Sunday, January 31, 2016

Homeless for the Holidays Update

The ARCHES Project on Madison Street NE

A little more than six years ago, Salem Weekly published a piece called "Homeless for the holidays" that set out to "paint a picture of homelessness" but found in the end that "no single brush, color or canvas" could do the subject justice.

Still, the piece did paint a picture, and it wasn't one of those feel-good pictures that so often appear around the holidays.  It had numbers and ideas -- numbers to illustrate the scope of the problem, and ideas about what might be done immediately to alleviate the situation.  

In a couple of weeks, the Mayor's regional task force -- the governing body of what's being called the Mid Willamette Homeless Initiative -- is going to have its first meeting.  They're going to be looking at numbers and, eventually, considering what, if anything, they will do to alleviate poverty and homelessness in the community.  This seems like an opportune time to take another look at picture painted in the Salem Weekly piece, and see what's changed.  Taking things in the same order they occur in the piece:

The $79M NASA project did, in fact, locate water on the moon.

Mattel's "homeless" doll, Gwen Thompson, which retailed for $95 in 2009, can still be purchased on eBay for $190 (she's not advertised as being homeless).

Visits to Arches day center totaled 2,290 in the third quarter of 2015, down significantly from the third quarter of 2009.

Arches no longer offers visitors shower or laundry facilities.

Shelters still "specialize."

Sleeping in public is still cited, but less often.

Homelessness is still a merry-go-round. 

Discriminating against those with criminal convictions is still allowed, but there is now a "reentry" program that is helping some be more successful.

Thanks to the initiative of five women, there are a few public toilets open 24/7 downtown.

The homeless student count is down to 491 (2015) from 879 (2009).

The wait lists for government housing in the rural areas around Salem are unfrozen. 

There are still 1,000 housing vouchers for rural areas around Salem, and a long wait list.

The Salem Housing Authority still has 3,600 housing vouchers, and a long wait list.

Demand for emergency food boxes from Marion-Polk Food Share has risen steadily.

Salvation Army is still turning people away each night.

UGM still shelters an average of 200 men each night. 

Mid-Willamette CAA is keeping wait lists again.

The $10.5 million set aside by Housing Opportunity Bill to build affordable homes for low-income residents, not necessarily homeless, between 2009-2011 had little if any effect on Salem's housing market.

Lack of housing remains the main complaint.

The enforcement of vagrancy laws has been greatly relaxed.             

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Jane Doe at City Council

Last night, the City Council voted to authorize the City Manager to execute the Charter of the Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative.  Councilor Bednarz, in moving to adopt the staff report, assured the Council that the Initiative brought together knowledgeable people who would "solve, or reduce, or do something to homelessness in our community."  Video at ~1:00. 

Jane Doe
During the public comment period, a woman identifying herself only as Jane Doe commented on the City Manager's approval of the Homeless Initiative saying she hated to "break the momentum, but I'm really disappointed in this -- you're way far behind [developing strategies to address housing and homelessness strategies], I don't see what you could do in a year, this should have been done five years ago...there are people who have those answers immediately, and it should not take a year to go over this when cities have gone over it and over it and over it before
and there are mayors' alliances doing this."  In closing, she added, "to exclude [from the Initiative Task Force] anybody from that [homeless] community is really kind of all the more insulting."  Not a single question from the Mayor or Council.

Of course, Ms. Doe was entirely correct, as both Councilors Bednarz and Bennett acknowledged, though Councilor Bennett was the only one to reiterate the need to include the perspectives of people experiencing homelessness.  The Mayor, as usual, missed Ms. Doe's point, and responded defensively, insisting that much had been done and grappled with, and citing the lack of resources.

If there's one thing that the Mayor and her colleagues on the task force need to understand, it's this: no one is saying nothing was done.  Everyone knows that things were and are being done to help people experiencing homelessness, so there's no need to insist on that point.  The charge is not that you're not doing anything, the charge is that you haven't been paying attention to what's being done, you don't really understand the problems in your community, and you're not prepared to do what it takes to keep things from getting worse.

