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.

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