Wednesday, March 30, 2016

MWHITF: Second Meeting

Yesterday afternoon, the Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative Task Force met for 
The Task Force 3/29/16
the second time before a gathering of about 85 citizens and members of the provider community.  Absent: Mayor Peterson, Keizer Councilor Kim Freeman (2d absence), UGM Director Bruce Bailey (sent a substitute who left early), and Polk County Sheriff Mark Garton.

The meeting, chaired by Mayor Kathy Clark, started 10 minutes late. 

During the main program, titled "Systemic Issues:  Barriers and Opportunities to Develop Affordable Housing", Rob Justus (Home First
Rob Justus Speaking to MWHITF
) spoke for 28 minutes plus 7 answering questions about the HFD approach and the potential benefit of adjusting development standards.

Mike Erdman (formerly on the boards of the YMCA and the troubled Salem-Keizer Community Development Corporation) and Eric Olsen (Edward's Addition, Monmouth) together spoke for 13 minutes plus 7 answering questions about the

fr row: Erdman, Olsen - table: Berger, Hays
challenges of making single family home developments affordable.

Ron Hays (task force member and philanthropic arm of Mountain West/Larry Tokarski) spoke for 17 minutes about his research into the numbers of people in need of affordable housing, the cost of providing that housing, and the need for the task force to "look at the [scope] of what we are facing." 

Richard Berger, (subbing for Don Jensen [Keizer Station]) spoke for 2 minutes about how long it takes to prepare to break ground on a development and the limitations of Oregon weather.  

Strategic Framework

At 5:30, Commissioner Carlson began a rambling discourse on strategic planning, handing out copies of the Marion County Reentry Initiative's strategic plan and Opening Doors, the federal strategic plan for ending homelessness.

Oddly, her comments contained absolutely no reference to the Marion Polk 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, the plan that she has said more than once she expects the work of the task force to flesh out (exact words, "meat on the bones").

Rather, the focus, if you could call it that, was on a document provided at (unfortunately not before) the meeting titled "Strategic Framework."  Despite expectations, it does not build on the 10-Year Plan, but "begins anew." 

Now, we're not saying a fresh start isn't warranted.  But, your typical strategic planning process usually begins with the development or review of the organization's mission and vision statements, a strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats (SWOT) analysis, identification of goals (or "deliverables"), starting with long- and moving to short-term (e.g., 5-year, 1-year, 6-month, 3-month, etc.).  It winds up with the development of some sort of performance indicators -- because everyone should agree how "success" will be defined or it won't mean anything. 

But, judging from the "Strategic Framework" document handed out at the meeting, that's not how the task force approached its process.  This document appears to be the result of some sort of group "brainstorm."  It lists topics collected from members of the task force that Commissioner Carlson then classified under four headings, with three left unclassified: "List of funding sources and amounts", "data collection system" and "Connection to Coordinated Care Organization." (?)

Hard to know what to make of the list.  Without defined goals, a list doesn't/can't mean very much, not if what you want is a strategic plan/framework.  It's kind of like asking how do you think you want to do this when you haven't yet decided what it is that you want to achieve.  Or what do you want to take along, when you haven't yet decided where it is you want to go.

Now, one could say that all the items in the list relate in some way to the overarching goal of ending or reducing or dealing with poverty/homelessness and other social ills, but if that is the goal, it is far too broad to be useful in strategic planning.  As some on the task force observed at the meeting, strategic planning requires SMART goals.  This framework isn't yet connected to any SMART goals, and it remains to be seen whether they will be.  

Some of the categorized items on the list are clearly just placeholders of some sort.  "Identify target populations..." (Commissioner Carlson has said several times that the task force needs to pick a target population, and she is known to be looking for a  transitional housing facility for her Reentry Initiative); "$40M OHCS application..." and "financing" (?); "Build Community" (?); "Rural Studio" ($20K house demo project); "Healthy Homes" (a HUD program); "Scattered sites vs. projects" (more stereotyping to overcome?); "Radiator Labs" (energy efficiency); "Coordination - meals" (UGM vs. Meals Under the Bridge - why don't they just work it out?); "Runaway and homeless youth strategy" (need one); "No Wrong Door" (never been made to work, doesn't mean it can't be); and everything under Public Safety, except "LEAD" and "Harm Reduction Model" (two things: homelessness is a public health issue, not a public safety issue, and most homeless people do not panhandle).

The remaining items on the list seem to be established strategies that pertain either to 1) crisis intervention, or 2) affordable housing development/retention, or 3) "permanent" supportive housing.  

Crisis Intervention

As discussed at the task force's first meeting, Marion and Polk Counties are currently employing harm-reduction strategies like LEAD where appropriate.  Both have well-established and operated 211 health and social services information line and crisis hotlines.      

