Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Minutes 9/15/15

September 15, 2015

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

p=present a=absent e=excused

Residents: Bill Holmstrom, Rosa Leonardi, Deb Comini
Organizations: Jeff Leach, Bike Boulevard Advocates; Colleen Busch, Salem-Keizer Transit District Subdistrict #2; Jerry Thompson, Salem-Keizer Transit District Subdistrict #5; Juliana Cohen, Cherriots, Ken Hetsel, Morningside Neighborhood Association; Simon Sandusky, Guest Services Manager, Union Gospel Mission
City/County Representatives: Councilor Bennett
Guest: Curt Fisher

The regular meeting of the CanDo Board of Directors was called to order at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 15, 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 August meeting were approved unanimously.

In public comment, board member Bruce Hoffman announced that SAIF will be contacting CANDO and SCAN to discuss its plans to renovate its building at 400 High Street (built ~1974), taking it down to steel and concrete, with a goal of bringing it up to seismic and LEED equivalency standards, and replace the one-story building south of there, on Church Street (built ~1965 and not intended to last) with bio-swales and other appropriate landscaping.  

The board heard a presentation by Curt Fisher on the status of bicycle and pedestrian safety and access in the central area, followed by a presentation by Colleen Busch and Jerry Thompson of the Salem Area Mass Transit District Board, Board Member - Moving Forward Phase II and Ballot Measure to Raise Funds to Expand Bus Service.

Councilor Bennett reported that the Council had approved early sales of recreational marijuana and hired Steven Powers as City Manager, and recommended the board read the update on the project to replace the parking meters in the Capitol Mall and what he described as a miscommunication as to the intended extent of the project.  He also commented that city staff were fully committed to completing the next phase of the Winter-Maple family friendly bikeway within a year, “maybe year after”, and recommended that CANDO participate in the Capital Improvement Program planning process which begins in or around January.  Finally, he mentioned upcoming events, worksessions and hearings, in particular, the public hearing on proposed SRC 86, and asked CANDO to appear in support of its recommendations.

In new business, Sarah Owens’s motion to designate chairs of the board’s standing committees as follows:  Woody Dukes: Land Use, Neal Kern: Watershed Council, Michael Livingston: Transportation, Bruce Hoffman: Budget, passed unanimously;

Michael Livingston’s Motion Regarding CANDO Priorities, and his motion to authorize the Treasurer to prepare and submit a Letter of Intent to the City of Salem requesting a 2015-17 Salem Park Improvement Fund grant for the purchase and installation of a second piece of playground equipment at Pringle Park, passed.

Michael Livingston’s motion to authorize himself, Woody and Sarah to appear before the City Council on behalf of the board concerning CANDO’s recommendations regarding SRC 86 revisions at the public hearing currently scheduled for 9/28 passed unanimously.  

Michael Livingston’s motion to endorse Ballot Measure 24-388 to Raise Funds to Expand Bus Service passed, consistent with the board’s annual goal #1 (Support initiatives that increase bicyclist and pedestrian safety and access to downtown), and the board’s past practice to take a position on local ballot measures.

There being no other business before the board, the meeting of the Board of Directors adjourned at 7:54 p.m. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

CANDO's "Homeless Issues"

 Panhandling pays in CANDO
(photo by Tim King, courtesy

Perhaps more often than Salem's other neighborhood associations, CANDO hears reports/complaints/concerns relating to the conduct of its "homeless" members, a term that most often refers to those who are "living on the street" (unsheltered).  The latest statistics available suggest that, on any given night, roughly 200 residents of Marion and Polk Counties are unsheltered (compared to Portland's 1,800 and Eugene's 716).  Social service providers consistently hold the true number is at least twice what's reported. 

