Sunday, December 20, 2015

Mayor Anna Peterson's "Homeless Issues"



Anna Peterson for Mayor

Last Monday, December 14th, in remarks about her "Update on Efforts to Alleviate Homelessness", the Mayor stated that she and the other officials on her soon-to-be-formed regional  task force on homelessness, “are not grabbing headlines, we are grabbing the problem.”

I know some people think we haven't been doing anything because you don't see headlines about what I'm doing or whatever, but I wanted you to know that we've been active and I will be coming [to Council] in January with a request for the Council's support for our participation in this regional task force that we are forming.

Presumably, by “headlines” she meant the coverage of the recent west coast mayors’ summit on homelessness and climate change in Portland, which she did not attend.  Some social media posts blamed her for not attending, but it’s possible she just wasn’t invited, as she has not demonstrated much interest in or understanding of homelessness during her administration.  Others in Salem have, but not the Mayor. Certainly not compared to the mayors of Eugene, Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco.  For Mayor Peterson, homelessness is primarily a public safety or “quality of life” issue -- for the housed.  Consider her record.

January 2011, Mayor Peterson took office.  Her first State of the City address a month later touched on homelessness indirectly, and the need for services: 


February 2012, her second State of the City address again avoided use of the word “homeless”:



February 2013, the Mayor’s State of the City address for the first time made specific mention of “homeless individuals”:

Last spring, we formed the Safe Streets and Parks Task Force, to respond to public complaints about begging and loitering downtown, urban camping in our city parks, and the serious increase of homeless individuals and families in need of services and shelters

February 2014, in her State of the City speech, she spoke of her plan to reduce panhandling, "a growing homeless population", and how she discovered that the City doesn’t provide public toilets after hours:  

The Safe Streets and Parks Task Force that I formed...launched a campaign to reduce panhandling...Downtown and parks patrols...have been fortified...to reach out to homeless people and help them move off the streets and out of our parks and into shelters and transitional housing.  And here is the innovative twist on panhandling.  We are asking the public to stop giving money and food out on the streets.  Instead, donate to recognized social service [sic] and no[n] profits with a track record of success at moving people to a more stable and self-sufficient life.  But who is safe?  You and I, who can go home at night and lock the door. That’s not the solution, that’s merely avoidance.  Avoidance of a growing homeless population caused by as many different circumstances as there are people.  Sure, mental illness rank high as underlying factors.  But this economy is forcing unemployed families...often mothers with children, to sleep in their cars, on friend[s’] couches, or camp in our city parks.  United Way and I formed a Shelter Workgroup to sort out what we have and what is needed in the way of safe shelter and affordable housing.  But solutions are a long way off, and we need your help.  When I had the opportunity to volunteer two nights at the Warming Shelter, word quickly spread that the mayor was there, and that I wanted to listen to their thoughts and needs.  And do you know what they asked for?  Not money, not food and shelter, not handouts or an easy ride.  They asked me for toilets.  Toilets open at night.  I was ashamed.  Ashamed that with all our resources and comforts, we had not thought to provide for the most basic of human needs.  We get angry when the sidewalks and doorways are soiled.  And we think we have no responsibility?  Well…

Shortly after her speech, the Mayor asked the Safe Streets and Parks Task Force to consider "toilets and sanitary services for the homeless."  However, by the time city budget discussions were completed, it was apparent that the Mayor’s enthusiasm for after hours toilets had waned.  In late 2014, after a long delay, the Mayor finally released for distribution posters developed for her "Real Change"-type anti-panhandling campaign.  See here, here and here.