Affordable Housing Development

City of Salem staff are in phases 1 and 2 of a work plan approved in February 2016 to implement the recommendations of the Salem Metropolitan Statistical Area Housing Needs Analysis, which recommendations include code amendments to encourage private development of multifamily housing.  And, as discussed in a recent post, the interim Affordable Housing Committee established by the Salem Housing Authority Board of Commissioners in December is currently developing affordable housing policies and strategies to recommend to the BoC for adoption.

Community Land Trusts and New Markets (sic) Tax Credits are well-established tools that help non-profits do, and expand on, the sort of things that public housing authorities (PHAs) have been doing for years.  Oregon has several community land trusts.

New Markets Tax Credit is a program of the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) Fund administered by the U.S. Treasury Department.  The CDFIs Fund makes capital grants, equity investments and awards for technical assistance to CDFIs, which use a "market-based approach to supporting economically disadvantaged communities."  Community and Shelter Assistance (CASA), a CDFI based in Sherwood, Oregon, is active in Marion and Polk Counties.     

"Permanent" Supportive Housing

"'Permanent' supportive housing"is the primary element of a Housing First program; standard supports include "ready to rent"/financial literacy classes, credit recovery activities, job training, education and employment services, transportation assistance, mental health and addiction counseling, and "navigators, advocates" (aka, case workers).  "Landlord outreach"/"eviction prevention" and "tenant-based [rental] assistance" (TBRA) (aka housing subsidies) are necessary elements of any housing program that doesn't own/manage the properties where their clients reside.  Lastly, programs serving families, veterans, the reentering, and victims of domestic violence are among  the most favored and best supported.  The identification of those four populations in the task force's document suggests that is where the task force intends to focus.  

All items in this category are available piecemeal to select populations in Marion and Polk Counties.  Though there is a lot of "networking" going on, the programs that provide these services are not coordinated, and do not share information.  They are also constantly changing.  If Marion and Polk Counties were to decide to implement a Housing First approach (i.e., develop a comprehensive, strategic plan to provide "permanent" supportive housing for all who need it), they would have to bring programs together in a true collaboration that would require a fundamental shift in the way they do business, like what took place in Salt Lake City.                    

Rob and Lorrie
At 5:46, the task force took public comment.  For some, this was the most interesting part of the meeting.  Their message: we have a problem now, tonight

"We need to house the homeless."  "We should not be proud" of the shelter that UGM is able to provide.  (UGM is Salem's emergency shelter provider, though it receives no government funding.)  The community needs more transitional housing like the Lighthouse Shelter (Salvation Army).  

Kendra and Leah
The community needs toilet facilities. Rate cuts are forcing group homes for the mentally ill to close.  The community wants members of the homeless community or their families on the task force. Landlords do discriminate against those with housing vouchers.  The cost of required background checks is rising and creating yet another barrier to housing.  You get the idea.  So did the task force, but...
No action was taken during the meeting.  The next meeting of the task force is scheduled for May 2 at the Keizer Civic Center.  

Monday, March 28, 2016

No Sleeping No Camping Returns

When a downtown church installed a portable toilet in their parking lot last June, they felt they were solving a problem, and they were.  However, they did not realize that their solution would bring new problems, which it did.  People who need after-hours access to public toilets also need a place to sleep, and it only makes sense to want to sleep near toilet facilities.  So, after a bit, the church made adjustments.

The decision to allow people to sleep on the church grounds was not an easy one for several reasons, not the least of which was the amount of work needed to support the decision.  A "Rise & Shine" team of 10 to 15 people was needed
to enforce the overnight-only (10 pm to 8 am) limitation, and make sure the facilities were kept clean.  Research and analysis was needed, including interviews with police and others in the community who had dealt with similar situations.  And, as problems developed, they needed to meet as a congregation to reassess the situation.

The decision was made to continue to allow sleeping on the church grounds.

But, over time, despite all efforts, and the sincere belief that their experience 
would be different, the problems persisted.  There were people who were willing and able to obey the rules, but they could not protect themselves or the church grounds against those who were not.  The church grounds were, in effect, no different from the street in this regard.

Recently, the decision was made to end the program.

In addition to the church's inability to control who slept or came on to the grounds, the all-volunteer R&S team needed reinforcements, and there were just not enough volunteers to do what needed to be done.  So, after March 31, 2016, it will be back to No Sleeping, No Camping at the church.

Exactly two years earlier, the church next door had had to make the same decision, namely, to end the permissive use of their porches for overnight sleeping.

As part of that congregation's assessment process, they conducted brief interviews of seven of their "guests", all of them white, four identifying male, ages 25 to 55, and two female, in their 50s.  A third female, known to the neighborhood as Barbara, was present for an interview, but she made no reply to any of the questions. (Note: this church had not provided toilet facilities, only porches.)

Asked, "Why do you choose to sleep on [this church's] porch?", two replied that the porch was "better than UGM", the others said because it was safe.