Most of Salem's unsheltered are long-time residents, likely single, "white" adults with no more than a high school diploma or GED, who've been living on the street for one to three years.  Many are in their 40s, and roughly two-thirds are male.  Most could be diagnosed with substance abuse disorder, serious mental illness, developmental disability, PTSD, cognitive impairments resulting from brain injury, and/or chronic physical illness or disability.  Roughly one third have some form of income, mostly from government assistance (including SNAP), Social Security (including SSI), recycling beverage containers, and panhandling.  For more about what it means to be living on the street, see here, here, here, and here.

Even though the complaints, etc., that CANDO receives remain fairly consistent from year to year, civic commitment to a consistent strategy for getting "the poorest of the poor indoors", or even out of downtown, remains elusive.  (CANDO does not support initiatives that would simply move its homeless members to other cities or other parts of Salem.)

One likely reason for the Salem's lack of commitment is the absence of proof that any one strategy is effective, "affordable" and "sustainable" over the long term.  Another is that Salem has never had a well-informed, organized and effective housing or homeless advocacy group to organize supporters, develop viable strategies and push the City in the right direction.  Because this situation seems very likely to continue, we thought it would be useful to write a blog capturing the recent actions and current thinking of Salem's leadership in this area, so maybe we can learn from our mistakes, and avoid some of Portland's problems.

A Brief Word About Federal Programs

"Ending homelessness" was for years Salem's No. 1 Consolidated Plan goal.  See here at 2.  In 2015, it dropped to No. 2.  What does this mean?  First, it's important to understand that Consolidated Plan goals are not the same as City Council goals.  Consolidated Plan goals merely reflect what the City Council hopes to accomplish under certain federal programs.  City Council goals, on the other hand, are what the City Council hopes to accomplish outside those federal programs, with whatever resources may be available.  The thing to keep in mind is that, when it comes to homelessness in Salem, the City Council's goals are simply to facilitate access to services, and provide for the safety of the (housed) public.  The City is not trying to end homelessness at this point (2015).   


1982: "The federal government just got out of the business of housing" assuming the business would do a better job, and began emphasizing home ownership.  See here. A July 19, 1982, Statesman Journal story about the Senator Hotel said the "Senator has a 30-percent vacancy rate, largely because of deteriorated condition of the hotel and a large pool of rentals available in Salem." Rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the Senator ranged from $84 to $149 per month. Tenants shared bathrooms.  The hotel was demolished in 1997 to make way for Courthouse Square.

2000: Jack Tafari lost his job in Salem and moved to Portland.

2002: Hundreds of cities began adopting 10-year plans to end homelessness in response to a call from the federal government and The National Alliance to End Homelessness.

2008: Just as the economy was collapsing, Oregon, and then Marion and Polk Counties adopted 10-year plans.  (Salem never adopted a plan.)

2009: Homeless in Marion/Polk counties: 3,244.

2010: Eight years in, the national plan was "tactically rebooted."  Marion County launched its "Reentry Initiative." 

2011: MWVCAA, the agency responsible for coordinating Salem's homeless/anti-poverty efforts ran foul of program reporting requirements and its responsibilities were adjusted.  See here.

2012: The national plan was revised to prioritize chronic/veteran homelessness. The Salem Housing Authority directed the Mid-Valley Conference on Homelessness.

Recent Actions 

Spring 2013: Mayor Anna Peterson appointed a Safe Streets and Parks Task Force "to address complaints and concerns from the public about begging and loitering downtown, urban camping in our city parks, and the serious increase in homeless families and individuals in need of services and shelters."  See here. []

June 2013: after losing federal grant funding three years in a row, NWHS closed an extended stay shelter for youth that was partly funded by the city.    

November 2013: financial mismanagement forced the Salem YWCA to close the Salem Outreach Shelter, which provided transitional housing for ten families (a family defined as a parent or legal guardian with minor child(ren)).  At the same time, the Salvation Army eliminated its units after deciding that the shared-bathrooms arrangement posed a safety risk to children.

