated for any health problems or other issues they may be facing, Murdock said.
Long-term homelessness is often what fosters issues like mental and physical health and substance abuse, she said.
“There’s a reason people who aren’t protected have higher needs,” Murdock said.
There simply isn’t enough housing, and providing permanent supportive housing is an important part of the solution, he said.
“When there isn’t enough housing, finding a place to live is like playing musical chairs,” Murdock said. “And those who can’t run fast enough are sitting on the sidewalk.”