EUGENE, Ore. – The Lane County Board of Commissioners is set to consider a new ordinance requiring hotels and motels to take in unhoused people who are awaiting results of coronavirus tests in exchange for money or vouchers.
The proposal comes after the county said it has run into trouble with establishments refusing to take in patients in exchange for payment.
“The potential implications of not quarantining patients awaiting COVID-19 tests or patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 who are unable to shelter in their homes will results in further spread of COVID-19 and will result in more deaths in Lane County,” the ordinance says.
The ordinance says there is an “immediate need” to provide housing for the treatment and testing of the area’s unhoused. Lane County recently purchased a former Veterans Affairs clinic on River Avenue in Eugene to be repurposed to house homeless people who are recovering from COVID-19 or are waiting for test results. Lane County Health and Human Services is outfitting that site with the proper equipment, but leaders say hotel space may still be necessary in the meantime.
“It would allow us to not have to use our hotels for medical recovery," Jason Davis with Lane County Public Health said. "We will be using that for the remainder of this outbreak and then looking at that for the second wave as well."
Davis said that they typically pick a hotel location "centrally-located" to where the unhoused population is and that the voucher given to a hotel is worth around $85 a night.
A hotel would need to meet the appropriate standards, such as having enough privacy and outdoor entrances and exits.
Several hotel operators have already filed letters with the county in opposition to the plan, citing security concerns and low staffing levels inside the hotels.
In a letter to commissioners, Mereté Hotel Management President Richard Boyles said the ordinance would create “increased risks for hotel staff and guests.” Mereté operates numerous hotels across Oregon, with several in the Eugene-Springfield area.
“Passing this ordinance creates a zero-sum game where you are trading the health and well-being of one segment of Lane County’s population for that of another and has the potential to hinder the recovery of the already hard-hit hospitality industry in Lane County,” Boyles wrote.
Boyles suggested some hotels may be willing to help the county on a voluntary basis, given an agreed set of pre-conditions.
Tina Patel is the managing director for ALKO Hotels, operating four local hotels with one currently in construction.
“Let us decide if we want to take it or not take it," Patel said.
Patel said that she is concerned about the possibility of the virus spreading throughout the hotels and the safety of her staff.
"The hotel industry is hit really hard by this pandemic, and this will take away what little business we have and what we are doing to pay the bills," Patel said.
The ordinance is set for its first reading Tuesday and could be voted on as soon as May 5.