March 2014: the Mayor volunteered at a warming shelter and learned that lack of access to toilets after-hours downtown is a serious problem.  See here.  The Mayor asked the Safe Streets and Parks Task Force to consider "toilets and sanitary services for the homeless."  See the attachment here []

May 2014: CANDO was informed that the Safe Streets and Parks Task Force's proposal to provide portable toilets downtown was likely going nowhere.  See here.

Fall 2014: without noticeable fanfare, explanation, plan or follow-up, the city released for distribution posters developed for a "Real Change"-type of campaign.  See here, here and here.

Spring 2015: The feds re-revised the federal plan; students from Sprague High School researching homelessness concluded that local governments had not "followed through" on the 10-year plan; the Statesman Journal published a piece about "quality of life" ordinances and the homeless that quoted CANDO's Chair; several individuals from business, "faith" and social services sectors initiated a public restroom project of their own in the central area (follow up story here).  Also see here and here
Placed June 2015 at First Congregational Church

July 2015: city staff issued a report on the status of "After Hours Parks Restrooms Closures" that touched on the public restroom project (above) and a plan to hold a Council work session on the subject in August.

August 31, 2015: the City Council held a work session titled, "Public Restrooms and Regulating Conduct in the Right of Way" (public restrooms are covered between 00:27 to 00:57, and right of way conduct [aka "panhandling"] is covered between 00:57 to 01:24).  This blog is not meant to be a substitute for watching the video; the staff reporting and councilor comments were sometimes rather nuanced.

Current Thinking 

After Hours Public Toilets.  During the work session on August 31, 2015, the issue for Council was, as stated by staff, does the Council want to provide additional after hours toilet facilities in the areas identified as problems, namely the "business core" of downtown, and in the Cottage-to-Winter Street blocks between Marion and Center Streets?

Three options were discussed: permanent buildings ($200K to $300K), automated public toilets (not much less expensive), and portable chemical toilets.  All three options have additional and ongoing maintenance costs.  Not discussed was the option to reopen the permanent restroom structures in the parks after hours (staff started closing the restrooms at 8:30 pm in 2014 because of repeated vandalism).
Facilities outside UGM
As a supplement to their July report, staff informed the Council, among other things, that the City purchases portable toilets for ~$2K to $3K each, that 4 to 5 are destroyed by fire each year, that there is one portable toilet available 24 hours/day in both Riverfront and Marion Square Parks (which are, however,
Placed August 2015 in the Yost Parking Lot
closed at night), that a private entity had recently provided a third toilet in "the Yost parking lot" off Commercial Street (between the Bike Peddler and the Spaghetti Warehouse), and that, if the Council wanted to consider providing a toilet facility on City-owned property, one possible location would be the plaza in the alleyway between Chemeketa Parkade and JC Penney (marked with a red star in the map/slide below).  It's kind of hard to see.

After-hours toilets available Aug 2015 downtown in yellow

By the end of the 30 minutes the Mayor allowed for this topic, there was little indication where things were likely to go from here, if anywhere.  Of the three options discussed, staff definitely seemed to favor the portable toilet option over the other two.  Councilors generally seemed to favor "recruiting...other agencies" (churches, businesses and the State) to work on the problem.    

Panhandling.  Our "takeaway" from this discussion was that panhandling is a community problem.  It exists because we give panhandlers money when they ask for it, so they ask for it.  Merely asking for money isn't unlawful, and trying to criminalize it and other things homeless people do can get you in trouble with HUD.

This work session also made pretty clear that the Mayor, who requested it, is more concerned with panhandling downtown than panhandling citywide, and what she wants is not "new proposals", but increased police presence downtown.  She therefore plans to "take this back to staff" for a report or recommendation as to whether "we need more [police] resources" downtown.  See her comments at 01:15 and 01:22.

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. 
In closing comments, Councilor Benjamin said that the Council needs to find out who's getting the social service funds and what the recipients are supposed to be doing with it.

