OKANOGAN COUNTY – With temperatures dropping and no money for a shelter, Okanogan County is becoming a bad place to be homeless this winter.
This year the Okanogan County Housing Coalition didn’t allocate funds for use to rent Oroville’s Harvest Park agricultural worker camp as a homeless shelter, according to Roger McClendon, a board member with the Oroville Housing Authority.
“The money comes from 2060 funds which are part of a fee you pay when you do a land transaction. The Okanogan County Housing Coalition is responsible for distributing the funds in the county,” said Sheryl Lewis, administrator for the Oroville Housing Authority. She said the money that usually goes to help house people who are without homes during the winter months has been set aside for the next five years for a down payment on an escrow fund for a senior housing project in mid-county.
“Ours is the only homeless shelter in the county and we have been able to give people a warm place to stay for much less than it is going to cost to put people up in a motel on an emergency basis,” said Lewis. She said Okanogan Community Action will get what’s left of the funds to pool with other monies to provide emergency shelter. She says while the Oroville facility would charge between $1 and $5 a day to stay in one of the trailers at the Harvest Park, emergency housing at a motel can run between $40 and $70 a day.
Man Fishers, a Christian group, is taking individuals and people in need of a place to sleep in the evening, but they have to leave in the morning,” Lewis said. “If we do not use the agriculture park for a homeless shelter it just means it will be sitting there empty this winter.”
Lewis said usually the park houses a variety of people without shelter, including individual women and men, couples and families.
“It’s a shame to know it is sitting there and there is no where else for anyone to go and so many resources are being dedicated to something we won’t see for five years,” she said.
Lewis said she and the Oroville Housing Authority board are disgruntled about the short notice given for the meeting where the 2026 money was allotted.
“I was out of town and the person who set the meeting knew I was out of town,” said Lewis, who indicated her last notice from the coalition indicated the meeting was scheduled for mid-November and unbeknownst to her the date was moved up.
“We had our application in, but I really felt there was another agenda, one to get the dollars for escrow money for Okanogan housing,” said Lewis, who sits on the coalition with other members coming from the Okanogan Housing Authority, the Support Center, Community Action and Behavioral Health.
“There are a lot of people going to get cold. We’ve had inquiries since October. Now they’ll have to put people in a motel for $50 to $70 a night where we were charging between $1 and $5 a night,” she said.
For that the homeless got a sleeping bag, towels, washcloth and toiletries, she said.
Two years ago a family of 11 spent all winter at the shelter, unable to find someone to rent to them.
“We usually average about three women, five men and a family a night and sometimes we have couples,” she said. “Do the math, at $50 a night that’s $1500 a month, compared to $5 a night that’s $150. We can make the money go a lot further.”