Tuesday, August 23, 2016

More about encampments

By all appearances, so far, neither the MWHI Task Force as a whole, or any of its committees, has taken up the Mayor's concern that something be done about the people living ("camping") in Salem's parks and undeveloped areas, which is, of course, another way of saying that the Mayor, as one of the Task Force's co-Chairs, has not taken up her own concern.  Is it any wonder, then, that, as of this writing, the group "Home Base Shelters of Salem" (introduced here) has chosen not to bring its proposal for a sanctioned campground before either the Task Force, or one of its committees, despite the fact that two members of its Board of Directors are on the Task Force? 

Although it seems unlikely at this point, should the Task Force or one of its committees decide they do want to tackle the problem of illegal camping, they could do worse than to start with the thoroughgoing three-part guide to Homeless Encampments developed by the Center for Problem Oriented Policing (Sharon Chamard, 2010).  Part 1 covers the problem generally.  Part 2 is a guide to help communities analyze their particular issues.  Part 3 helps communities consider suitable and effective strategies.  Really, everyone should read this guide, and then have a conversation based on practicalities, rather than ideology. 

The Mayor might like what Anchorage has been doing - serving 15-day "eviction" notices on encampments and generally "cracking down", but that's not all.  There's like, you know, a plan. 
"Since the beginning of the year, outreach workers, municipal officials, police and others have been meeting weekly to talk about information collected from people at camps and shelters and ways to meet those individuals’ needs.
Nancy Burke, the municipality’s homeless services coordinator, says the meetings make it easier to juggle lots of complicated parts."
Juggling complicated parts by regularly meeting together, now there's an idea.  What if the Task Force were to help Salem develop a "complicated long-term plan: get people out of camps, out of shelters and into homes"?  Is it too much to hope for?  Is it too much to hope that HBSS might willingly join in that planning?  Salem is not so different from any other community in that we would greatly benefit from a transparent, problem-oriented approach to homelessness  that engages the larger community in a respectful conversation that avoids ideology and personality.  Might not the Task Force help us along that path? 

The Mayor's remarks made it sound like the City is doing "nothing", which, as we've discussed before, is just not the case.  Maybe none of Salem's neighborhoods have "Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Homeless", but  CANDO might just be more like Parkrose than maybe a lot of people realize.  Our "local patrolmen" have regular conversations with encampment residents, whom they get to know, and they work with other government officials to try and "find a better way." 

Salem's also like Anchorage, in that our outreach workers, municipal officials and police work together to get residents off the streets and out of encampments, into permanent housing.  Do you doubt it?  Consider the most recent report from Nicole Utz, Housing Services Supervisor for Salem Housing Authority properties.  In it, she relates some positive outcomes resulting from cooperative efforts between Salem Police, SHA, and area "campers":
"RM" is a Senior that was pretty much confined to a wheel chair. He was located during a walk through of the Marion Square Park and out of a group of 10-15, he was the one male willing to seek an alternative life for himself. RM has serious health issues that were compounded by the weather conditions he faced daily. He took my card and made contact with me through the downtown enforcement team. We learned he had a son who was also trying to find him housing. We worked with his son and case manager from NW Senior and Disability Services to advocate for him to be placed into an adult foster care home that could help provide for his needs. He is thriving considering his medical conditions. His son says he is doing well and has even put on weight. We will continue to check in on his progress.
 "DN" and "RC" lived in Minto Brown Park for 1.5 years. I was introduced to them by the crime prevention department. I met with them at the park - reviewed their needs. We had them come to the office and review several options for their future and progress on their Social Security claim. They stayed in contact with us over the course of several months and complied with filling out all the paperwork necessary for waiting lists to different programs. In July they received good news and their disability claim was awarded. We were able to work with them and a payee to secure them in permanent affordable housing. They are adapting to the change well - we will also continue to work and check in with them in the future.
 "GH" is a Senior male who became homeless after a change in his disability benefits for Social Security when he reached the age of 65. GH had been at UGM for a year and previous to this he was camped out on the Santiam River for a year or so. After a quick assessment on his situation we help GH ensure he was on all available waiting list for affordable and subsidized housing. We reviewed his social security concerns with his case manager. GH complied with all the requirements, documentation and paperwork that was requested of him. GH finally came to the top of the list for a Senior complex and was placed last week. He is ecstatic and enjoying his peaceful new home.
In less hopeful news, it's looking more and more like Westcare and the private  Partnership for Veterans at Risk are not going to pull off converting the site of the YWCA's Salem Outreach Shelter into a 30-bed shelter for homeless veterans after all, and the Home of the Brave (mentioned here and here) has placed its five formerly homeless residents in other programs and shut its doors (though you wouldn't know it from their website).  In veiled language recalling the 2013 demise of the YWCA, leaders of the privately funded enterprise are asserting HOB is only on "hiatus", a word of Latin origin that is roughly equivalent to "let's get together some time." Fortunately, the Salem Housing Authority's OHA-funded transitional housing program for homeless and at-risk veterans is on schedule to begin enrolling clients in October, so the community is still on track to increase veteran housing support and stability services, and hopefully decrease the number of veterans living in our woods and undeveloped areas.