In the past two funding cycles (FY2014-15 and FY2015-16), the City awarded general fund social service dollars to the following agencies: Congregations Helping People (CHP), Marion Polk Food Share, St. Francis Shelter, Mano a Mano, Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency (HOME Youth Resource Center), Northwest Human Services (HOST and Crisis Hotline) and the Salvation Army.  See here and here.

Only two of those recipient programs, CHP and the hotline, are located downtown.  Although the HOAP "day center" on Church Street could be said to draw homeless individuals (reportedly ~90-100/day, with 50-60 new clients/month), it's hard to say that the hotline, which has space in the office and delivers services by telephone, does so.  Similarly, based on what we know about CHP, which operates out of the First Methodist Church on State Street and provides case management and one-time emergency assistance to homeless and at-risk families, it's doubtful its clients remain or cause problems in the downtown area.  As was noted in the work session, the situation downtown may change when (or if) the Union Gospel Mission acts on plans to relocate north, to its store property at 885 Commercial Street NE.

Blog Updates

12 September 2015: the toilet at First Congregational Church was removed. On inquiry, the Church reported it was being replaced, not sure when.  The only signage at the site read "No Sleeping No Camping."  People continued sleeping on the premises. A new toilet was installed on September 17.
Sign at Toilet Site

14 September 2015: the City Council advanced 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.        

14 September 2015: UGM in July 2014 reported to CANDO that it was in the middle of a capital campaign to raise funds for the new facility, and projected it would break ground at the new location in spring 2016.  However, after that, UGM replaced its executive director and, apparently in the process, lost momentum.  Its new director stated at the 9/14 Homeless Coalition meeting that UGM is now "nowhere near a capital campaign."  

25 September 2015: art was added to the toilet in the Yost parking lot with KATU news coverage. 
28 September 2015: City Council to HUD: "the City has been very active in community collaboration of services that support the homeless" and "serving the homeless...will continue to be a high priority."

October 2015: the Mayor asked the Marion County Public Safety Coordinating Committee (whose purpose is "to increase public safety by enhancing law enforcement efficiencies and reducing crime") to add homelessness to its work plan, consistent with her view of homelessness as primarily a public safety concern, followed by several meetings with County Commissioners Janet Carlson (Marion) and Jennifer Wheeler (Polk), Keizer Mayor Clark and Salem City Councilor Bednarz.  See here and here.

5 October 2015: First Congregational Church reported to Homeless Coalition members that the Church was reassessing its policies/practice following an increase in the number of people sleeping on Church property and advice from the SPD following several "incidents", 

First Congregational Church, Back Porch

Church Newsletter Notice
including a report that one of the homeless had been tasered.  (Asked to comment, SPD denied the incident.) 

12 October 2015: City Council held a work session on the Housing Needs Analysis and directed staff to develop a work plan to address Salem's projected housing needs, including the need for more affordable housing (current deficit ~6,400 units). According to the City's website, staff expect to bring the work plan back to the Council for further direction "later this winter."  The City Council also held a public hearing on the Minto Brown Island Park Master Plan, which stated (at p. 39) that "[s]everal management issues were raised repeatedly during the public [outreach] process.  The City is aware of public concerns related to illegal encampments within the park.  Significant efforts have been made in recent years to post and remove camps as they are discovered.  Parks Operations should continue to work closely with [SPD], Minto-Brown Parks Patrol and residents to manage this problem.  Additional information and signs with appropriate information could provide a useful tool for concerned citizens."

Toilet at Chemeketa and Front Streets
19 October 2015: A fourth toilet was set up, courtesy Northwest Human Services and Paul Gehlar, in the parking lot on Front Street (230 Chemeketa St NE).

26 October 2015: At the City Council meeting, First Congregational Church invited the Mayor and Council to their "State of the Grounds" meeting (video at 2:46), noting 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 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."  Her comments were echoed at the meeting on the 28th by Councilor Bednarz, who urged attendees to read the latest Homeless Count report. (The Church ultimately decided to continue to allow sleeping on the property, which they later started referring to as their "Sleeping Ministry.")

