Thursday, June 23, 2016

Minutes 6/21/16

June 21, 2016
Minutes

p
Bruce Hoffman, Chair
p
Woody Dukes
a
Brock Campbell
p
Michael Livingston,
Vice Chair
p
Bob Hanna
p
Bill Holmstrom

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Sarah Owens, Secretary-Treasurer
p
Neal Kern
a
Diana Dettwyler

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Erma Hoffman
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Rebekah Engle
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David Dahle
p=present a=absent e=excused

Residents: Deb Comini, Carla Loecke, Mary Anne Spradin,
Organizations: Susan Gallagher, Gallaghers Fitness Resources; Maurice Anderson, St. Mark Lutheran Church
City and County Representatives: Officer Kevin Hill; Kevin Hottmann, Traffic Engineer, Julie Warnke, Planner, Anthony Gamallo, Planner, Keith Whisenhunt, Consultant, Public Works Department
Guest: none

The regular meeting of the CanDo Board of Directors was called to order at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 21, 2016, at the First Christian Church at 685 Marion Street NE, Salem. Bruce Hoffman was in the chair and Sarah Owens acted as Secretary.

The minutes of the May meeting were approved unanimously.

In public comment Bruce Hoffman called for nominations for the City’s various volunteer recognition awards, due by July 13, and reminded everyone that the U.S. Olympic Track and Field trials will open June 30 in Salem with a men’s and women’s 20K race walk beginning and ending at the Capitol.  He also reported that David Dahle had agreed to undertake organizing a National Night Out event for CANDO on August 2.

Susan Gallagher invited the board to participate in this year’s High Street Hustle on August 13, a walk/run event that last year raised $30K for enhanced heart disease prevention and education in Marion and Polk counties. 

Julie Warnke introduced her colleague Anthony Gamallo, who will be working on the Maple-Winter Street Family Friendly Bikeway, which is now in the planning phase.  She informed the board that the consultant had been hired, and, despite the traffic counter being stolen, Public Works had gathered the data they needed (time-of-day volumes and intersection activity while school was in session) for the consultant.  They are at this point just waiting for the notice to proceed.  As a side note, Julie said that a bike-pedestrian counter placed mid-May in the middle of the Union Street pedestrian bridge appears to have recorded upwards of 2500 crossings per day, with a significant spike likely caused by the first On Your Feet Friday of the season. 

Erma Hoffman commented that she had met with Toni Whitler (Public Works, Parks) to discuss additional matching grant opportunities relating to CANDO’s Pringle Park project and  that the City was probably going to replace the two tools stolen from the bike-repair station at Riverfront Park.  She also suggested that the board might want to consider applying for a grant to install a bike-repair station at Minto-Brown Island Park.

The board heard a presentation on plans for construction affecting CANDO by Kevin Hottman, Public Works Department, with contributions from Keith Whisenhunt and Julie Warnke.  Among other projects discussed was the Mission Street Structural Rehabilitation Project, which will this summer repave/grind Mission Street between Commercial and 12th Streets, upgrade sidewalk ramps at Winter and Mission Streets to ADA standards and install bike-specific signals at the intersection. 

Also discussed was the Broadway and Liberty Streets NE Intersection Project, which will realign Liberty Street with Broadway to form a T-intersection. The improvements include replacing the traffic signal, installing fiber optic interconnect to Market Street, and improving the pedestrian crossings by modifying the southbound right turn lane at Liberty Street.  

Also discussed was the Union Street NE/Commercial Street NE Traffic Signal Improvements Project, which will install a traffic signal at the Union Street NE/Commercial Street NE Intersection to allow for better pedestrian and bicycle access connecting Downtown with the West Salem and North Salem areas. The project will add a turn lane on eastbound Union Street, west of Commercial Street, with a pedestrian safety island.  The project is currently in preliminary design with construction anticipated in 2017 with completion by October 2017.  Although $1,133,000 in Federal and Salem Urban Renewal Agency funds are available for the project, the City has applied for additional funds hoping to be able to avoid using of all or some of the URA funds allocated to the project. 

The board was reminded that the City would be looking to see how well residents accepted and used the Bicycle Lanes coming to High and Church Streets, as the ultimate plan was to make those streets two-way.  If it appears there is a demand for the bike lanes, they are more likely to be retained when the streets go two-way.  Otherwise, they may be lost to parking spaces in the conversion.   

Officer Kevin Hill, who has taken over leadership of the Downtown Enforcement Team from Officer Vanmeter, spoke briefly of his experience and training (e.g., with the Narcotics and SWAT teams and as a firearms instructor) and the need for a different, more problem-solving approach to policing on the DET, which he said he is enjoying learning about.  Among the administrative matters he has been working on are plans to incorporate two additional officers, increase coverage to seven days a week, and gradually increase the rotation on DET from two to four years.   