Asked, "Why don't you stay at [the Mission] or Simonka [Place]?", they named as reasons being forced to accept UGM's religion, its rules, the presence of alcoholics and addicts, the lack of ventilation making them sick, and not being allowed back.

Asked, "Do you have any income or resources to help pay for a place to stay?", there were these answers: SSI; VA pension; one had been staying with his step-mother, but she left Salem; another said "I eat at the soup kitchen, under the bridge, and volunteer at HOAP three mornings a week"; another said he'd had income from family, "but now that's gone."  

Asked, "Is there anyone helping you: a caseworker, a friend, or family?", three said a friend or friends, one said he had stayed with his son and daughter-in-law, but had "worn out his welcome", one said a caseworker, and another said no, she didn't need anyone.

Asked where they went to use a bathroom, they all, except for Barbara, said Safeway, McDonald's, and
sometimes the Catholic Church.

Asked whether they had any questions for the interviewers, four said they needed a place to store belongings during the day, one said he could make rent but needed a security deposit for an apartment, another said he didn't want a hand-out, but a hand up.

Asked what is the answer to homelessness, one replied help getting an apartment and a job, another said prayer and "being in God's will", another said "a homeless tent city with rules."   

That church turned its energies instead to supporting the Salem Homeless Coalition.

People still sleep on their porches, especially on rainy nights, but they move on early every morning.
Probably it will take awhile for the word to get around that it's No Sleeping No Camping again at the church with the toilet.  And probably some will return despite knowing it's not allowed, perhaps feeling they have nowhere else to go.  Hopefully, they, too, will move on early every morning.



Sunday, March 27, 2016

MWHITF: Agenda for Meeting 2

Photo by Jane Doe

The main program on the Mid-Willamette Homeless Task Force's agenda for Tuesday is titled, "Systemic Issues: Barriers and Opportunities to Expand Affordable Housing (Information/Discussion."  Forty-five minutes is allotted to five speakers.

Seven or eight minutes is not much time to try and convey information in a complicated area unfamiliar to most on the task force.  Meeting 2 might in this respect feel a lot like meeting 1.   

Also on the agenda is a 30-minute discussion of "Strategic Plan."  It's not clear whether this SP is some kind of overarching plan for reducing homelessness, or whether it's the task force's SP for reaching its goals (as yet undefined) over the next 9 months.  It could be either, we just don't know.

If, however, as Commissioner Carlson has said several times, the goal of the task force is to put "meat on the bones" of the Marion-Polk Counties' 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness (dated October 2008), then it would make sense for the task force to begin their own planning by reviewing the 10-Year Plan, just as the co-chairs did in October 2015.  
From page 34 of the 10-Year Plan:
Certainly, the community cannot claim to have met these four goals, especially not these.  Although efforts and even progress might have been made, they weren't reported, notwithstanding the numerous references to the 10-Year Plan included in Action Plans and CAPERS

The 10-Year Plan goals were lofty when they needed to be well-defined and tied to benchmarks and key performance indicators.  The plan was to attack on all fronts, without consideration of resources or organizational capacity or sequencing.  Difficult choices were entirely avoided.  The goals are still valid, but they need a lot of work.  Likewise, the objectives (underneath each goal) need reworking so that they are all specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.      

Notably, the people who worked on the 10-Year Plan organized themselves into five "Work Teams" -- Children and Families, Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Reentry from Incarceration, Runaway & Homeless Youth and Veterans.  The task force, on the other hand, has not created any working groups, at least so far.  It's hard to imagine how 20 people working together in 2-hour meetings spread over the next 9 months will be able to avoid the need to split into small groups in order to do what needs to be done.  Perhaps they're relying on the co-chairs to do it all for them.

In preparation for the implementation phase, the 10-Year Planners created two new teams (or groups), and assigned goals and strategies to each:

Did the work groups accomplish any of these things?  Again, we do not know, as we have no benchmarks or reports.  Like the four primary goals, these work group goals are pretty squishy, and would need to be reworked to make them specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.     
Finally, the 10-Year Plan included a page of "Next Steps."  Only two we know for sure were taken.  The first was the institution of the annual Homeless Connect, now "Community Connect", events.  See here and here.  The second was the creation of the current task force (maybe there was another, but if so, there is no record of it that we can find).  

We have no doubt that the 10-Year Plan took a great deal of work to pull together, etc.  However, today especially, it is easy to imagine why it went nowhere.  In addition to the goals, objectives and next steps being too general and not tied to benchmarks, responsibilities weren't assigned, and there were no cost estimates, deadlines or reporting requirements.  If the task force intends to put meat on the bones of this plan, it will need first to put more bone on its bones. 