 [Update 8/24/16: illustrations courtesy Polk County Sheriff's Department]

Wallace Marine Park

Highway 22 at Capital Manor

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Minutes 8/16/16

 August 16, 2016

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

Sarah Owens, Secretary-Treasurer
Neal Kern
Diana Dettwyler

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

Residents: Deb Comini
Organizations: Simon Sandusky, UGM; Shaney Starr, First Christian Church; Quandray Robinson, Q’s Corner Barber Shop (arrived after public comment)
City and County Representatives: Councilor and Mayor-elect Bennett, Officer DeMarco, Toni Whitler, Salem Parks Operations Division and Salem Parks Improvement Fund coordinator, Cara Kaser, Ward 1 Councilor-elect
Guests: Aaron Terpening, CB2 Architects for Paul Gehlar; Jeremy Mills, NEN

The regular meeting of the CanDo Board of Directors was called to order at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, August 16 19, 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 July meeting were approved unanimously.

Officer DeMarco, filling in for Officer Hill, reported that things had been quiet downtown and thanked those who assisted with or attended the National Night Out party at South Block Apartments.  He also cautioned against shopping downtown with one’s dog(s) during hot weather, as cars heat up faster than most people realize.

Councilor Bennett reminded the board that residents could cool off at City libraries and Center 50+, and that we need to look after each other during heat waves.  He reported on the recent recommendation of the Public Works Department’s Water/Wastewater Task Force (of which he is a member) to “reduce rates for…670 irrigators, from $4.24 per unit (748 gallons) to $2.97 per unit” and to raise residential rates “to make up the lost revenue to the city – estimated at $600,000 per year.”  See remainder of Statesman Journal coverage here and staff comments to the Task Force here.  Councilor Bennett said a public hearing before the Council was planned for October 10.

In public comment, Cara Kaser brought to the board’s attention a concern from Quandray Robinson, owner of Q’s Corner Barber Shop at 651 High Street, about the negative effect of the neighborhood’s varied parking restrictions on his business.  Simon Sandusky informed the board that UGM had closed its locker program because of the difficulty preventing the lockers from being used to store drugs, and to expect a report on UGM’s capital campaign for its new shelter in late fall.  Chair Hoffman reported that the board had received the traffic report on the proposed Starbucks drive-thru, he was researching the concerns expressed by the board, and, as the deadline for comments was November 9, the board could take up the question at its October meeting if anyone felt the need at that point.       

The board then heard a presentation from Toni Whitler on CANDO’s parks and the Salem Parks Improvement Fund, followed by a brief presentation by Aaron Terpening about a four-story mixed-use building being planned for the corner of Front and Court Streets that would add 40 1-2 bedroom apartments downtown, and more residents to CANDO. 