In new business, Woody Dukes’s Motion regarding SPR-ADJ-DR16-09 to authorize him as Land Use Chair to speak with Ward 1 Councilor Chuck Bennett on behalf of the Board in opposition to the proposed drive-through at 205 Church Street SE was tabled by unanimous consent in light of the recent email from Planner Aaron Panko saying that the city traffic engineering section had requested that the applicant provide additional information clarifying the traffic impact for the proposed development, and that talking with Councilor Bennet “could be” considered a prohibited ex parte contact.

There being no other business before the board, the meeting of the Board of Directors adjourned at 7:13 p.m. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

MWHITF: Meeting 4 - Chronically Homeless

                                                            
Marissa's Tent
Well-worn trails wind between the campsites, now mostly abandoned, in the woods just off Portland Road NE, near the Kale Street 'T' intersection.  We went there a few weeks ago to observe as Salem police and social workers (Salem Housing Authority and Community Action Agency) spoke with each of the inhabitants, letting them know they were on private property and couldn't keep staying there.  One of the workers was packing a thermos of coffee, bottles of water, and granola bars, which she offered to the young woman in the first tent.  She was crying, embarrassed,  very thirsty.

Marissa
"This is insane to me", Marissa sobbed, "I never thought I'd be freakin' homeless."  She said her ex had tried to kill her last August.  "I had an amazing life, until last August."  Before then, she had worked as a CNA.  Her hands were trembling.  "I'm the one who cares for people," she insisted.  "I thought I'd have no trouble camping in the woods.  I've been camping.  But this, this is way too scary."  I later asked if I could take her photo, for which she volunteered a smile.

We left the workers to talk to Marissa about where she planned to go next, and moved on to the next camp.  We found Kevin in his kitchen.  He had clearly occupied his site for years.  "It
Kevin's Main Tent
used to be a lot cleaner", he told one of the officers.  Yes, he'd been to the (Union Gospel) Mission, "I won't go back there", he said, shaking his head.

Pretty clearly, he wasn't going to "go" anywhere.  He would stay where he was, unless he was arrested.  He was warned he had to leave.  The worker from Community Action Agency's ARCHES project asked if he was a veteran.  He was.  He needed ID, though.  The worker left his card and asked Kevin to call him.

Kevin
Kevin obviously had mental health issues, as did the other occupants of the camp.  No one thought Kevin was going to call, and he didn't.  And Marissa didn't show up Monday morning at the coffee shop per that plan, either.  Most likely, despite meaning it when she told the worker she was ready to deal with her addiction, she was in a different frame of mind by Monday.  The SHA workers went looking for her, but could not find her.

No one was arrested during the operation - that day, or the following week.

Shirley (left, middle) and her Tent

Offering services instead of arresting people in circumstances like these is one of the "Innovative Public Safety Strategies" the Task Force heard about at its fourth Meeting.  It's commonly referred to as "harm reduction", and is properly considered a public health, rather than a public safety, strategy.  It's been around in some form since the 1980s.  The other two strategies that the Task Force heard about Monday are basically variations of harm reduction.  They were, specifically, the Crisis Outreach Response Team or CORT, which has been in use for the last 10 years and you can read about at the link, and Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion or LEAD, which Dallas, Oregon, started implementing last summer and is based on Seattle's successful pilot project.

It's always good when our public officials discontinue strategies that are a) inhumane, and b) don't work.  Or, as Task Force member David Leith commented, "you always change a losing game plan."

Doing that's not exactly innovation, though.  And when the problem is trespass - a subject not even touched on at the meeting - "move along, you can't stay here" is still the strategy in Salem, at least for individuals who're "chronically service resistant."

Given that circumstance, it's more than a little odd that the Task Force hasn't yet talked about the possibility of some form of sanctioned outdoor shelters (aka, "legalized camping"), like Right 2 Dream Too in Portland and the development of Seattle's tent cities.  And then there's Eugene, which is about to open its fourth "sanctioned homeless encampment" and close to starting construction on its second micro-housing project, which Veneta, Medford, and maybe even Keizer, are wanting to replicate in some form. (Last March, Keizer's mayor asked City staff for a list of city-owned land that might be appropriate for a micro-housing development.)

We're not suggesting that sanctioned outdoor shelters are the way to go.  They are not typically any more accessible to the "chronically service resistant" than indoor shelters.  And, we agree with the policy wonks who say that outdoor shelters don't end homelessness, and can be a distraction from the primary goal, which is to get everyone into permanent housing. 