Twenty minutes has been set aside for public comment (3 minutes max).  The public may also submit written comment through staff, and contact the task force directly.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Salem-Keizer Community Connect

We could see the vision and dental vans parked along Marion Street, headed west, and a couple of men standing by the provider entrance off Liberty Street, but found the doors locked.  The man wearing shorts, a stained parka and a backpack put on his sunglasses and offered to show us where to find the entrance.  As we walked along, he spoke about his frustration trying to sort through conflicting advice from his lawyer and representatives of the Veterans and Social Security Administrations.  His name was Craig.

Craig had just turned 62.  He'd worked as a general laborer most of his life, liked to read, and was quite articulate.  He'd been a dental assistant for the U.S. Navy for four years during the Vietnam era, and was receiving a small, needs-based pension from the VA.  He'd been homeless for about four months after the trailer he and his mentally disabled son were living in was repossessed, despite Craig having just paid the owner "a whole bunch of money" in future rent.

Now, he was staying at the Union Gospel Mission so he could pay off a couple of thousand dollars in debt, and start putting money aside to get an apartment.  He hoped his son's girlfriend would continue to allow the son to sleep on the floor, but he seemed doubtful.  He was wearing shorts because he hadn't realized UGM had changed the laundry room rules and his other clothing was temporarily locked away. 

Mike was manning the roll-around desk by the entrance, handing out maps and attaching glow-green bracelet #264 to the wrist of a guest who was from there ushered inside to a table where he would tell a volunteer which services most interested him.  This was Mike's fourth year at the desk.  At 11:10, traffic was beginning to slow down.  "The families start coming around now."

A woman with a No Pictures sticker across her sternum hurried past us into the building.  Another asked where she could get services for her dog, and did she need to be homeless to get services.  A burly man in a wheelchair wanted a cup of coffee from the urn by the door, but it was all gone.

As the rain let up, a dozen or so guests had come back outside to have a smoke and look after their things.  Bert showed us the many supplies he'd chosen, "But this is the best!"  He held aloft a cellophane-covered square of yellow, "A full set of safety rain gear!" 

Inside, guests and volunteers (blue t-shirts), security workers (yellow) and lead workers (green) exchanged greetings and offers of assistance.  But as the initial rush died down, one could feel a quiet sadness, tinged with frustration.  "We need to offer more services", said one volunteer.  "People need showers, laundry facilities.  We need to provide these things."  We'd heard this at the Polk County Connect, as well.

"Look", said another, pointing to the 2-page intake questionnaire she'd been given to help guests identify needed services.  "Mental health counseling isn't on the list of available services, and it should be." 

"[This morning,] I helped a 21 year-old man, clearly in need of medication, very paranoid."  As there were no psychiatric services she could direct him to, she gave him her standard advice.  "The younger you are when you learn your signs and symptoms, the better your life is.  Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of.  He said to me, 'thank you for saying that.'"

"The saddest thing I've seen today", she went on, was three generations living in a car, "the grandmother, mother and her three year-old daughter.  I used to work with the mother at the State Hospital."

Turning left out of the intake area took us to the service-providers' tables - services for children and families, addiction and grief counseling, employment, housing, benefits and veterans.

Heading straight out of intake took us to a gym that was lined with clothing from the Salt Creek Baptist Church, a ReCenter, pet services, haircuts, and a bike repair station.

Tom and Kim were waiting for haircuts.  They had spent the last four months camping up on "the ridge" before the police notified everyone they had to leave.

"We were right there when the police came [on March 8], and they were very nice about it, because we feel that we're normal -- I'm not sure what 'normal' means when it comes to homeless, and we're not judgmental, but, it was tough being there."

That initial police contact was just to warn the campers that they had a week to find somewhere else to live, and to connect them with social services.

"We met two ladies [that day]...and they were exceptionally nice to us."  Within three days, they'd been accepted into a transitional housing program run by the Salvation Army.  "Here we are, and [there's] no going back.  I'm thankful to be part of society again -- I have a lot to offer, I really do."       

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

News from the Continuum

The 2016 legislative session ended with claims of victory for housing policy and funding, but it remains to be seen what, if any, positive effect the new legislation will have here in Salem and in Marion and Polk Counties.  Some people are pretty excited about the chink in the statewide ban on inclusionary zoning, but it's the grant of construction excise taxing authority to cities and counties that probably holds the greatest long-term promise for affordable housing.  Hopefully, city and county officials will take advantage of this opportunity.

Speaking of housing policy, we're pleased to report that the interim Affordable Housing Committee continues its work to develop affordable housing policies and strategies under the direction of the Salem Housing Authority (SHA), as directed by the Salem Housing Authority Board of Commissioners last December 2015, and that city staff have already begun implementing the Goal 10-related recommendations of the Salem MSA Housing Needs Analysis adopted in February by inventorying Salem's multi-family housing stock.  An inventory might not seem too exciting, but any time you're wanting to change something, you need reliable numbers or you don't know what you're talking about, how to proceed, or how to measure progress.   

