COOS BAY — The landscaping outside the house is full of rhododendrons, but the building’s future owners plan to name it after azaleas.
The name, Azalea House, will grace the blue building on Thompson Road as it transitions from an old, partially demolished psychiatry practice into an adult foster care home. One day, community members might be able to plant azaleas in in the garden in honor of loved ones, too.
Plus, as Tara Johnson, the executive director of the Devereux Center which will soon own the building, said, “Who can spell rhododendron?”
The new building was donated to the Devereux Center this month, and with it the Coos Bay nonprofit plans to open a five-bed adult foster care facility. The new spaces will fill just a fraction of the need in the community, and will take considerable construction before they’re up and running, but experts say the facility is badly needed.
“Foster care is one of those areas where we’ve had a very low level of resources in the community,” said David Geels, the behavioral health director at Coos Health & Wellness.
Coos County used to have more open adult foster care beds — 25 at one point — and they were always full, according to Geels.
But now, he says, there are only about 10 adult foster care spaces left in the county. Four homes have closed down as owners — many of them family providers — couldn’t keep up with mortgage payments or requirements for 24-7 staffing.
With the level of need in the community, and a state limit on facilities to five residents each, Geels says the county could probably fill at least five more adult foster homes with residents.
Beyond just starting to fill the need, Geels said the planned model of the Devereux Center’s, with a mortgage-free building and an organization running the facility instead of a family, gives it better odds of success for staying open.
“It creates a level of stability,” Geels said. “It’s hard work, running a facility like that.”
Brent and Melanie Beetham purchased and donated the building with the goal of improving mental health services in the community, Johnson said. After considering the area’s zoning regulations and discussing with other nonprofits, they settled on the idea of an adult foster care program.
Even through it’ll be operated by the Devereux Center, which focuses on serving homeless individuals, the foster home won’t only be open to those experiencing homelessness. Any individuals with severe mental illness could be eligible after a referral from Coos Health & Wellness.
“We’re hoping to find the people that don’t have the family support or don’t have the community to seek the help that they need,” Johnson said, noting that mental health is often a contributing factor to individuals becoming homeless.
Services in the home will include housing, medication monitoring, food preparation and daily hygiene, among other services, Johnson said. Once up and running, the home’s services will be largely funded by the state, too.
“It’s really additional funds that are coming out to support these folks,” Geels said.
But before any of the licensing, funding or living can happen, crews have to get building. There’s a significant amount of renovation that needs to be completed.
“There are things that we need to do to be user-friendly for adult foster care,” Johnson said.
Sheetrock for the walls, for example, will be a starting point: Currently, the building has been stripped down to the studs. Crews will need to rework some plumbing and wiring, and some walls will likely need to move to expand bathrooms, bedrooms, a kitchen space and a living space for the resident manager.
In the end, Johnson envisions five bedrooms with a kitchen, multiple full bathrooms and rooms for counseling and creative therapy activities.
But she also acknowledges that it’s a challenging time to launch a project like this, with the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic downturn still raging.
“Sure, its ambitious,” she said. “But mental illness doesn’t go away because of a pandemic.”
Regardless, the Devereux Center jumped at the opportunity to take over the building and put a “drop in the bucket” of the community’s need for facilities like Azalea House.
“It’s a tiny drop in a really big bucket,” Johnson said. “But how long do we let the bucket remain empty?”
The Devereux Center is accepting donations for the project, including financial contributions, materials and labor. Interested donors should contact the center at 541-888-3202 and indicate that they’d like their donations directed to the adult foster care project.