We think the only way to answer such a charge is to (shut up and) pay attention, do your homework, start making a few hard choices, and stop making excuses. 

Ms. Doe remained in chambers after making her remarks, but we couldn't tell if anyone spoke to her afterwards.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Minutes 1/19/16

January 19, 2016

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, Deb Comini
Organizations: Simon Sandusky, Guest Services Manager, Union Gospel Mission, Alan Mela, Grocery Outlet
City and County Representatives: Councilor Bennett, Officer Renz
Guest: Kim Lemmon, Director, St Francis Shelter

The regular meeting of the CanDo Board of Directors was called to order at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 19, 2016, at the First Christian Church at 685 Marion Street NE, Salem. David Dahle was in the chair and Sarah Owens acted as secretary.

The minutes of the November meeting were approved unanimously.

Officer Renz reported that ODOT and the City had that day been in conversation about who would be paying to fence off the area under the Center St. Bridge near UGM, but had no estimate as to when work was to begin.  He also reported that, as of January 1, Oregon law permitted cyclists (bike and motor) to proceed at a red light if the signal "fails" to turn green after a "one full cycle."  He also cautioned residents to avoid phishing scams of the sort currently circulating on Facebook under the guise of games and personality tests.

Councilor Bennett urged the board to read the latest report on pedestrian deaths, which is on the agenda for the next City Council meeting, commenting that many of the pedestrian safety improvements made in recent years were in Ward 1, and that the flashing lights at crosswalks cost the City $25K to $30K apiece.  He asked residents to let him know of unmarked crosswalks or other pedestrian safety hazards that concerned them particularly, in response to which the unmarked crosswalk at Leslie Street and Commercial was identified and discussed.  He also reported that a railroad “quiet zone” through downtown was expected to go into effect in the coming weeks, no “big changes” in the City’s budget were expected, and that two police officers would be added back to the Downtown Enforcement Team, perhaps more, in connection with the Courtney Bridge to Minto-Brown Island.  He said there would be work session on where to site and what to include in the new police facility tomorrow, and the next phase would be how to “package” the related bond measure.  Finally, Councilor Bennett announced he would not be running for the Ward 1 position on City Council, as he is running for Mayor, and encouraged the board to invite Ward 1 candidates Jan Kailuweit and Cara Kaser to its meetings.

In public comment, Sarah Owens relayed a complaint from Barbara Grant that she has seen an increase in the number of folks camping out, day and night, in the HOAP block, especially at the vacant office and back parking lot at 654 Church NE. Ms. Grant asked neighbors to call SPD’s non-emergency number when they observe camping.  Bruce Hoffman let the board know that SAIF had presented to SCAN the details of its renovation/demolition plans for its Church Street facility, and would be happy to do the same for CANDO if there was interest.   

The board heard a presentation from Kim Lemmon about the St. Francis Shelter.

There being no other business before the board, the meeting of the Board of Directors should have adjourned at 7:04 p.m. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Areas of Permanent Immediate Need

2015-19 Consolidated Plan at 141

This blog follows "Poverty and Homelessness in the Collaboration Capital."  

Described below are some of the better-known local programs and services that attempt to provide for the immediate needs of Salem’s sheltered and unsheltered homeless.  Such services are referred to as “public services” in the City’s reports to HUD.  The description does not include every program or service, because they're constantly changing, nor does it include Salem’s economic development, so-called micro-enterprise programs, community and housing rehabilitation and revitalization programs, or new construction of rental housing programs, also funded by HUD, even though they are combined, confusingly, in reports to HUD (HUD requires them to be combined).  