Yaquina Hall Front
SHA is currently in negotiations with the State of Oregon/Department of Administrative Services (DAS) to acquire certain property on the North Campus of the State Hospital that  happens to include Yaquina Hall, with a big meeting scheduled for March 28.  We have been told the building is sound enough to be a candidate for renovation, but would yield only 37 units, suitable for singles and couples.
Yaquina Hall Rear

Great location and shape (U with a courtyard), within well-established neighborhoods and biking/walking/transit proximity to concentrated employment at government and health facilities, not to mention its proximity to the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency (MWVCAA).  But 37 units in a renovated building is probably not optimal from a purely economic standpoint.  All options should be considered for this property.  [10/29 Update: SHA set to acquire the property by year's end and will renovate. 3/4/17 Update: property has been acquired and funding is coming together.]
ARCHES on Madison St SE

Three groups of social service providers focused on area housing and homelessness continue to meet every second Thursday morning each month from 9 to noon.  At 9 am, the MWVCAA's subgrantees (including Shangri-La, the Marion County Housing Authority, and the Yamhill Community Action Partnership), meet as the Continuum of Care collaborative at the ARCHES Project at 1164 Madison Street SE.  This is the group referred to in the City's reports to HUD, the same one that MWVCAA has acknowledged does not function as it should, and needs the help of the Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative Task Force (MWHITF) to succeed.  Indeed, the subgrantees' collaborative efforts appear to have been limited to satisfying technical HUD requirements (in fact, they often choose not to meet because they are busy compiling the requisite data or reports). [Update 4/23/17, the Marion County Housing Authority is undergoing dissolution and has not attended meetings for some time.  YCAP also has not attended for some time.)

Also at 9 am on the second Thursday of each month, the Homeless Empowerment Collaborative meets at the Reprographics
The 3/10 HEC meeting (speakers canceled)
building at 1310 Ferry Street SE.  We first heard about this group from Jason Van Meter, when he asked for help with the folks camping on private property down by the river.  As we understand it, the group is an outgrowth of the Students in Transition Education Program (STEP) whose purpose is to help bring maximum supports to students experiencing homelessness by collaborative case management across agencies and programs. [3/3/17 Update: HEC stopped meeting in September 2016, maybe because the grant ran out, but it's not known.]

To put it more plainly, homeless adults - of necessity - move around a lot, and there is no system for tracking them across various social service agencies and programs.  This not only makes it difficult to measure program effectiveness, it can be very hard on their children, if they have children, who may be moved unnecessarily from school to school, or even kept out of school, due to lack of parental resources and poor planning.

In the absence of a tracking system and parental cooperation, collaboration at the case-management level allows critical information-sharing between the STEP providers and the parents' service providers that is needed to improve the children's school situation.  The problem is that no such conversations may occur without duly authorized releases of information, and some programs, such as the Center for Hope and Safety, have been unwilling to sign on, presumably out of concern for parental safety/confidentiality.  The result has been meetings limited to the speaker/announcements format so common among Salem's service organizations.  It's a problem we hope can be solved for the sake of the children in the STEP program.  

Phil Dean speaking at the 3/10 EHN meeting
After the 9 am meeting(s), everyone typically heads over to the Union Gospel Mission at 345 Commercial Street NE where the Emergency Housing Network gathers for an early lunch, program and networking.  The subject at the March meeting was SHA's voucher-nomination process.   

There is in Salem a fourth homelessness-focused group, one that's more faith- than provider-based.  Featured along with the MWHITF in a recent issue of Salem Weekly, the Salem Homeless Coalition meets at 7 pm on the first Monday of the month at St. Mark Lutheran Church.  Most recently, 35 members and guests heard a fast-paced presentation about Square One Villages by Dan Bryant, Senior Minister of the First Christian Church in Eugene, President of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, past president of the Eugene City Club, and chair of the board that oversees OVE (Opportunity Village Eugene).  There were lots of questions and offers to help Salem do
Dan Bryant speaking at the 3/7 SHC meeting
something similar, but we've not heard about any follow up, so it's not looking to us like tiny house villages will be in Salem's future any time soon, if ever.  [Update 4/27/17:  several months after this was written, a group formed a 501(c)(3) entity called Home Base Shelters of Salem whose purpose was to bring a Eugene rest stop-type program to Salem.  An informal proposal to City Council in November went nowhere, and the group appears presently not to be active.]

Pretty clearly, these four one, maybe two groups are, at the moment, just treading water, hoping, and could use some grassroots energy and direction, as well as support beyond lip-service from civic leaders.  But, as noted elsewhere, what they really need are specific data, clear goals and defined expectations beyond "do the best you can with what you have."  The MWHITF has the resources and the pull to make those things happen, it remains to be seen whether they will do so in a way that is meaningful.    