14 November 2015: CityWatch hosted presentations by Rena Peck, Federal Programs Manager for Salem's Urban Development Department, and LeeAnn Marx and Linda Strike from the Mid-Valley Community Action Agency's Arches project.  In response to a question, Councilor Bennett made clear that the City would not take the lead in developing shelter programs like, for example, Opportunity Village in Eugene, rather, the initiative would need to come from organized citizenry, who must be both willing and able to commit resources to making them work.

17 November 2015: It was reported at the CANDO meeting that Public Works and SPD had decided to close off the area under the Center Street Bridge because of the frequency of drug/alcohol-related arrests there.  

19 November 2015: City staff reported briefly in writing on the progress of Council goals, including two goals relating to homelessness. 

Tara Parrish

23 November 2015: In public comments at the close of the City Council meeting (~1:44), Council heard complaints from activist Tara Parrish and social worker Ben Kesler that Salem lacked adequate shelter for homeless youth. Neither the commenters nor the Council appeared to know about the Northwest Human Services HOST program, which provides emergency shelter for minors for short periods (72 hours), within which time staff seek to return the youth to parents or guardians, or, in cases of abuse/neglect, submit a report to DHS.  [7/29/16 Update: it appears that Kesler and Parrish believed HOST accommodated only youth ages 18-24.]       

24 November 2015: Despite overnight lows in the 20s and pressure from some in the community, the overnight cold weather shelter coordinated by the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency decided not to open the shelter.  See here.

Ben Kesler

7 December 2015: Dan Sheets reported at meeting of the Salem Homeless Coalition that he had contacted the Salem Public Works office about the plan to close the area under the Center Street Bridge, and was working with others to clean up the area and perhaps avoid it being closed.  Also that night, Council again heard complaints from Ben Kesler about the lack of adequate shelter for homeless youth (~00:45) . In response, the Mayor asserted that she was "working actively with Marion County, Polk County, City of Keizer and City of Salem, and we're forming a task force that will be a regional task force on homelessness and related issues. So I assure you that we are doing many things on many levels and we have been for quite some time...And so, I encourage you to recognize, if you will, please, that we have been working very hard and we have been working diligently and have been providing resources.  Can we provide all of the money that's needed for all of the problems? No."    

10 December 2015: the City published the Mayor's "Update on Efforts to Alleviate Homelessness" in which the Mayor stated she had met with Ron Hays (formerly Marion & Polk Food Share CEO) of the Department of Mission Advancement, LLC (philanthropic endeavors), Jon Reeves and Cyndi Astley of Mid Willamette Valley Community Action Agency (annual homeless count, homeless day center, emergency cold weather shelter), Cynthia Lester of Women-at-the-Well Grace House (single women's transitional shelter), and Jayne Downing of the Center for Hope and Safety (domestic violence victims), and planned to form a homeless task force with Commissioners Wheeler (Polk) and Carlson (Marion), Mayor Clark (Keizer), Hitesh Parekh, a "management analyst" from Marion County, and Laura Walker, in the City's Federal Programs Division of the Urban Development Department.  

14 December 2015: Salem Housing Authority Board of Commissioners adopted unanimously the recommendation of the Salem Housing Advisory Board to, among other things, appoint a committee to develop affordable housing policy and strategy.  At the end of the City Council meeting, the Mayor commented on her "Update on Efforts to Alleviate Homelessness", stating that she and the other officials on the task force, "are not grabbing headlines, we are grabbing the problem", referring, presumably, to a recent west coast mayors' summit on homelessness that she did not attend.  For more of the Mayor's thoughts about homelessness, see here

30 December 2015: With overnight lows again in the 20s, the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency announced the overnight cold weather shelter would open New Year's Eve and the following night at FCUCC.  See here.