For a reasonably complete map of providers, with layers showing commercial laundries, grocery stores, cooling/warming shelters, churches, low-income/affordable housing and camps (current and potential), see here.  For meal and food distribution sites, see here

Stabilizing Services (aka “homelessness prevention” services): Because keeping people housed is  far less complicated than re-housing them after a prolonged period of homelessness, HUD favors -- and most communities offer -- stabilizing or "homelessness prevention" services, which often take the form of counseling and resource-referral, as well as food, clothing, and sometimes "direct" or monetary aid of various kinds (e.g., bus passes, fees to secure identification papers, the cost of prescriptions, etc.). Once a year, providers host "Community Connect" events in Marion (March) and Polk County (January, the same day as the Homeless Count). 

CHP State Street Entrance

In Salem, residents who, for whatever reason, find themselves facing the threat of homelessness, can go downtown to the office of the First United Methodist Church and talk to a trained social worker provided by a network of local Christian churches called Congregations Helping People or CHP.  In limited circumstances, they might even qualify for direct aid in the form of rent or utility assistance, if that’s all that’s needed to keep them housed.  Or, they can try the Salvation Army office at 1977 Front Street.  Or, they can call or visit at two locations in east Salem a “resource navigator” provided by another organization called Mano a Mano, which targets Salem’s Latino and immigrant residents.  
SIHN Day Center on Edgewater Street

They can also go across the bridge to Edgewater Street in West Salem, and talk to a case manager at the office and day center belonging to Salem Interfaith Hospitality Network or Salem IHN (or sometimes, SIHN), which focuses on families.  Of course, all these programs have limited resources and hours of operation, and access might require transportation or access to a phone.  Individuals in crisis can call a 24-hour hotline run by Northwest Human Services or NWHS.   

Emergency Shelter Services (in the language of homeless services delivery, housing is either "emergency," "transitional," "permanent" or "permanent supportive"): Victims of domestic violence (including children) may usually find emergency shelter through the Center for Hope and Safety and their 24-hour hotline.

Other residents without a shelter of their own (and without friends or family who can shelter them) might sleep in their car or a tent, most often illegally.  Or they could go to Salem's Union Gospel Mission (UGM), Salem's only permanent emergency shelter services provider, which serves around 2,100 individuals each year at two emergency shelters in Salem and Keizer.  Although UGM does offer a range of services, its mission is to save souls.  To that end, UGM does not accept government funds.
Simonka Place in Keizer

The UGM Men’s Shelter at Center and Commercial Streets in Salem accommodates on average over 200 men per night -- less in warm weather, more in cold, when the sobriety requirement is waived, and those who've been "trespassed" for whatever reason are allowed back in.  Needless to say, conditions there are very cramped in cold weather.  For women, there is overnight shelter in Keizer for up to 115 women and their children (except male children 12 and older) at UGM's Simonka Place (George Simonka was Salem UGM's first executive director).  Simonka Place is reportedly always “at capacity.”  Although 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 emergency shelter for families in Salem.  Compare Salem to Corvallis, which has about one-third of Salem's population, about half as many homeless, and an emergency shelter for families that will hold up to 20 individuals.

HOAP Day Center on Church Street

Day Centers: during the day, homeless adults may seek advice, referrals and various forms of assistance including meals, showers, and laundry at day centers.  Salem's primary day center is H.O.A.P. on Church Street, which serves 90 to 100 clients each day, 50 to 60 new clients each month.  HOAP was designed to serve mentally ill adults experiencing chronic homelessness, but has had to expand service to accommodate needs not met by other providers (Arches in particular).  Homeless youth and youth considered to be at risk of homelessness because of their familial  relationships can find advice and services at H.O.M.E Youth Resource and Referral Center on Union Street (ages 11 to 17) and at H.O.S.T on Liberty Street (ages 18 to 24).
Arches Day Center on Madison Street
Transitional Housing Services: As the name implies, transitional housing services involve mutual planning and commitments between provider and client and support services that are intended to help clients gain greater independence and so-called "self-sufficiency."  To return to Corvallis a moment, one agency there provides 11 homeless families with transitional housing in the form of a small studio apartment-like space for 6 months to 1 year.  In Salem, two entities provide transitional housing for families, St. Francis Shelter, and Salem Interfaith Hospitality Network, which is mentioned above, whose member churches take turns sheltering up to four homeless families for up to 4 weeks (one family per church, a different church each week).  SIHN staff transport the families each morning to a day center where they receive referrals and supportive services intended to facilitate the move to "permanent" housing within 30 days, including federal rent subsidies that the City makes available to SIHN under the TBRA program.    