Finally, last week the Statesman Journal and KMUZ began a series of articles and programs designed to inspire the local citizenry to prepare to take care of themselves in the event of a disaster like a subduction zone earthquake.  Notably, the standard advice in this space tends to assume the reader/listener is a homeowner, or at least lives in a house, not someone who lives in multi-family housing with little or no space to store, let alone finance, the three-week water and food supply we're told we need to have on hand at all times, and whose building might well become uninhabitable in the event of disaster.  It seems not a little insensitive, even cruel, to be saying, sorry, you're going to be on your own, so you had better prepare to camp in your front yard, to a community more than half of whose struggling households are renters.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Camp Hayden Quietly Moved On

In a recent blog about collaboration, we referred to a couple of events that occurred during the first week in March.  But there was another event that took place that week.  We omitted to discuss it until now because we wanted to see how things would turn out.

On March 2, Sgt. Jason Van Meter notified the Salem Homeless Coalition and the Homeless Empowerment Collaborative that K&D Sand and Gravel had asked SPD for assistance removing the large, illegal camp where Edgewater Street merges with Highway 22, known to many as the Capital Manor camp, and to its residents as Camp Hayden, or the camp on the ridge. 

I don't want to go into the camp today and make dozens of arrests.  The Police Department will post the camp as an illegal homeless camp on Tuesday March 8th at 0900.  I would like social services and homeless advocates with us to assist finding people temporary and permanent housing.  (We are already getting the word out to the people in the camp.)  We will repost the camp on Tuesday, March 15th at 0900. 
On Wednesday March 16th, at 10:00 AM those remaining...will be subject to arrest, however again I would rather get them a bed some place other that the Polk County Jail...Would people be willing to assist officers on March 8th and 15th with notifications and offering people housing and services?  Where is bed space available on the 16th? I would like to have alternatives for the homeless, other than arrest, and what are those?

Notice of the request for assistance was immediately forwarded to the Emergency Housing Network, a collaborative of shelter providers coordinated by the Salem Housing Authority, sparking questions about numbers and concerns about the capacity of providers to accommodate a sudden influx of people seeking services, as well as offers of assistance.
On the morning of March 8, officers met with representatives from the Salem Housing Authority, the Salvation Army, Union Gospel Mission, the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency and others, where the trail along Edgewater passes under Highway 22.  From there, they headed west along the trail about 50 yards to the edge of a camp with 10 to 15 active sites. 
Most of the 15 to 20 campers they spoke with were already aware of the upcoming eviction.  Many were willing to talk with the outreach workers about services.  Most were aware of the services that were available, but some were not.  

After leaving Camp Hayden, the group went to an ODOT property on the south end of Wallace Marine Park, where they spoke with 8 to 10 campers, including a 24 year-old woman who had recently quit her job to take care of her mother, who was suffering from a terminal illness.  After her mother died, she was forced out of her home and on to the streets, where she had been since February.  A member of the Salem Housing Authority staff took the woman to her office, gave her food and arranged for housing and other services. 

No arrests were made at either camp that day.  All campers the group spoke with were friendly, even appreciative.
On March 15, SPD returned to Camp Hayden with outreach workers, where they
found that only ten or so campers remained.  The next morning, there were only three, and, as they were packing to leave, they were not arrested.

The cooperative outreach effort had been successful by any reasonable measurement -- no arrests, a couple of people enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan, several people moved into housing or a shelter and offered services, and the remainder quietly shifted off of private property onto public.  But, we wondered, will such cooperation be enough in the years ahead? 

On March 18, we went to see whether anyone had moved back to Camp Hayden, despite the owner having given SPD something called a "trespass letter of consent" or TLC, which allows SPD to arrest campers on sight.  We saw no one.

What we did see were more than 20 shopping carts, many, many bicycle parts, camps set off along the right side of the trail, over the embankment, one with carpeted steps carved from the soil.  We saw muddy trails winding away toward the river to other camps, and everywhere torn, sodden and broken things: strollers, pallets, grills, coolers, buckets, crates, cooking utensils, sleeping bags, blankets, clothing, suitcases, water bottles, a surprising number of mattresses, headboards, shovels, chairs, lawn chairs, tarps, rope, carpet, tires, and wheelbarrows.

As we made our way back along the trail, we met a young woman with short red hair, very pregnant, walking west toward the camp.  She was wearing a backpack, and her ruddy complexion indicated a lot of time spent outdoors.  We asked if she lived at the camp up the trail.  She said no, she just crosses through it.  She lived with her fiance and sister in another camp.  Yes, she knew the people in the camp.  They'd either moved to Wallace Marine Park or the Quarry Camp (partly in WMP).  Some were still moving, but a lot of stuff they'd just abandoned, like the sleeping bag draped over the guardrail over there, and the purple jacket she was wearing. 

