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

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