Sunday, July 24, 2016

MWHITF: Meeting 5 - The View from Near Space

The fifth in a series of There's-nothing-to-report reports on the Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative Task Force.

The View from Near Space (~19 Miles Up)
Mayor Clark opened the fifth meeting of the MWHI Task Force with a description of a "100,000 foot view of where we've been":
In February [2016] we convened this Task Force with the idea that bringing people together in various areas of expertise and various areas of knowledge of need, we could better understand the need and could put together a network that would better meet those needs in a very practical way.  So, we've been going over the background and scope of the problem, understanding best practices that have been put in place in other areas, such as Housing First.  We've looked at the Continuum of Care.  We've had different panels that have brought us some very, very valuable information about our housing and how to put together our strategic framework.  [We've had] a very moving and deeply practical panel of veterans, we had a great panel on mental illness, disabilities, and law enforcement - the interface, again, working together to make sure law enforcement is part of the solution, part of that network in the Continuum of Care, getting people where they need to be to be successful in the long run. 
Now, as you can see from the photo, you can't really see anything on the ground from 100,000 feet up, which is significant only because it's on the ground that you find the Thralls and such.   

The air is very, very thin at 100,000 feet.  So thin, in fact, you can't fly an airplane.  So thin, as noted, it's near "space", which could help explain why the Task Force's questions to the "rental managers" panel were of the sort one might expect to come from Providers or Martians or other alien beings, including, we kid you not, "Why do residents not pay?"  (Yes, we know, we predicted they would ask that, but we didn't truly believe they would.) 

To their credit, the panelists answered all the Task Force's questions with a straight face, even patiently, showing little of the frustration they doubtless felt with questions and the faux formal closed captioned TV atmosphere that clearly constrained them from the candid conversations they were obviously wanting and prepared to have.

Patient, except when asked about "slumlords whose tenants end up needing additional assistance for health, heating, or other needs drain our resources."  That one didn't go over so well.    

Our favorite exchange was when one of the panelists said she had commercial office space that could be converted to residences except that government regulations requiring sprinklers made it too expensive, prompting Commissioner Carlson to ask, "Sprinklers like a lawn?"    

Because they were asked to, the panelists also discussed tenant abuses relating to service and companion animals, the need for "no cause evictions", and whether housing was safe, sanitary and habitable just because the City said it was, but the time ran out before they could talk about tenants with criminal histories.  All in all, Mayor Clark was extremely impressed with the discussion ("great ideas for moving forward"), and especially with the phrase "safe, sanitary and habitable", which she appeared to be hearing for the first time.  

NoC Search Result

After dismissing the panel, the Task Force (or most of them) took a thirty-minute break to check their email and whatnot while the rest of us strained unsuccessfully for 30 minutes to hear Afshin Khosravi (on the phone from California) talk about his Network of Care sites.  It was all very high tech we're sure, but, even though we were sitting in the front row, we couldn't actually make any of it out.

Neither the Task Force nor those in the audience who remained at the end of the demo seemed impressed, especially when neither Commissioner Carlson nor Mr. Khosravi were able, when asked, to recall the agreed-upon asking price, which is odd, because you'd have thought $30K to set up one page and $30K per year thereafter was kind of memorable.  

In any event, as it seems Commissioner Carlson really, really likes the NoC model, and really does not like 211 because she could not get it to work and also because it requires providers to keep their information current which apparently they don't like to do, you can expect her to continue to push hard for a recommendation to implement a Homeless NoC page to augment? replace? 211, the hefty price tag notwithstanding.

The Neglected 10-Yr Plan
Following the demo came oral updates from the committees, which were not more exciting than June's reports, or informative than the written "briefs" which you can read at the link.  The Focus Groups/Coalition committee has met three times, Affordable Housing and Vets have met twice, and none of the the rest have met more than once (not counting the Health and Housing committee, which isn't really the Task Force's).  If you read the briefs, you will understand why we predict that the recommendations coming out of these committees will be about as meaningful as the 10-year Plan to End Homelessness turned out to be.

It's not really their fault.  The committees were formed and charged from the top down, and their charges were/are over broad and impracticable, just like the Task Force's (who, let's recall, charged itself).  It's like a couple of months in, the co-chairs realized they couldn't or wouldn't get it all done, so, rather than choosing to focus on what they could do, they cut the charge into chunks and sent each chunk to a committee.  This might seem logical, but, as has become evident, it's not how committees actually work.

So, given all of the above, and Commissioner Carlson's admission at the June meeting that, "We're just kind of dabbling in topics" at this point, waiting for the committees to come forward with recommendations, it should come as no surprise that the Task Force will likely be returning from its two-month summer break ready or nearly ready for the show to be over.  Bruce Bailey has already stopped attending meetings, and Mayor Peterson and Councilor Bednarz will be out of office by the end of the year.  Commissioner Carlson has made clear she expects each committee to return in September with at least two recommendations, followed by another five to ten in October, each of which will have to be "explained", considered and voted on individually during the November and December meetings, and, she predicts, "that's gonna take a lot of time", which it probably will, given how the meetings have been conducted thus far.

Conversation with Providers
If you would like to try and influence what recommendations are brought to the Task Force, there are still a number of committee meetings scheduled, and they are open to the public.  Keep in mind that only official committee members are allowed a vote.

[Update: on July 30, the Keizer-Times filed this report on the meeting.]

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