Her baby boy was due any day now, and her sister was just as far along.  She had found out she was pregnant at 37 weeks, but had been taking her prenatal vitamins since then.  She had cash assistance and food stamps, and didn't seem interested in other services.  This was her fourth child. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Poor for an Hour

By Sarah Rohrs

It’s a lot of work to be poor, even for just one hour. 

That’s what many learned Thursday, March 17th, while taking part in a “poverty simulation” held at Salem First Presbyterian Church in the downtown area. 

The hour-long simulation was designed to give participants a greater understanding and empathy for those who live in poverty and who struggle daily to make ends meet. 

Social service agency representatives, many of whom help poor and needy people in their work, took advantage of the simulation to be reminded of the challenges those in poverty face. 

Shane Olson of the HOME Youth & Resource Center in Salem took part
HYRC at 625 Union St. NE
in his first simulation and said he found it helpful. 

Olson is familiar with homelessness, poverty and other struggles youth and families face in Salem and Marion County. But, he said it’s good for him and others to continually gain deeper awareness and empathy for the poor. 

Transportation, child care issues and other factors could be barriers for a poor person that another might not find a hindrance at all. 

And poverty is no small problem in Oregon. With statistics in hand, CoActive Connections, based in Salem, painted a troublesome economic picture. The nonprofit organization stages poverty simulations all over the state to raise awareness. 

Oregon’s poverty rate is 17 percent, according to federal income guidelines that some consider outdated, said Melinda Gross, CoActive Connections executive director. 

Using these guidelines, a family of four earning less than $24,250 is said to be in poverty. A family of four earning more than that is not in poverty. 

Some 18 percent of the residents in Salem and Keizer live below the poverty line, and more than 20 percent of the area’s children are poor -- under these guidelines. 

However, if more current housing and other costs are taken into consideration, nearly 38 percent of Oregonians are thought to be unable to meet all their basic needs, Gross said. 

A more realistic annual income for a family of four is closer to $63,000, not $24,250, she said.

Of particular note about Oregon’s population in poverty is that adults in most poor families are working at least one job. 

“Most Oregon households experiencing poverty have at least one person working, and research shows that people in lower incomes work just as much as people in higher incomes. They just don’t make enough money,” Gross said.
Though large in numbers, many poor people feel invisible, devalued or hidden in plain sight.

“A big part of (the simulation) is giving voice to people and their experiences and giving value to those experiences. There’s also an aim to improve policies and services so that they have better and improved services,” she said.

How is poverty simulated? CoActive Connections has developed a model to recreate situations poor families might find themselves in. The entire process takes 3 hours which includes a presentation on poverty, then an hour-long debriefing.

During the event, groups of four people form mock working class families facing any number of hardships those in poverty might face.

Those include low wages, lack of reliable transportation to get to work, obtaining child care, not leaving kids at home alone, health difficulties, plus random challenges, such home repairs or a child sent to juvenile hall.

Throughout the simulation, participants need to scramble to plan how to stretch their dollars, get to work on time, obtain social services and also deal with unexpected surprises, such as illegal evictions.

Their overall goal is to get through a month making ends meet and having a little left over.

“If it was real it would be very stressful,” said Elijah Jung, a little boy who
participated in the simulation with his mother, Dayna Jung.

In the mock Xanthos family, Zelda and Anthony Xanthos have had custody of their young grandchildren for several months, following the incarceration of their mother.

Zelda, 50, works full time as a cashier, earning $9.50 an hour, and has little English. Her husband has no high school degree, is diabetic and gets $500 a month on disability

They have a monthly mortgage, utility bills, medical bills, a car payment, and must pay for transportation, clothing, food and other expenses.

During the simulation the Xanthos family had to work together to figure out how they could make it through the month.

Zelda is frequently late for work and has her pay docked. She is forced to cash her check at a check cashing store and loses part of it in fees.

Meanwhile, Anthony goes to apply for food stamps and social services, but after waiting in a long line he was told he didn’t qualify at that time, and he should come back. During the event, the family got a “luck of the draw” card, namely a plumbing emergency.

Both grandparents got sent to “jail” because neither one was home when the kids got there from school.

The family ran out of money throughout the month, and had to pawn a few items to pay their bills and keep food on the table.

During the group debriefing following the simulation many participants said it was hard to pay attention to all the things in their lives.

Some said they found they had no time to get to the store for food, or to spend any time with their kids.

Some of the adults playing children also said they felt abandoned as their parents or grandparents focused on working, making their appointments and going from one place to another.

Other “children “ felt like they had to grow up too fast and spend too much time and energy helping their parents get enough money for the household.

Christopher Hopp, of the Options Family Counseling Services in Salem, played a school teacher. He said he felt bad that so many of the poor kids in the mock “classroom” were sent home with notes to the parents to pony up money for field trips, supplies and other items.

