Saturday, February 20, 2016

MWHITF: Next Steps

Progress Report on Salem City Council's 2015 Goals

Monday, February 22, 2016, the Salem City Council will receive a report on what's been done toward reaching their goal of creating a well-planned community.  As shown above, the first meeting of the Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative is being reported as a sign of progress toward that goal.

According to the Statesman Journal, the task force will, at its next meeting, "delve into the housing market and development opportunities." And by the third or fourth meeting, they might start looking at recommendations.  (Co-Chair Carlson has twice said that what she expects ultimately from the task force is a list of strong recommendations).

So things would appear to be moving rather quickly.  But what are they moving toward, exactly?

In January, the Mayor told the Statesman Journal that she wanted the task force 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."  However, her co-chair Janet Carlson later indicated the task force would not be looking at program effectiveness.  Based on her questions at the first meeting, and the short shrift given the "Services Inventory" portion of the agenda, it would indeed appear that Carlson expects to focus on housing and housing funding, not services. 

And what about the other members of the task force?  Are they just meat puppets?  Or do they have any expectations of their own?  As noted, the Mayor wants (or at least wanted) to look at program effectiveness, gaps in services, duplication, etc.  What about the other task force members?  What do they want to accomplish?  Here's what they said at the first meeting.

Jennifer Wheeler
Co-Chair Wheeler said she "would like to meet some of the community members who are actually doing the work and find out what services are being provided, and maybe where the holes are, the gaps are that need to be filled."  She expressed concerned about the "invisible homeless" in rural areas who she wants to bring "into the light."  She was "very anxious to find out about services and how to connect people to those services."  
Warren Bednarz

Councilor Bednarz has taken the issue "to heart", spent a lot of time educating himself and feels that's the first thing community leaders need to do -- educate themselves, to know what services are out there, what can be combined, coordinated, etc., so "people don't have to scramble" to find them and so that "efforts can be coordinated."  What he wants out of the initiative is "an action plan, not a discussion, not a report."  He would also like to have a homeless person or a home-insecure individual(s) on or closely allied with the task force because he thinks their knowledge/experience/insight would be helpful.
Steve Bobb, Sr.

Steve Bobb, a Marine Corps Vietnam War veteran and formerly on the Council of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, who joined the task force because he's familiar with veterans who are "on the streets and the issues that put them there." He's been on a few boards "where they have meeting after meeting, and after a little while, that tends to make me a little crazy" and he hopes the task force will be different and actually help people.

Bruce Bailey
Bruce Bailey, Union Gospel Mission, also wanted to see the Initiative result in an action plan.  He would like the task force to focus not on ending homelessness, but on breaking the cycle of homelessness.

Irma Oliveros
Irma Oliveros, homeless liason for the Salem-Keizer School District who also lives in Polk County, sees a steady increase in the number of homeless families and students.  Although she is "not sure homelessness can be ended", she "sure would like to see it minimized."

Jon Reeves
Jon Reeves, Director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, says we need "community solutions."  Referring to the 70+ members of the audience, "I don't know that I've ever seen this much interest in helping the homeless finding stable housing and self-sufficiency."

Verena Wessel
Verena Wessel, serving as a mere citizen (with 15 years experience in delivering social services to homeless individuals) says "We've got to get some traction.  It's not going to get any better."

SPD Chief Moore is also concerned about the "invisible homeless" and wants to see better coordination of services.  
Chief Moore

Sheriff Myers feels the criminal justice system is not the right place for people
Sheriff Myers
who are homeless, but that's typically where they end up.  So he wants the task force to help him "do right by these people" who typically have mental health/substance abuse issues.

Judge Leith
Judge Leith, who presides over the Marion County Drug Court, believes homelessness is of "truly primary importance to the community."  
This Is Not Enough

Wouldn't you kind of expect, on hearing comments like these, that the four jurisdictions would be pooling a few thousand dollars for a consultant to give them  something like a "Homeless Needs Assessment" or other serious examination of area programs and services that can give them some sort of objective basis for evaluating program and project effectiveness, gaps in services, duplication, etc.?  The providers themselves obviously cannot do it, nor can staff.  But it's something that the task force would seem to need in order to do its job -- at least as some of the members seem to see it.  

3/9/16 Update: the task force has been given the following documents by way of “homework”:
  • The federal strategic plan to end homelessness (FSP) (80 pages)  
  • What looks like a handout from a 2006 CSH Supportive Housing Leadership forum that is clearly out of date (2 pages).
  • A January 29, 2016 article from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ online magazine “Stateline” about cities’ and states’ response to the affordable housing crisis.  

The task force continues to coast at 30,000 feet with Janet Carlson in the cockpit (email updates go out over her name alone).

The FSP was introduced in 2010, updated in 2015.  In keeping with Housing First, the original plan prioritized the chronically homeless demographic over families, and was shifted to vets with the update.  As NCH pointed out in 2010, the FSP strategies are general in nature and lack action steps, points of responsibility remain nebulous, they lack of specific implementation steps and cost estimates, and many of the methods outlined are vague and without firm commitment to allocate funds and implement strategies.

That said, the task force should (if they read it) note this paragraph (page 31): 

The handout on financing is outdated.  Although it’s not recommended for the lay person, you can find current information on the various ways to finance supportive housing here.  

The Meyer Memorial Trust white paper is useful reading.  If you need it you don’t need to read the “Stateline” article.

1 comment:

  1. Updated to add note on task force's 3/8 homework assignments.