The remaining transitional housing services in Salem are for youth ages 18-24 (H.O.S.T.), single women (Grace House, Lighthouse Shelter), single women with children (UGM Simonka Place), single male veterans (Home of the Brave), and single males (Lighthouse Shelter, MWVCAA Arches, UGM Mens').

2015-2019 Con Plan at 151
Most Needed Services:  the City's view, as expressed in the latest Consolidated Plan (compiled every five years), is that the need for emergency shelter and services is being met.  As that conclusion was not in the smallest way refuted or even commented on during the planning process, the plan comment period, or in the public hearing prior to the plan's adoption, we may assume, given the high degree of collaboration among area service providers, that Salem is well-situated with respect to emergency services for the homeless, and that what is most needed at this point is transitional housing and "integrated services", in accordance with the conclusions in the Consolidated Plan. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative Shapes Up

Kim Freeman, Keizer CC

Mayor Clark
Gladys Blum
(Revised) Members of the Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative:
Mayor Peterson

Warren Bednarz, Salem CC
Chief Moore, SPD

What special expertise do these mostly privileged white folks bring to the Initiative? 

Ron Hays
What biases?

Looking just at what's generally known about them individually, their connections to poverty and homelessness seem remote.  One might predict that, as a group, they will act even more conservatively than they do in their professional roles.
Mayor Peterson reportedly experienced poverty as a child, was married right out of high school and had a child herself while very young.  Yet, she and Chief Moore are known to view homelessness through the lens of public safetyMr. Hays ran the Marion Polk Food Share before going to work for local "philanthropist" Larry Tokarski, who's biases Mr. Hays should be expected to reflect in his work for the Initiative.  However, he is reported to be working with First Christian Church and Shaney Starr (below) to determine the feasibility of siting a resource center for adults in what is presently the Department of Energy building.  Councilor Bednarz's wife is on the MWVCAA board, they, along with Ms. Blum are invested in real estate.  Mayor Clark home-schooled her kids and has described Commissioner Carlson's reentry initiative as a model of success.  A reader tells us Patty Ignatowski (not pictured) is on the Oregon Rental Housing Association board.  (Update: Patty resigned in April and was replaced by Kathleen Ashley of Making Homes Happen Inc.)  Kim Freeman administers "affordable housing homeownership" programs for the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department (not likely to be among those "proven strategies" the task force is looking for). 

Mr. Bailey runs UGM, Salem and Keizer's only emergency shelter, unless you're a victim of domestic violence.  UGM receives no government funds, but works hard to get along with City and County governments, and is reportedly planning this spring to revive its stalled capital campaign to raise funds to move the men's shelter north to property it owns several blocks north of its current location.

Steve Bobb, CTGR
Mr. Bobb, a Native American is an elder in Oregon's eighth-largest charitable organization.  Mr. Reeves directed MWVCAA's Headstart program for many years, and has been MWVCAA exec. director for almost a year.  MWVCAA's status as "lead agency" for the Continuum of Care will likely give his vote extra weight.

Jon Reeves
Heidi Mackay is a member of the business community.  Don't really get this one.
Heidi Mackay

(not pictured) Irma Oliveros is Salem-Keizer's homeless education liaison.

(not pictured) David Leith is a Marion County Circuit Court judge.  His presence on the Initiative, along with Chief Moore, and Sheriffs Myers and Garton are a good indicators that the Initiative will be operating in a solid public safety paradigm.
Sheriff Myers

Sheriff Garton
Shaney Starr

Commisioner Wheeler

Shaney Starr was with the Marion-Polk County Medical Society before going to work for Salem's other "philanthropist", Dick Withnell, whose biases Ms. Starr should be expected to reflect in her work for the Initiative.  She is reportedly working with Ron Hays on the project discussed above.

Commissioner Wheeler "takes particular interest in public safety." She also wants "to promote community awareness regarding women’s issues (including domestic violence) and child abuse, as well as behavioral health and homelessness...she serves on the Board of Directors for Sable House (the only women’s crisis center in Polk County), Mid-[Willamette]Valley Community Action Agency and Community Mediation for Polk County (VORP)."

Verena Wessel has a long association with Northwest Human Services, and probably has more direct experience with Salem's impoverished and knowledge of Salem's social service delivery system than all the other Initiative members combined.  They should just ask her what to do and start doing it. [Update: that's not gonna work for reasons we don't want to get into here.]  She is an outspoken advocate for creating a resource center for adults in the downtown area, and is serving on the Initiative in her capacity as a citizen of Keizer.

Verena Wessel (purple coat)

Commissioner Carlson

Commissioner Carlson can be expected to control the direction the Initiative takes.  Although she is impressed by Utah's success with the Housing First Model (she is from Utah), her likely goal is transitional housing for a specific population.  Last July, she told the Statesman Journal, "In 2014, 56 percent of jail inmates were homeless or unstably housed before they were incarcerated, according to the 2014 Homeless Count. Thirty-eight percent of inmates said a lack of housing contributed to their ending up in jail, according to the survey...In the next two or three years, Carlson said, she hopes the initiative will be able to offer them transitional housing as they get back on their feet...The facility would serve 220 clients a year, according to early plans. Clients would learn life skills and how to be good tenants and receive mental health services as needed...The work group is finalizing construction plans and trying to secure funding for the project, Carlson said."  See here.  She has recently asked all of Salem's neighborhood associations for a place on their spring meeting agendas for the veiled purpose of rebranding (and garnering support for) the reentry initiative as "justice reinvestment."  Ditto the Salem City Club.

Task force member email addresses and phone numbers can be found here.

Technical advisors to the Initiative task force will be housing agency heads (Andy Wilch, Salem Housing Authority, Shelley Wilkins-Ehenger, Marion County Housing Authority, Christian Edelblute, West Valley Housing Authority) a planner (Lisa Anderson-Ogilvie, Salem Community Development Department) health care agency heads (Rod Calkins, Marion County Health Department, Scott Tiffany, Mid-Valley Behavioral Care Network, Noelle Carroll, Polk County Behavioral Health), and two shelter providers who enjoy the City's special favor (Jayne Downing, Center for Hope and Safety, and TJ Putman, Salem Interfaith Hospitality Network).  Update 2/5/16:  added to the list are Todd Londin, ABC Window Cleaners; Sue Curths, Berkshire Hathaway; Josh Graves, Catholic Community Services; Tiffany Otis, Congregations Helping People; P. Garrick, City of Salem; Faye Fagel, Marion County Juvenile Department Director; Missy Townsend, Women at the Well Grace House; Marti Palacios, Center for Hope and Safety; Bill Hayden, First Congregational Church; John Teague, Keizer Police Chief; Brian Moore, Mountain West Investment Corporation; Herm Boes, Salem Leadership Foundation; Emily Dayton, Salem-Keizer School District; Sam Osborn, DHS District Manager; Sharon Nielson, The Nielson Group; Kevin Ray, The Salvation Army; Elan Lambert, Westcare.

There you have it.  A group that's a bit heavy on the executive, and low on the learning curve considering all they say they're going to "focus" on.  But the mere fact that a bunch of relative heavyweights are doing this could give a needed bump to UGM's capital campaign and hope to the Salem Homeless Coalition that a one-stop resource center for homeless adults will become a reality.

But, if the question is what is the Initiative likely to produce, then it's harder to say.  If, in the end, all that comes of it is a year of increased community attention to the problems of poverty and homelessness, and a transitional housing facility for folks in the reentry initiative or justice reinvestment project or whatever the heck you want to call it, the community will be the better for it.  And that, perhaps, should be the measure of the Initiative's success.