He knew the poor children would be unable to participate and he said it broke his heart. “I think schools put a lot of pressures on the parents,” he said.

Another participant said the simulation drove home a thought that the “poor have no voice of their own.” Another man said it felt like his mock family members were “victims of everything.”

“I was a victim because of the economic situation I was in. The wife and husband lost everything,” he said.

Some participants, however, said they were able to navigate the various social service stations to obtain job training, housing and food vouchers and other items which allowed them to improve their economic situations.

Olson and his family were able to do that because of his knowledge of the system in his job.

Others in pointed out that lack of knowledge of resources and where to go could present an enormous obstacles and lost opportunities to find better jobs and more income.

Meanwhile, Gross and Lori Beamer, CoActive Director of Operations and
Outreach, said the stigma and stress of living in poverty are enormous barriers.
Some studies show that those in severe poverty actually lose IQ points because they devote so much of their time and energy to figuring out how to survive, Gross said.

Beamer said once their economic status improves the IQ points start to go back up to their pre-poverty levels.

As someone who grew up in poverty herself, Gross said a primary goal of the simulation is to encourage people not to think of poor folks as “others.”

“I think the most important piece (of the simulation) is something that’s attached to our vision statement and that is nobody will be treated differently due to their economic status,” Gross said.

“We’re all people who have our own individual experiences and we need to value each person’s worth regardless of how much they earn. That is really important,” she said.

Guest Post - Chuck Bennett, State of the City

By Chuck Bennett, Salem City Councilor for Ward 1, Mayoral candidate

The State of the City of Salem is very good.

Salem’s economy has been expanding for some time. Employment is up and the rate of job creation has been very good. The City Council has been actively working through its urban renewal and other economic development tools to complete development plans for West Salem, Northgate and downtown. The city is poised to take advantage of a significant level of economic and job creating activity that will be underway for the next several years.

The vacancy rates in all of our housing, retail and commercial space is leading to a substantial increase in the construction industry. New housing is being developed throughout the community but particularly in downtown where the former Boise Cascade site – South Block – has entered its second phase after the almost immediate rent out of out of its first phase. The Rivers condominium development on Front Street is sold out and new plans for downtown housing are coming forward for the next year.

At the same time, commercial activity in downtown has resulted in realization of the one of long held community goals for a vibrant downtown of commercial, retail, restaurant and cultural activities that lasts from morning through the evening hours. There are now three live theaters downtown, public art installations are moving ahead and the restaurant and music scene is in full swing. There is a strong retail sector of locally owned shops and national department stores. And at the same time we have protected our historic character and kept the parking free and available.

Within two years, the city’s Convention Center will be paid for. Planning is well underway for the new Police Station at the old O’Brien auto dealership site in north downtown and a full discussion of scope and cost of seismic upgrades to City Hall is underway. 

In South Salem, major improvements to Kuebler Blvd. are underway in preparation for development of a commercial center at the intersection with Lone Oak Rd.

The Peter Courtney/Minto Island Bridge is nearing completion connecting three of the city’s largest parks and creating a more than 20 mile walking and biking trail through them. The city also has purchased an additional four acres at Riverfront Park that will expand parking and usable park space at the south end of the park. A major upgrade is being completed at Bush Art Barn, planning for development at a 32 acre park at the former Fairview Training Center is underway and work continues at Battle Creek to develop a better city flood control system.

Homelessness continues to be a problem in Salem as it is in the rest of the U.S. An intergovernmental and agency team has been assembled from Polk and Marion counties and the cities of Salem and Keizer to develop a regional response plan including “housing first,” wrap around physical and mental health services and addiction assistance. The group also continues to study responses in other communities around the country.

In West Salem, substantial work in the Edgewater neighborhood has been completed or is well underway. The larger redevelopment plan is complete and planning is underway for traffic improvement projects on Second, Patterson and at the future Marine Drive are underway. One of the most visible changes is at the corner of Edgewater and Wallace Rd. where the new Goodwill Superstore and two additional commercial developments are being built. Completion of the Environmental Impact Study of the Willamette River Crossing is likely to be within the next year. 

On Portland Road, the Northgate urban renewal plan is nearly complete and work is well underway on the public/private Career and Technical Education Center. Nearly $20 million will be spend in the Portland Road area on public improvements including crosswalks, sidewalks, new developments and infrastructure improvements in a major redevelopment in the area. 

Our neighborhoods continue to be the centers of community activity. The Railroad Quiet Zone is expanding this year and will reach all the way past Silverton Road. Downtown a new quiet zone will be instituted along Riverfront Park all the way to the entrance to Minto Brown Island Park. Home values are increasing. The crime rate is down. Our neighborhood services program continues to work with residents to maintain the quality of our neighborhoods. The neighborhood associations are a vital part of the city governance system.