But, if you believe, as does the Mayor of Salem, that the number of homeless camping along the Willamette River is rising and that they will pour into Minto-Brown Island Park when the pedestrian bridge opens, and if you believe "it only stands to reason that Salem’s housing problem will worsen just as Portland’s has", forcing more Salem residents into homelessness, then you probably think the Task Force should be at least be studying stopgap measures like sanctioned outdoor shelters.  Unless, of course, you're okay with having a whole lot more folks living in the woods, as has happened in Guerneville, California.

Dozens of tents, hidden among the trees and clinging to muddy hillsides, dot the landscape in and around the bucolic resort town of Guerneville, California
Likely migration route across the bridge to unsanctioned sites on the river's east side
Living in the woods because you have no other viable option is generally bad for everyone, including the environment, a fact now being recognized in tangible ways by the institutions created under the Affordable Health Care Act.  As illustrated in our blog about Camp Hayden, when owners ask police to help them with a "camp cleanup", the need is clear and action generally long overdue.

A committee of the Salem Homeless Coalition, which also met on Monday, has supposedly been working on a proposal to replicate Eugene's Rest Stops (aka, "Safe Spots") in Salem, but, so far, it's all talk.  They haven't even asked for a list of city-owned land that might be appropriate for use.  Task Force member Jon Reeves and two other Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency staff are on the committee.     

The Task Force is clearly struggling (using that term loosely, as it doesn't appear they're trying all that hard) to figure out what kind of numbers they're dealing with.  But at Monday's meeting, they soundly rejected Commissioner Carlson's proffer of the PIT Count figures during the "Target Populations" portion of the meeting, which frustrated Commissioner Carlson's poorly-communicated purpose to use those figures in defining further the responsibilities of the individual committees.

As to the committees, there were reports, none of substance, and some rearranging of the deck chairs.  Overall attendance was way down, by more than half, Bruce Bailey sent a substitute again (Jeanine Knight, of UGM Simonka Place) and Mayor Clark, Shaney Starr, Ron Hays and Irma Oliveros were all absent.

The takeaway from this meeting was the shockingly honest comment by Commissioner Carlson toward the end, "We're just kind of dabbling in topics" at this point, waiting for the committees to come forward with recommendations.

The next Task Force meeting is July 20, 2016.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sleeping in Church

By Sarah Rohrs


An empty Sunday school classroom
Three youth could barely eat their dinner of spaghetti and salad because their teeth hurt so much. Of them, a girl of 13 or 14, walked up to a man and asked him for his tube of Orajel. He gladly handed it to her and told her she could use it whenever she needed to. They gave each other a friendly little hand bump as the tube slid from one hand to another. As I watched I could tell this ritual of passing around tubes of Orajel was common among them.

The tiny tubes of Orajel are what struck me the most in my brief stint as a
Salem Interfaith Hospitality Network volunteer at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Salem. It was the week four homeless families stayed in the UUCS’s children’s wing. Orajel provides temporary relief for dental pain but hardly solves the problem of dental pain and untreated cavities in children, and infected gums and roots in adults. As I watched the girl palm the tube into her pocket, I wondered how many other children of homeless families are going without basic dental care, their teeth and gums rotting and inflamed well before adulthood.

The four families staying at the UUCS were ones of many that have cycled through the SIHN, a program that launched in Salem in 1997. As SIHN Executive Director TJ Putman explained during an interview on KMUZ’s Willamette Wake-Up, the program began when a local pastor heard a shocking statistic - 1,000 homeless kids in the Salem-Keizer School District. He thought congregations should do something. Most evenings, church buildings sit empty, he figured. How could they be used to help the families?

Today, 34 churches in Salem take part in the Salem Interfaith Hospitality Network. The need and demand grows daily, Putman told KMUZ during radio interviews in April and May. Putman said that each month, SIHN turns away nearly 40 families due to lack of space.  Between April 1 and May 15 of this year, he said, 70 families, including 200 children, were turned away. SIHN is the only emergency shelter program for homeless families in Salem.

Some 18 churches serve as host churches, providing overnight shelter for up to four families for one week at a time. Other churches in the network provide support in other ways, like monetary or in-kind donations.  Volunteers at the host churches make meals, play with and socialize with kids and their parents, and also stay overnight with the families.

The stated aim of the program is to get the families into permanent housing with the means to support themselves. Generally, each morning, after breakfast,
SIHN Day Center on Edgewater Street
the children are taken to school, and, unless they are employed, the adults are taken to SIHN Day Center in West Salem where they work with case managers on finding jobs, public assistance and housing.  SIHN also administers the City of Salem's HUD-funded tenant based rental assistance program (which SIHN has dubbed "Fresh Start") which can cover security deposits and rent for up to six months.

