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:


  1. I believe the information re: Patty Ignatowski may be incorrect. I think she is on the Oregon Rental Housing Association Board.

    1. Thanks very much. Blog edited accordingly.