February 2015, in her next-to-last State of the City address, the Mayor asserted that “[h]ousing and shelter issues” had been getting the City’s attention, and homelessness had become “a serious issue”:



August 2015, at the Mayor’s request, the City Council held a work session titled, "Public Restrooms and Regulating Conduct in the Right of Way."  The Mayor told the Council that what she wanted was not "new proposals", but increased police presence downtown.  She said she planned to "take this back to staff" for a report or recommendation as to whether "we need more [police] resources" downtown.  The Mayor also indicated she would be calling for greater "accountability" by recipients of general fund social service dollars (annually ~$400K) for panhandling-related behavior downtown, saying:

We have many [social service] agencies which, because of their location, draw people into the downtown area, and then, I feel, they don't feel a sense of responsibility for the result.  And I think it's time for the City to say back to them, what are you doing?  Maybe you need to be doing something differently as well.

Fall 2015, the Mayor joined the rest of the Council in advancing Ordinance Bill 18-15, merging the Social Services Advisory Board and the Housing and Urban Development Advisory Committee, in effect acknowledging that SSAB had long since ceased to oversee/ensure the effective delivery of social services in Salem.  A month later, in response to public comment that the Council had not addressed "the plight of the homeless" at any City Council meeting in the past 3 years, the Mayor demurred, cited the August 2015 work session, and said, "the City of Salem can't do it alone...we are not, in fact, charged to do that, and we're not funded to do that."  However, she did ask the Marion County Public Safety Coordinating Committee, of which she was a member, to add homelessness to its work plan and, after meeting several times with County Commissioners Janet Carlson (Marion) and Jennifer Wheeler (Polk), Keizer Mayor Clark and Salem City Councilor Bednarz, announced the formation of a homeless task force consisting of all the above, except Councilor Bednarz, and a couple of staff.  

Which brings us to the present.  What can we expect from a group of officials who are, no doubt, well meaning, but who have so little knowledge and experience of the issues as these four?  At least the mayors of Eugene, Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco are willing to admit they do not yet understand enough about homelessness in their communities to know what actions are most needed, or likely to be most effective, and yet they know a great deal more than the members of the Mayor’s regional task force.
         
Nevertheless, following the close of the meeting last Monday night, the Mayor reportedly said she was not interested in “extended planning”, and anticipated the members of the task force would be taking action after only two or three meetings.  If that report is true, expectations of the task force should be limited, very limited, and everyone who was hoping for more should just forget about it, and go back to the serious and hard work of education, collaboration, innovation and “extended planning” that are needed to "alleviate homelessness" in this community, and elsewhere.  

Update:  In early January, the Mayor spoke about the task force with the Statesman Journal.  On January 14, at the first City Council meeting of 2016, the Council, without comment, adopted as part of the consent calendar, Resolution No. 2016-1 appointing the Mayor, Councilor Bednarz, SPD Chief Moore, the Hon. David Leith, and Ron Hays to the Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative, which is to start work in February and last 1 year, unless extended.  The first meeting has been set for February 17 from 4-6 in the Anderson Room of the Library.

Update: On March 2, 2016, the Mayor delivered her last "State of the City" speech to a large audience, including many members of the task force, their advisers, and housing/homeless service providers.  She spoke of homelessness briefly much earlier in her this speech than was usual ("one of 2015's challenges, along with panhandling, staff retirements, the lack of after-hours toilets, the cramped police station, and a rise in parking fees"), but, as usual, she left most of what she had to say about it until the end:
As I said at the beginning of this speech, homelessness is a pressing issue and one we cannot ignore.  In the downtown area, we owe a huge thanks to local churches and to the Arta-Pottie group who stepped forward last year to provide shelter and bathrooms in several places downtown.  
As proof that we are the Collaboration Capital, Keizer Mayor Cathy Clark -- and if you're here, I hope you'll stand [they apparently were not there] -- Marion County Janet Carlson, Polk County Commissioner Jennifer Wheeler and I have launched the Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative Task Force.  Our first meeting drew a standing room only crowd of community members and service providers.  I am convinced that with this type of community support we're going to find new resources and bring innovative solutions to reduce the plight of individuals and families who now sleep under bridges, in cars, on people's couches, or double up in rental houses and apartments while they wait for affordable housing that we so desperately need.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The MWVCAA-Coordinated Overnight Cold Weather Shelter in Salem - December 2015 Issues‏‏

