Union County Warming Station getting a new home

Nov. 16—LA GRANDE — The Union County Warming Station has a new home.

The La Grande cold-weather shelter, previously located in Suite B of a business building at 2008 Third St., is set to reopen at 501 Third St. in a building that formerly housed Angelina Senior Assisted Living. The warming station had to move out of its 2008 Third St. location earlier this year after the building was put up for sale, according to the Union County Warming Station's Facebook page.

The move to the building at 501 Third St. will not have to be approved by the city even though it is in a residential zone, according to La Grande City Planner Mike Boquist. La Grande's city code does not allow a warming station to be established in any residential zones, even if a conditional use permit is granted.

However, La Grande's building code is being usurped by House Bill 4051, which the Oregon Legislature passed earlier this year, Boquist said. The bill allows shelters for the unhoused, including warming stations, to be established anywhere in Oregon cities regardless of codes if the applicant submits a request to their city by July 1, 2023.

"The Union County Warming Station submitted its application last week," Boquist said.

The bill prevents cities from stopping the opening of a warming station for any reason as long as it meets building codes for public buildings, including handicapped accessibility and fire safety codes. Boquist said the building has been inspected by the La Grande Fire Department and the city's building department. Both inspections have determined that the building meets all codes. It met fire codes, in part, because it has an indoor sprinkler system and lighted exits.

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HB 4051 is related to House Bill 2006, which the Oregon Legislature approved in 2021, to make it easier for housing for the homeless to be established. The primary difference between HB 2006 and HB 4051 is that HB 2006 had a July 1, 2022, deadline for applying for permission to open a warming station.

The Union County Warming Station will soon be operating out of its fourth home in its six-year existence. The shelter was first at the Zion Lutheran Church in 2017-18 and in a Willow Street building in 2018-19. The warming station did not operate in 2019-20 because of issues related to the move to the 2008 Third St. location but was able to open its doors there in 2020-21.

The Union County Warming Station traditionally opens in mid-November and closes March 15. The warming station had a capacity of 18 people in 2021-22 and often was filled to capacity. When there was an overflow of people needing a place to spend the night, the Union County Warming Station partnered with Community Connection of Northeast Oregon to provide motel rooms for those seeking a warm place to sleep.

The station also had about 25 visitors who would visit the shelter each evening to be served dinners cooked by volunteers.

Detailed information on the warming station's operating plans will be provided at a question and answer session from 4-6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 17, at Zion Lutheran Church, 902 Fourth St., La Grande.

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Dick Mason is a reporter with The Observer. Contact him at 541-624-6016 or dmason@lagrandeobserver.com.