During my volunteer stint I helped out in the kitchen a little bit by doing things
like setting the buffet table where the families would come in and get their meals. I tried to keep busy, but wondered where all the families where.

I walked around to find them. Most were in the classrooms. Sitting on cots and other bedding arrangements, they talked among themselves, or used their phone devices or laptop computers. Many were reading or just relaxing. Most of the youth in these families were not young, but in their teen years. They seemed wrapped up in computers and phones. I did not want to intrude on their private and family time so I stayed out of the rooms.

Classroom as shelter
As people came out for dinner, one preteen girl looked as if she might start crying. “No one else is wearing pajamas,” she cried out as she stopped in the Fellowship Hall and acted as if she might run back into the rooms. Her mom assured her everything would be all right. I stood at the door and welcomed her to the tables and told her what was for dinner. She didn’t look at me. Her face was all red.

I was struck with how stressed out the parents looked. One man told me he was
sick with the flu and indicated the illness was being spread throughout the local homeless shelters. Another boy seemed sheepish as got his spaghetti and then sat down. I told him he was welcome to take some garlic bread, too. His face lit up as I showed him where the slices were on the buffet table and he grabbed just one.

The volunteers who had made dinner sat at a table amongst themselves. We  had been instructed to eat with the families. So, I pulled up a chair at a table where one family sat, and asked if I could sit with them. The father, a wiry fellow who looked like he had loads on his mind, gave me some kind of response. It obviously didn’t matter to him one way or another.

At the table were his wife and a 13-year-old boy and a younger boy about 7 or 8. The younger one had on head phones and listened to country music during dinner while the older one engaged in considerable verbal sparring with his mom. She wanted to tell me what a good artist her 13-year-old was and that he may be able to get a scholarship of some kind. Clearly pleased with the attention, he bragged about his talents and talked over her each chance he got.

At one point, the mother tried to remember when they celebrated a birthday of one of the boys. She ticked off all the shelters and motels they had stayed in, trying to count back. From what I could tell they had been homeless for at least three years. She sadly told him “Oh yes, we were in a motel that year.”

As I sat there dutifully eating my spaghetti I wondered how many schools the kids had been in, how many times they had lost everything in move after move. Then the mother looked worriedly at her older boy and asked him about his tonsils. He said he couldn’t eat much because he was in pain. “Oh, those just got to come out,” she said.

Meanwhile, the man had finished eating and nervously chewed on a toothpick. I tried to engage him in a conversation about staying at the churches. He was quick to stay he appreciated the churches and how nice everyone was, but almost as an aside, he remarked quietly that it was very stressful to move each week.  

I went to get them more water and some dessert, and then listened as the older boy argued with his mother while she tried to talk about her passion for sewing and fabric art. At the end of dinner, I wished them well and the man thanked me politely. I could tell I was one in many volunteers that they would encounter.

In our interview with TJ Putman, we asked him if one church with a great deal of unused space, perhaps one in a central location, might not be better than
moving the families every week. He said a more permanent shelter would be better, but that would not be practical for the churches or the volunteers. He said it’s a lot easier to get people to volunteer if they can do so at their own church. If one church served as a shelter volunteers at that church would get burned out and people might not want to volunteer at another church.

Homeless families are continuously asking for help through the program. Putman said the adults must undergo a background check, screening, and cannot use drugs or alcohol while in the program. They must also show a willingness and commitment to look for work and develop life-skills like how to be a good tenant. Last year, the program served 52 families, placing 80 percent in permanent housing, according to the SIHN website.

The churches make up the heart of the Salem Interfaith Hospitality Network, but the program also receives funding through the City of Salem and other sources, including the United Way. Putman told us that City funding pays the mortgage on SIHN's day center, for its case managers, and for its tenant-based rental assistance program. 

“It’s not just the homeless being served but we're also empowering congregations to make the differences. We do we have the capacity as a community to come together,” Putman said.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Right to Sleep in PDX

By Sarah Rohrs

The Right to Rest…The Right to Sleep…The Right to Dream…



Today’s housing market is unkind to the very poor. When they can no longer pay their rent they often find themselves on the streets.  When evicted, the very poor have few places to go, few places to get clean, use the bathroom, and few places to get a good night’s sleep.

The Right to Dream Too (R2DToo) shelter in downtown Portland affirms sleep as a basic human right. This compact outdoor shelter is in the heart of Portland’s Old Town and on the edge of its Chinatown. It has tarps serving as a roof and wooden doors edging the sidewalk much like a fence. Inside are tents, cots, and other places to safely bed down for the day or night. Numerous portable bathrooms and washing facilities also on hand.

