Klamath County To Evict RV Park Residents From Project Turnkey Property
County officials bought a motel and RV park with state funds earmarked for creating transitional housing for people facing homelessness. Now, the low income people who have been living there in their RVs are being forced out.
Klamath County bought the Oregon Motel 8 and RV park this spring for $1.5 million to convert the motel and RV park into housing to address homelessness.
With eviction notices in hand, the remaining tenants of the RV park along Highway 97 North are now scrambling to find another place to live so that the property behind the motel can eventually be converted into veterans housing by Klamath County.
Klamath County Sheriff’s Office served the 60-day eviction notices to RV park residents last week, about three months after a Klamath County Commissioner said they could stay at the property.
The project, called Project Turnkey, is funded through a grant administered to Klamath County through the Oregon Community Foundation. The program, known locally as “Project Homefront,” is part of a $65 million statewide program funded through the Oregon Legislature. The project converts motels into transitional housing for those most at-risk of homelessness and can be applied to veterans, people impacted by wildfires and those in need of a place to quarantine, as well as for those on parole and probation.
Most of the approximately $1.8 million grant already secured by the county has been used to purchase the property, with more than $270,000 used to replace the motel’s roof and for renovations to convert the 29-room motel into housing for people on parole and probation, to be overseen by Klamath County Corrections Department.
A grant is still needed to move forward with a possible veteran’s village on the 34-space RV park property and no construction can happen at the RV park until tenants leave the property, according to Klamath County Commissioner Derrick DeGroot.
“Eventually we’re going to need something out there with that property and we really don’t want to do it with people living there,” DeGroot told JPR last week. “We don’t want to turn their home into a construction site.”
The county purchased the property without checking to see if there were long-term residents living in the RV park behind the motel, according to DeGroot.
“We’re still not kicking people out. We are still trying to motivate people to find a better solution.”
While many of the park tenants have left the site following the county’s ownership, there are one dozen campers or trailers left, some of which house multiple tenants. Most have either been unsuccessful in finding a place or say they have nowhere to go.
Some, like Randy Lueker, didn’t know they had to move at all until they received an eviction notice last week. The 66-year-old believed he could stay after reading comments from Klamath County Commissioner Kelley Minty Morris that stated as much.
At best, Lueker believes commissioners were unclear in their directive to the residents.
In March, Minty Morris stated in an email, “The county has no plans to evict anyone.”
She also told a reporter in March that “nobody’s getting kicked out – period …. We will work with anyone who wants to stay, we will work with anyone who wants to relocate.”
Sitting on the steps of his RV last week, Lueker said the only other thing beside the eviction notice served to him on Thursday that made him question how long he could stay was the closure of the laundry on site in recent weeks. Other amenities such as showers, internet, and cable have been shut down, too.
“I wasn’t ready for it,” Lueker said, of the eviction.
“I’ve been here nine or 10 years. I’ve never been late on my payment – never. I don’t bother nobody, my dogs don’t bother nobody.”
He plans to look for a house to buy but will need to find an affordable one before Aug. 16.
Minty Morris was the sole no vote in a 2-1 decision last week where Commissioners approved the eviction notice.
She said she voted no to serve the evictions because of the public perception it would have. But she does think residents should leave the property so it can be converted into transitional housing, and believes it will be better for them in the long run.
“It was the direction of the majority of the board to put out this notice in hopes of motivating those who have not been motivated up until this point,” Minty Morris said.
"We're not kicking people out," Minty Morris said. "We are still trying to motivate people to find a better solution."
Minty Morris said county staff have gone door-to-door at the RV park, offering help to park tenants in an effort to ease the transition.
"We’re trying to help them find somewhere that’s going to ultimately be better for them and they really need to work with us,” she said.
The county so far is not providing financial assistance for helping the tenants relocate but is offering to help connect residents to services that can help.
“We have lots of resources that we can connect you to,” Minty Morris said.
DeGroot said the county issued a list of mobile home parks, long-term stay motels, in addition to social services, to current tenants and that staff are trying to help them find something else.
“It’s time,” DeGroot said. “They need to at least be putting forth an effort to look for an alternative and that just wasn’t happening with a group of them.”
Some tenants, like Victor Neal, say that’s exactly what he and other tenants have been trying to do but are so far unsuccessful in finding housing.
Neal, 53, lives on the property in a camper with his wife and four young sons, ages 13, 10, 5, and 6-months. His 10 and 13-year-year-old sons attend Klamath Falls City schools.
Neal and his family had planned to set down roots in southern Oregon after moving to Klamath Falls from the Midwest for the climate and for a better way of life.
Now, Neal is trying to look for another place to go, and may be forced to return to the Midwest if he can’t find a better place before Aug. 16.
“I want to put this place in the rearview mirror, but I don’t believe it’s fair or right the way they’re doing it,” Neal said on Saturday.
“They say that they’re giving us help,” he added. “Every single number that anybody has given us, we’ve called.”
Neal is hoping to get into a house, or at least an apartment, if the family can stay in Klamath Falls. He said his family is 96th on a waitlist for low-income housing.
Neal said he has sought rental assistance, but meanwhile, the clock is ticking for the family to live at the site or be forced out.
“I’m trying everything that we can possibly try, but the places we can get into, we can’t afford,” he said.
While Neal is employed, he said many at the park are not nor do they have family to stay with.
“They’re basically going to push people out to tents,” Neal said.