This past week, the week of Thanksgiving 2015, the week of feel-good media stories about feeding turkey to the homeless, nighttime temperatures began dropping into the 20s and overnight cold weather shelters elsewhere in the valley began opening, but not in Salem.  Commentary appeared in social media asking why the shelter was not open, blaming the City, the local Community Action Agency and heartless volunteers for what was assumed to be a poor decision.  Was it?  Or, as with almost every situation involving social services, was it tough decision based on available resources?  Reasonable people may disagree.  Here are some factors to consider.  Thanks to members of the Salem Homeless Coalition for information about the recent history of Salem’s cold weather shelter.


The basic purpose of an overnight cold weather shelter is to allow people who need it a place to sleep without the danger of freezing to death.  It is considered emergency housing.  (Housing is either emergency, transitional, or permanent; only housing designated “emergency” is relevant to this discussion.)  


Emergency housing in Salem is limited.  Currently, men in Salem can find overnight cold weather shelter at the UGM’s Men’s Shelter on Commercial Street.  As may be needed in cold weather, UGM Men’s Shelter expands its capacity and waives its sobriety requirement.  Conditions there are very cramped in cold weather.  There is overnight shelter in Keizer for women and children at the UGM’s Simonka Place, about 115 beds.  Though capacity expands somewhat in cold weather, it is limited.  There is limited overnight shelter for youth at H.O.S.T. on Liberty Street.  There is no overnight shelter for families.


Before 2010 or thereabouts, Salem's emergency "overflow" warming centers were run by a local chapter of the American Red Cross.  But, the chapter closed or moved to Portland.  So, in the fall of 2014, a few members of a few downtown churches began forming the Salem Homeless Coalition, in part to organize an emergency warming center for families.  Established service providers quickly stepped up and took the project over, providing paid staff and training volunteers.  However, for reasons that are not entirely understood, the families-only limitation was not enforced.  Although arrangements had been made for a Northwest Human Services van to transport single men to the UGM Men’s Shelter, reportedly some volunteers were either unwilling or unable to turn them away, creating a perceived or real security concern for families, with or without minor children.  With few or no families seeking entry, the decision was made to drop the families-only limitation.  That winter (2014-15), the Mid Willamette Valley Community Action Agency (MWVCAA) hosted the season’s first shelter, and First Congregational UCC (FCUCC) on Marion Street between Winter and Cottage, hosted the second, supported by more than 100 trained volunteers.  Since then, entry has been limited to those 18 and older.           


At an organizing meeting held September 30, 2015, FCUCC and First Presbyterian agreed to host a shelter and MWVCAA offered to coordinate.  MWVCAA set the criteria for opening and would determine whether they had been met.  The criteria included the prediction of a cold spell more or less defined as 31 degrees Fahrenheit or below for at least three days in a row, and the availability of 10 trained volunteers per shift for as long as the cold spell is predicted to last.  A volunteer-training was scheduled for November 3rd, but only 35 volunteers attended.  


Then came Thanksgiving week and nighttime temperatures in the 20s.  First Presbyterian Church was prepared to open a shelter that week, but MWVCAA, after consultation with other providers in the area, decided not to open, causing, as noted above, consternation in parts of the community.

UPDATE 12/10/15: the committee that set up the MWVCAA-coordinated shelter three years ago reportedly adopted as its own a manual of the Portland Chapter of the American Red Cross for operating an emergency warming center.  That manual was the source of the initial 27ᵒ for 72 consecutive hours prediction criterion (later changed to a prediction of 31ᵒ for 72 hours as explained in this interview).

UPDATE 12/30/15: MWVCAA announced a two-day warming center "event" was "activated" for 12/31 and 1/1 at FCUCC, as temperatures were "expected to fall well below freezing."   Volunteers were invited to sign up for shifts after reading the warming center manual. 




UPDATE 1/4/15: The warming center "event" was extended through January 3, for a total of four nights.  Here's what is known about how things went, based general observations, information available, and interviews with providers and volunteers. 

  1. Each night, between 8 pm and 6:30 am, the center warmed between 50 and 60 guests, about 10 of whom were women.
  2. No one was turned away due to lack of room. 
  3. At some point, UGM Simonka Place stopped acting as a warming center, and had to turn women away.
  4. At no point during the period was UGM Men's shelter full.  
  5. All the workers were volunteers (no staff, except at the opening and closing).
  6. Every shift had at least one experienced volunteer, designated as a "lead."
  7. Guests were expected to abide by two printed pages of rules, which the volunteers were supposed to explain and enforce to the letter, which led to tensions.
  8. The rule against serving food cause particular tension that is unresolved.
  9. Tension also exists as to the warming center's purpose: is it to offer no more than is necessary to prevent death and injury from exposure, or should it be more of a welcoming experience?  
  10. There appears to be no mechanism for debriefing the volunteers' experience and perceptions, making continued tensions likely.
  11. The Mayor and Justice Peterson served the last shift Monday morning.  No other elected officials were observed participating.

Guests Departing at 6:30 am Jan 3 2016
 
If you took part in this most recent warming center effort, we want to hear from you.  What did you think worked well, what do you think might have been done differently?  What questions would you like answered?  What would you like organizers to know about your experience? 

UPDATE 2/2/16: At the Salem Homeless Coalition meeting on February 1, MWVCAA Deputy Director Cyndi Astley gave a report on the warming center experience that consisted entirely of numbers and thank yous.  Unique individuals: 121.  Dogs: 3.  Stayed 1 night: 62.  Stayed all 4 nights: 17.  Total visits: 229.  Couples: "several."  Total volunteers: 80.  Shifts filled: 120.  Police calls: 0.  Cabs to Hospital: "a couple."  Thanks to all the volunteers and First Congregational Church.  Characteristically, there was no analysis; not one word, not one, about lessons learned, the number of male and female guests and what that implied about the needs of the community, or about the tension over the rules or how or whether any effort had been made to resolve them.    

12/10/16 Update: MWVCAA Deputy Director Cyndi Leinassar (fka Astley) policy statements questioned by Statesman Journal reporter Carol Currie.  For more, go here

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Minutes 11/17/15





November 17, 2015
Minutes

e
David Dahle, Chair
p
Woody Dukes
p
Brock Campbell
p
Michael Livingston,
Vice Chair
p
Bob Hanna
a
Diana Dettwyler
p
Erma Hoffman, Treasurer
e
Bruce Hoffman
p
Neal Kern
p
Sarah Owens, Sec’y
e
Rebekah Engle


p=present a=absent e=excused

Residents: Bill Holmstrom, Rick Yurt
Organizations: Maurice Anderson, First Congregational UCC and Salem Homeless Coalition; Simon Sandusky, Guest Services Manager, Union Gospel Mission, A.P. Walther, Salem Weekly, Verena Wessel, Northwest Human Services
City/County Representatives: Councilor Bennett, Officer Vanmeter; Gina Courson, Marion County Parole & Probation
Guests: Jeremy Mills, NEN; Cyndi Astley, Deputy Director, MWVCAA; Brent Demoe, Manager, Polk County Family and Community Outreach

The regular meeting of the CanDo Board of Directors was called to order at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 17, 2015, at the First Christian Church at 685 Marion Street NE, Salem. Michael Livingston was in the chair and Sarah Owens acted as secretary.

The agenda and the minutes of the October meeting were approved unanimously.

Deputy Courson reported the latest MCRI statistics and answered questions.

Councilor Bennett made announcements and stated that the City needed “to continue to work with the affordable housing issue”, saying that, in the 1970s, the City had a “very aggressive housing policy because the feds [at that time] had a very aggressive housing policy”, but not since then had either the City or the feds addressed the problem  adequately.  He said private developers were “few and far between for cities the size of Salem” and that the City would be considering the Salem Housing Authority’s proposal to  build affordable housing on part of the State Hospital’s North Campus.

Officer Vanmeter reported that SPD makes 5-6 drug/alcohol-related arrests per day under the Center St. Bridge near UGM.  As a consequence, Public Works Director Peter Fernandez and SPD had agreed it would be preferable to prevent the need for arrests at this location by better "environmental design", i.e., by fencing off the area under the bridge.  Both Public Works and SPD recognize that this course will merely send the problem behavior elsewhere.  No timeline was given, but it seemed from what was said that action was likely to be taken within the next 60 days.  

The board heard a presentation from Brent Demoe on developing the Dallas Academy Building model for co-locating social services for families in need, followed by a lively discussion on how it might be used to develop a similar resource center for homeless individuals living in downtown Salem.    


The Chair reminded everyone that the board had canceled the December meeting.

There being no other business before the board, the meeting of the Board of Directors adjourned at 7:02 p.m. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Minutes 10/20/15





October 20, 2015
Minutes

p
David Dahle, Chair
p
Woody Dukes
p
Brock Campbell
p
Michael Livingston,
Vice Chair
p
Bob Hanna
p
Diana Dettwyler
e
Erma Hoffman, Treasurer
e
Bruce Hoffman
a
Neal Kern
p
Sarah Owens, Sec’y
p
Rebekah Engle


p=present a=absent e=excused

Residents: Bill Holmstrom, Rosa Leonardi, Deb Comini
Organizations: Jon Christensen, SCAN; Maurice Anderson, Salem Homeless Coalition
City/County Representatives: Councilor Bennett, Officer Vanmeter
Guest: Teresa Joslin; Verena Wessel, Northwest Human Services

The regular meeting of the CanDo Board of Directors was called to order at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, October 20, 2015, at the First Christian Church at 685 Marion Street NE, Salem. David Dahle was in the chair and Sarah Owens acted as secretary.

The agenda and the minutes of the September meeting were approved unanimously.

Officer Vanmeter reported on his plan to use what he learned at the 25th annual Problem Oriented Policing conference to better coordinate the Downtown Enforcement Team with community resources, incorporate community values in the Team’s policing, and develop a suitable method for measuring success.  Questions concerned an alleged tasering incident at the First Congregational Church and the need for a consistent strategy relative to illegal camping and the homeless generally.  Councilor Bennett commented that the Council and SPD were aware of the problem, and had at least agreed, “we’re not going to arrest our way out of it.”

Councilor Bennett reported that the Council had allocated additional general fund monies to complete the planned parking meter upgrades, and the Minto Brown Island Park Master Plan draft had received mixed reviews in the public hearing, and the Council had left the record open for additional public comment at least through November 23, perhaps longer.  He also noted that the Plan (see p. 39) clearly identified illegal camping as a park management concern.  He also reported that the Council had, in response to a request from the Grant Neighborhood, conducted a first reading of an amendment to SRC 900 (Sign Code) to exempt graffiti-resistant coverings containing only graphics on public structures such as utility enclosures.

Michael Livingston’s motion to switch the order of presentations passed unanimously.

The board heard a presentation by Leilani Slama on Salem Hospital's plan to request a variance to permit the installation of an illuminated clock on Building D, and the board indicated they had no concerns about the plan.  

The board heard a presentation by Verena Wessel about the social services delivery in the central area, who is served, and how well the services fit community needs.  

In public comment, Jon Christensen thanked CANDO for its work on the SRC 86 (“Tree Code”) revisions, and stated that SCAN was generally concerned about any additional illumination in their residential neighborhood.  

There being no other business before the board, the meeting of the Board of Directors adjourned at 7:32 p.m.