I ran across Right to Dream Too encampment while on a short sight-seeing trip
to Portland. After hearing repeatedly of Portland’s ever-escalating housing costs, it was by no means a surprise to see so many homeless people nearly everywhere I went in the downtown. They sit for hours on park benches, and dozens are sprawled out the length of a long city block in front of the Greyhound bus station. In fact, Portland’s growing bands of homeless were the first people I saw leaving the bus station before I and my traveling companion began to walk around.

I stood on the corner of Fourth Avenue NW and Burnside Street, looking at the busy homeless encampment which, from all appearances, seemed organized with clearly-marked rules and also large statements of empowerment and affirmation. Those who were not sleeping (many do so during the day) were out and about talking with one another, exchanging items, or picking through donations.

A sign caught my eye, “Sleep is a Human Right.” I stopped to take a photo of it and listened in on a conversation a burly man was having with a passerby. The gist of it had to do with homeless people, particularly in cities, never getting more than an hour or two of sleep at a time. They are continually being rousted, told to move on, or they are subject to violence or noise.

Dozens of people flowed past me as I stood listening and looking around. Clearly, the prominent spot of the encampment allows for the opportunity of a lot of public awareness. People manning the entrance are friendly, helpful and seem to welcome people to a table with pamphlets and other information on it. When people stop they have a chance to explain how the camp operates, its rules and regulations and also spread the word about one thing that may be helping.

While many social service agencies in Salem and other places work to assure homeless people have enough food and clothes, Right to Dream Too came into being on the premise that people need sleep. It’s a basic right. Shelter comes first. Not fancy accommodations but simply a place to lie down and rest without fear of being rousted or beat up. The shelter “provides refuge and a safe spot to rest or sleep undisturbed” from violence, police and other disturbances.  According to its website, the group also exists to “awaken social and political groups to the importance of safe and undisturbed sleep.”

Salem, too, has a homeless population and problem. The Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative Task Force and other groups are grappling with how best to come up with a long-term solution that gets people off the street. Rental rates are rising here, too. So, it only stands to reason that Salem’s housing problem will worsen just as Portland’s has. As I looked around the homely, but seemingly effective, Right To Dream Too encampment I wondered if this could be a model for Salem and the task force to consider.

It’s worth noting that a formerly homeless man launched the Right to Dream Too encampment, according to its website. By contrast, the Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative has no homeless people serving on its task force. Will that make a difference in getting programs or housing solutions up and running in Salem, quickly? It’s not clear at this point.

Since Right to Dream Too opened in 2011, efforts have gone into finding a bigger spot for the facility. That was finally accomplished earlier this year when the city of Portland identified a new spot in the Central Eastside area. The camp hopes to set up in a new location by October.

I’m glad the encampment will be in a bigger spot to serve more people. I hope it doesn’t lose its heart-felt touch of homemade signs, and its ability to raise public awareness with people on the street on the basic right of sleep. While the encampment surely can’t accommodate all the homeless people on the streets of Portland, it can serve as a model of what’s possible or, at least, what’s humane.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

MWHITF: Agenda for Meeting 4

On the agenda for meeting four of the Task Force is a presentation on "Innovative Public Safety Strategies" currently being employed by law enforcement in Marion and Polk Counties as an alternative to the expensive, ineffective and sometimes harmful "broken windows" approach to law enforcement that became popular in the 1980s. 

These strategies, which are not all that new, include specialized mental health training for public safety officers (so they can staff a crisis response team), diverting "quality of life" crimes like low-level alcohol and drug offenses to community based treatment/support services (law enforcement assisted diversion or LEAD), and trying to reduce the harm associated with certain unlawful behaviors, rather than punishing in hope that the behavior will be eliminated (harm reduction model). 

We've previously linked to information about Seattle's LEAD program (here and here they are again), shared our conversations with Officer Vanmeter (here and here they are again), and blogged about how SPD warns the "homeless camps" when a "cleanup" is planned and takes along social workers to conduct outreach (here that is again).  The police understand, of course, that homelessness is not properly a public safety issue (see here).            

The Task Force plans to spend 40 minutes hearing about these strategies, right after they discuss "Target Populations."  No idea what that's about, or what "Possible Action" they might be asked to take, but no doubt Janet will let everyone know what the answer wants to be when the time comes.

And that's about it for Meeting #4, except for going through the motions of "ratify[ing] additional subcommittee [sic] members", "adopt[ing] any subcommittee [sic] proposals" and taking public comment.  Here for the reader's convenience is the agenda posted this morning: