Monday, January 11, 2016

Lens on the Statesman Journal

The Prevailing Image of Homelessness

The Statesman Journal reported yesterday on the Mayor's hopes for the forming regional task force on homelessness, to be called the Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative.

"As we move forward, I'd like to see a greater coordination in our region," said Salem Mayor Anna Peterson. "I'd like to see us find new resources and be able to meet the needs for affordable and low-income housing, and find ways to address the emergency needs that people are experiencing,"

New resources to meet the need for affordable and low-income housing sounds great.  The deficit in Salem is 6,400 units.

But compare "find ways to address the emergency needs that people are experiencing" with what the Mayor and Council told HUD last spring:

2015-2019 Consolidated Plan at 137

Note: the Mid-Valley Housing and Services Collaborative no longer exists. Before 2011, that entity ran Marion and Polk Counties' CoC.  But in 2011, MWVCAA failed a HUD audit, and, to "relieve" MWVCAA from having to deal directly with HUD, Marion and Polk Counties' CoC merged with the Rural Oregon CoC, and remains today.  When the merger occurred, the Emergency Housing Network, a subcommittee of the now defunct Mid-Valley Housing and Services Collaborative became Salem's primary housing and social services network.  This network is managed by the Salem Housing Authority and meets the second Thursday of each month at UGM. 

Last spring, the Mayor and Council told HUD they had a pretty good idea what they needed to do: 

2015-2019 Consolidated Plan at 150

Why go back to the drawing board?  

"I want to identify areas, projects or programs that aren't working as effectively as they need to be, stop any waste that is occurring, and redirect those funds and those activities," Peterson said.

How about starting with a performance audit of MWVCAA, the City's "lead agency" in the CoC, with a budget of 22 million, give or take, who yet can't manage to supply soap powder or washing machines or showers for their Arches project, an adult day center that's open only few hours a day, as a result of which HOAP, an adult day center run by Northwest Human Services that's supposed to be for people with mental health conditions, is overcrowded -- with 90 to 100 clients a day, 50 to 60 new clients each month, only some of whom have mental health conditions?  

Each of the four jurisdictions will select up to five members to serve on a task force that will "identify resources to address the issues facing persons experiencing homelessness," according to a City Council meeting report.

This is just depressing.  Marion and Polk County are 7 years in to the 10-year plan to end homelessness, and they're just now setting up a task force to "identify resources"? 

"There's quite a network of federal, state and local funds, private foundations and investments," Peterson said. "The goal of the initiative is to find those funds."
Really?  We need an initiative to find funds?  Isn't that something folks who care about poverty and housing just do in the normal course of business?

"I'm excited about the opportunity for the four jurisdictions to collaborate. This is another great example of leaders from these four areas saying, 'Hey, let's get together and combine our knowledge and resources and come up with solutions that work for our region,' " Peterson said.

It's like, dare we say it?  It's like she hasn't read the 2015-2019 Consolidated Plan.  If she had, she'd know the four "jurisdictions" are already collaborating!  Or, at least they're supposed to be.  At least that's what HUD is being told. 

We hate to say it, but it's evident from the Mayor's remarks to the Statesman Journal, if it wasn't already, that at least some of the leadership of this initiative are utterly clueless about all the regional efforts and programs, public and private, "dealing with" and providing for their impoverished constituents.  That is, to say the least, very concerning, and must inform how we measure the initiative's "success."

Thanks to the Statesman Journal for being a great scrivener!  Emoji


  1. Jon Reeves, MWVCAA's current Exec. Director, offers this comment on the reference to MWVCAA having "'failed' a HUD audit, the link provided is actually connected to the report describing the outcome of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit of the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing (HPRP) program in 2011. This is not a HUD CoC audit, the agency HUD Monitoring occurred in 2010 with positive outcomes. The OIG audit link made note of recommendations and the detailed audit report describes that all recommendations made by OIG were adequately addressed and/or remedied promptly by MWVCAA. The Portland Office of Community Planning and Development determined that MWVCAA corrected or addressed all of the issues identified and the OIG supported this. All recommendations were closed (as indicated on page 2 of the Audit report) and no grant dollars needed to be returned. As with any monitoring or audit, the agency viewed this experience as an opportunity to strengthen existing systems and policies. These same systems and policies help drive the great programs that MWVCAA delivers to this day."

  2. We used the word "audit" in its plain, non-bureaucratic sense, to mean a careful check or review of something. The fact that it was HUD's OIG who did the review, and "not a HUD CoC audit" is a distinction without a difference.