There being no other business before the board, the meeting of the Board of Directors adjourned at 7:00 p.m. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Task Force Chair Rants About City's Failure to Plan for Homeless

Mayor and MWHI Task Force Co-Chair Anna Peterson
"I see no plan that has come forward to how we’re going to address the tremendous increase in the camping and the loitering and the littering that goes along with it.  I don’t see any plan coming forward.  I don’t sense any sense of urgency on the part of the City to address a problem that’s creating unsightly issues in our neighborhood, people camping under the High Street Bridge and the parks." - Mayor Anna Peterson 

Last week at the Salem City Council meeting, Mayor and Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative Task Force Co-Chair Anna Peterson chided the City Council and City Staff about the increasing numbers of people camping in and around Salem, including under the bridge next to her High Street condo, and the City's failure to develop a plan to address the problem:   

I will speak to the motion [to increase the hours of the new park ranger position from ½ time to ¾ time] …there is a huge concern out in the community about how these parks are going to be supervised with the new bridge which is going to attract more of the public to them, but also which is going to create greater flow of everybody who uses the parks which does include the growing homeless population that we have here in Salem…I am concerned about two things: I am concerned that we do not enforce the rules that we have on our books.  We do not enforce the ordinances that we have now, because if we did, we would not have camping in the parks.  If we did, we wouldn’t have the illegal behaviors that are allowed to go on at Marion Square Park.  We just simply wouldn’t have them.  But we don’t enforce, and I’ve been complaining about it ever since I became Mayor, and I’ve really been complaining about it in the last couple of years.  I see no change.  I see no plan that has come forward to how we’re going to address the tremendous increase in the camping and the loitering and the littering that goes along with it.  I don’t see any plan coming forward.  I don’t sense any sense of urgency on the part of the City to address a problem that’s creating unsightly issues in our neighborhood, people camping under the High Street Bridge and the parks, et cetera.  That’s one very big concern I have…I know I sound like I’m going off on a rant here…
Maybe it's true that, if the City enforced the ordinances that we have now, we would not have camping in the parks.  But we would also be having to explain our actions to HUD, putting our federal homeless assistance grants at risk, and potentially defending our actions in a big, federal lawsuit.  Maybe the Mayor forgot the advice Jerry Moore gave her last August, that "we're not going to arrest our way out of this", and what she's been told about the harm-reduction model of policing used by the Downtown Enforcement Team.  One thing's clear, though, she's not happy about the situation.  Nobody is.   

The campers under the High Street Bridge a couple of weeks ago were the constituents of Councilor Tom Anderson, who had sought to have them removed when neighbors complained through social media.  There ensued a lengthy conversation, pasted below in its entirety, with the exception of one comment that wasn't expanded all the way.


Two things stand out about this conversation: 1) at least some Salem residents see their neighbors' sleeping under bridges as a piece of a much larger problem, and 2) they're prepared to act, but all they can or know to do are little things.  Even when they combine efforts, they most often aim small, letting people sleep in their church, or on their porches, or handing out toiletries or food, or providing chemical toilets and trash service. 
Some of the Illicit Camps in Salem

But such actions, while satisfying to the parties to the transactions, don't address the problem.  Maybe the last comment is right, that the Salem Homeless Coalition knows what is needed and where, but all they're working on at the moment is a proposal to permit a sanctioned camping program in Salem, along the lines of the one in Eugene.  HUD doesn't count these programs as providing shelter, though, and for good reason.   

Nevertheless, that's how a group named Home Base Shelters of Salem (HBSS) is billing their proposed camp, as "safe and legal temporary shelter", according to the draft letter to the City Council shared at the August meeting of the Salem Homeless Coalition.  They're saying their program "will begin solving the problem of illegal, undesirable camps" that so concern the Mayor and others in Salem.  Maybe HBSS believes their program will have that effect, but it sounds to us more like sales talk and wishful thinking.
According to HBSS, Salem residents are living in tents because they "typically cannot secure temporary shelter elsewhere, in part because existing temporary shelters in the city are filled to capacity and frequently overcrowded."  But is UGM filled to capacity and frequently overcrowded?  It's not in August.  So why are Salem residents living in tents?  The answer is complicated, which means, among other things, a sanctioned camping program might not be the best answer to "the problem of illegal, undesirable camps."  HBSS should just admit this, and try to make their case despite that fact.

HBSS's draft letter states, "Salem has an acute need for additional temporary shelter"?  But, is that true?  HBSS says that Salem has "[o]ver 500 individuals without adequate shelter", but they don't say where that figure comes from*, and they don't estimate how many are in camps, or how many in the camps are likely to be interested in participating in a program like the one HBSS is proposing, which a) does not provide shelter or showers, and b) includes a long list of rules and restrictions, including no drugs, alcohol, paraphernalia, or firearms, no tolerance of theft or violence, adherence to a schedule, and service expectations.  Just the sort of rules and restrictions that UGM has, and that people live in tents in the woods to avoid.   

Which is not to say that there are not some in the woods who would prefer the structure and support of the HBSS program.  Let's just assume, for the sake of discussion, that there are.  Then the relevant question, and the one HBSS should be prepared to make to Council at some point, is whether HBSS can demonstrate a) that it has the expertise, donors and volunteers it needs to succeed, and b) that they have satisfied the reasonable concerns of neighbors about the program.  Unfortunately, that's what's missing from the current HBSS proposal.  Here's what they're asking:
HBSS requests that the City Council direct staff to develop a plan to implement the pilot project.  The plan would seek to conclude work necessary to permit construction to begin before January 1, 2017, and would include reports to the Council at each meeting on the staff's progress in implementing the project.  Staff would work to (1) locate one or more potential sites for camps; (2) work with HBSS to adjust project details to meet City concerns; (3) write an ordinance or resolution adopting the project; (4) apply for permits and licenses necessary to establish the camp; (5) make modifications, waivers, or variances of building, zoning or other codes necessary to facilitate the project; and (6) develop an agreement with HBSS for camp management.  
With the exception of item (1), the request strikes us as premature, and rather presumptuous.  The Council could reasonably be asked to pull a list of potential sites, on which HBSS could then conduct due diligence, talking to the neighbors, area campers, etc., after which, HBSS might make refinements to their proposal and return to Council with something more specific.  As it is now, it's as if a developer had come to Council seeking a conditional use permit for a yet-to-be-selected site.  Not only would the Council have to deny the developer the permit, they'd have cause to wonder about his or her competence.  That's a message HBSS should seek to avoid sending.

The HBSS Board consists of Delana Beaton (President and former director of the Salem Outreach Shelter), Pamella Watson (Vice-President and Chair of the Homeless Outreach Committee of the First Congregational UCC), Verena Wessel (Vice-President and Task Force member, formerly with NWHS), Maya Close (Secretary and First Congregational UCC), Kathleen Thorpe (Treasurer and First Congregational UCC), Susie D'Anna (First Congregational UCC), Ken Houghton (MWVCAA ARCHES Program), Jon Reeves (MWVCAA Director and Task Force member), Susan Smith (First Congregational UCC and Willamette University Law School), Linda Strike (MWVCAA ARCHES Program).

For two years in a row, First Congregational UCC has hosted an overnight cold-weather shelter in an uneasy partnership with MWVCAA, so it's interesting that they're giving it another go with a much more ambitious project like HBSS.  Last year, FCUCC installed a chemical toilet in their parking lot and ran a program they called their "sleeping ministry" that allowed people to sleep on their porches.  The program was reluctantly discontinued because of problems with theft and drug use by those not in the program.

*As discussed in another blog, the 2016 PIT Count of unsheltered individuals in both Marion and Polk Counties was 215.  Providers generally maintain that the "true" number is two or three times the PIT Count, so let's say the number of unsheltered in both counties is roughly between 200 and 600.  And let's say, based on common sense and UGM's census figures that the number of unsheltered is lower in winter and higher in summer.  This would put HBSS's claim of 500 in Salem alone on the high side in summer, and on the extremely high side in winter.