The Initiative is scheduled to meet for the first time on February 17, 2016, 4 to 6, in the Anderson Room of the Library.  The agenda is below:

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Homelessness Is Not a Public Safety Issue

Could we please stop talking about homelessness, or, more precisely, "the homeless" as a public safety issue?

As some of you know, Commissioner Carlson is wanting to visit with Salem's neighborhood associations about public safety this coming spring, and has caused this email to go into general circulation, highlight added:
Marion County Public Safety Coordinating Council Email

The document attached to the email was a flyer about a program that used to be called the "reentry initiative" that, apparently, is being rebranded as "justice reinvestment."  (Hear the podcast of a Willamette WakeUp interview about the reentry initiative here.)  In this context, "homelessness" likely was intended to refer to the homelessness of parolees who are at risk of re-offending (which seems like more of a criminal justice concern than a matter of "public safety").  

In any event, the email refers simply to "homelessness", which is all homeless people, including the working families and individuals doubled up with relatives or living in their cars, the elderly and frail, the victims of domestic violence, the homeless children.  If these are considered a public safety concern, it's only because homelessness has been criminalized.  In other words, when we talk about homelessness as a public safety concern, we are euphemistically implying that the homeless are dangerous criminals.  That is both cruel and unfair.  It is also dishonest and hypocritical.  It is also bad social policy.

Stigmatizing behavior that a society considers undesirable has been known to work, but not in every area.  And, just like stigmatizing poverty didn't keep people out of poverty, criminalizing homelessness hasn't put people in homes.  In fact, it has had just the opposite effect. 

In the 1980s, when homelessness was so visibly on the rise, anti-homeless laws might have seemed like a good idea -- a sort of "Just Say No" to begging, sleeping, micturating and defecating in public places.  But, like the War on Drugs, the strategy has proved to be a dismal and expensive failure.  Today, even the Salem City Council has come to recognize that "we're not going arrest our way out of this."  That recognition is good, but it isn't enough. 

Continuing to talk about homelessness as a public safety concern is a vestige of a failed policy designed to stigmatize poverty and "otherize" the homeless that just makes doing what needs to be done more difficult.  Those in a position to know have said that the disgust/anger/scorn response so many people have to homelessness as a result of our stigmatizing it, "more than any specific policy change or resource need, looms as the biggest challenge facing elected leaders and anti-poverty advocates in their question to end homelessness in Oregon."  (Emphasis added.)  Think about it: The.Biggest.Challenge.  

As any social service provider will tell you, it is far easier and cheaper to keep someone housed than it is to re-house them after a prolonged period of homelessness.  They will also tell you that people often wait far too long before asking for help and that the main reason they wait is the social stigma associated with needing/being helped.  That is why it is just stupid to continue, however inadvertently or well-meaningly, to stigmatize and otherize people in need by talking about homelessness as a public safety concern.

Let's be clear: when we talk about homelessness as a public safety concern, we're not talking about the safety of those without homes -- were talking about the safety those with homes.  If you want to talk about the safety of those without homes, you must enter the province of the social services, particularly public health, and that's where our conversations should be taking place, it's where they need to take place.

So when Commissioner Carlson and her colleagues on the Marion County Public Safety Coordinating Council come to your neighborhood association, by all means share your public safety concerns, but don't let homelessness into the conversation as one of those concerns.  If anyone else brings it up, please for heaven's sake, say something, the way you would if someone started talking about the Latino, transgender, or Muslim residents of Salem as a public safety issue.  If you're afraid, or don't know how to confront bigotry, seek advice, here, for example.  However you choose to do it doesn't matter.  What matters is that you stand up and take on The.Biggest.Challenge. 

(And while you're standing up, think about asking why pedestrian and bike safety isn't considered a public safety issue -- it is for most people we know, so why not talk about that instead?)