PO plans to extend hotel voucher program for homeless

A program aimed at providing temporary shelter for the homeless in a Port Orchard motel was not used once in 2023 but city officials plan to extend the program.

The City of Port Orchard last April signed a contract to house homeless individuals for short stays at the Stellar Motel (formerly the Vista Motel), located at 1090 Bethel Ave. The plan gave the city rights to two motel rooms at a fixed rate of $100 per night. Stays were limited to three nights for those needing temporary shelter.

“It is our intent to renew that agreement with the motel before it expires at the end of the year,” said Port Orchard Mayor Rob Putaansuu. The Port Orchard City Council will need to approve the contract extension.

“It’s obviously disappointing we have not had takers. They are not accepting it to be honest. It’s a bad situation,” Putaansuu admitted.

It’s hard to pinpoint why those living on the street have not taken advantage of the hotel voucher program, the mayor said. “It’s complicated. Every situation is different, but people have got to want help. We can’t force anyone into treatment for mental illness or drug dependency. And if they don’t want help, I can’t force them to get help,” he said.

Agreeing to treatment is not a requirement for a person to obtain a hotel voucher but that is the hope, the mayor said.

“To get them a couple of nights in a motel isn’t solving any problem. Our goal is to refer them to treatment and other resources to permanently get them off the street. That’s the goal,” Putaansuu said. “I wish more people would accept services and get treatment they need. We want to help those that we can.”

Meanwhile, the mayor is anxious for other avenues to open to help address the needs of those without shelter. Those include – the Port Orchard homeless shelter on Mile Hill Drive that will house 75 residents and is expected to open in November 2024; the Amici House, a group home for young adults being put together by a private group, that is currently undergoing the conditional use permitting process; and a Salvation Army’s women’s shelter.

“(Even with) all of those, we are still not going to meet all of the (homeless) needs,” the mayor said.

Since the need for homeless shelters seems to be outpacing the city’s capacity to address the issue the mayor wants to give the hotel voucher program another chance. “There was hope it was going to work out. We are not giving up on it. It’s a tool we want in our toolbox for when the opportunity comes along.”