Monday, September 12, 2016

MWHITF: Halfway Point

It's the first full week after Labor Day (U.S.) -- time to put away your summer whites and begin bashing the opposition for not having accomplished anything since last session, whilst you, on the other hand, have been working tirelessly for the good of all.

It's also the halfway point for the MWHITF; six months in, and six to go; soon we'll have the sixth meeting, where 40 minutes have been set aside to consider recommendations coming out of committee.**  What will they be?

After 10 hours of meetings of the full, 20-member Task Force plus two staff, video-taped by Keizer TV and attended by 27 presenters, about a third of the 29 "technical assistants" who were not presenting, and 65-70 others (some attending more than one meeting), at least 5 to 10 hours by the co-chairs in executive session and about 20 hours of committee meetings (not counting the Health and Housing committee, which isn't really the Task Force's), public comments from ten different people (maybe twice that, if you count the committee meetings) and more than 100 different documents handed out or posted to the Task Force's website, what has been accomplished?

Nothing, really.  As Commissioner Carlson put it, the Task Force has been "just kind of dabbling in topics", waiting for the committees to come forward with recommendations.

So, what kind of recommendations have the committees been working on?    We've been or listened to all but one of the meetings of all seven committees (again, not counting Health and Housing, because that's not really the Task Force's).  All but one (Public Safety) are chaired by a member of the Task Force, and, with a couple of exceptions, their meetings all resemble mini-Task Force meetings, which is to say that the meetings have been heavy on "information" and short on informed discussion.  Shall we just say that the meetings have not been productive.  Rather, the general sense one gets of the meetings is that the committee members are not at all sure why they are there.  Their conversations (and that's all they are) are like a murmuration of dunlin in slow motion, circling, circling, circling -- never or only briefly landing anywhere.

This failure of energy and purpose in the committees is directly attributable to the fact that they were created in executive session to reflect each goal in the "Strategic Plan", and ratified with very little discussion or debate, which is precisely how the Strategic Plan was created.  The co-chairs' decision (by which is meant Janet's decision and her co-chairs' acquiescence) to give the participatory process short shrift all but guaranteed that the Strategic Plan would be little more than an outline.  It certainly does not reflect a shared vision.

Recall that, as discussed previously, Mayor Peterson told the Statesman Journal last January that she wanted the Task Force "to identify areas, projects or programs that aren't working as effectively as they need to be, stop any waste that is occurring, and redirect those funds and those activities."  A few weeks later, Commissioner Carlson told Willamette Wakeup that it was important to support the area's social services providers because "they're doing great work" and the task force was not "here to suggest that what's happening now isn't working."  Then, even as Salem, Keizer, Polk and Marion Counties were in the process of adopting a charter that identified the Task Force's purpose as being "to identify and launch proven strategies that will reduce homelessness" in those regions, Carlson was saying she wanted the Task Force to put "meat on the bones" of the Marion and Polk Counties' 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness.  However, before anyone could dust off their copy of that Plan, she was circulating preliminary drafts of what was to become an entirely new Strategic Plan, setting up a committee structure based on the plan, and directing each committee to return to the Task Force in September with at least two plan-related recommendations.

What some might consider leadership has in this case really been a lack of leadership, and this lack of leadership has quietly withered, and will continue to wither, the Task Force's every would-be effort.  Yes, no doubt everyone on the Task Force is troubled by poverty and homelessness and wants it to end, even if s/he doesn't believe it's possible.  But being troubled and wanting things to be different is not enough, obviously.  Nor will completing the outline of Janet's Strategic Plan be enough, but that is all the recommendations are likely to do.

By our count, only two committees have voted on recommendations, for a total of five.  That is not to say that Janet won't be putting the stick about to get more before the September meeting, or that the Task Force couldn't spend 40 minutes on five recommendations.  It's just where things happen to be at this point.     

The Committees at the Halfway Point
If you are interested to know more about what's been happening in committee (not counting the Health and Housing Committee, which is not really the Task Force's), you can read our summaries below, or you can read the official summaries here and here.  If you want to decide for yourself what's been going on, and have the time, you should listen to the audio records.  We recommend particularly the May Finance committee meeting, the August Affordable Housing/Finance meeting, the July and August Support Services meeting, and the August Public Safety meeting.

Goal 1/Committee - Affordable Housing & Goal 5 Committee- Financial
The latter was charged to develop strategies that address foreclosure and eviction prevention, crisis intervention, vacant homes/property and credit recovery, but the committee chair, Mayor Peterson, said she wasn't interested in the crisis intervention/credit recovery pieces.  She wanted to tackle financing collaborations for public and private dollars to increase affordable and multi-family housing instead.  So she and her hand-picked committee of three local bankers, a property manager and a real estate mogul met once in May (theirs was the first committee to meet), and talked about how complex the problems were and how difficult it would be to find solutions they could support.  Shortly thereafter she decided to merge their meetings with the AHC, as their goals were so similar, and exit Mayor Peterson from any more work in committee (recall that the Mayor has only a few months left in office, and her having said last February that she expected the Task Force to take action after two or three meetings, and was not interested in extensive planning).  

The AHC, chaired initially by Ron Hays, later by Councilor Bednarz because Hays got busy with Mountain West Investments Corporation's development of 180 units of affordable housing at 3350 Portland Road, among other projects, has met for four hours, most of it spent listening to Hays talk about how large the problem is and how complicated it is to finance affordable housing profitably.  Other than supporting Mountain West's efforts, the committee are all at sea about what they might do beyond meeting and talking.  Though Chair Bednarz is clearly troubled by the problems of poverty (his wife is a social worker and on the board of MWVCAA), he is just as clearly not willing to work to increase collaboration among housing providers (David Leith asked twice, nicely, during the August meeting), or put an affordable housing bond measure on the ballot (Hays asked three times, nicely).  "Politically, I'm not sure that's possible", is how he put it (audio of August 29 meeting at ~00:57) when he was forced to respond, but his meaning was clear.  Recall that Chair Bednarz, who has for many years made a comfortable living investing in real estate, lost his bid for reelection, and, like Mayor Peterson, will be out of office in a few months.

Goal 2 Committee - Transitional Housing and Shelters
This committee, chaired by David Leith (the only member of the Task Force beside Jon Reeves to sit on three committees), was supposed to develop strategies to address gaps in transitional housing and shelter beds.  This of course assumes there are gaps, which was fine with the committee, who, except for the chair, are all transitional housing or shelter providers.  However, after two hours of no-agenda meetings spent discussing, among other things, the demise of Home of the Brave and the likely demise of the long-planned Westcare veterans' shelter, UGM's, St. Francis Shelter's and the Center for Hope and Safety's plans to expand, and the advantages in more local housing providers using Servicepoint, the region's Homeless Management Information System, they had no recommendations, though they did agree that the  bottleneck created by the lack of affordable housing is the immediate problem. 

Goal 3 Committee - Support Services and Education
Verena Wessel chairs this committee, which is run by Commissioner Carlson.  It is Carlson's only committee, and its charge is to develop strategies to enhance coordination and reduce gaps in support services.  After two meetings, they voted to recommend that the Task Force "bring financial education to high school and middle school students", and "identify a training curriculum" that can be offered on-site to people in shelters and transitional housing.  Carlson  subsequently rewrote them to read:
1. Assist the school districts within Marion and Polk Counties to offer effective and relevant financial literacy training in selected schools through proven curriculum materials and community trainers.
2. Assist NEDCO, Maps Credit Union, and others in implementing site-based financial literacy training at selected community nonprofit organizations (UGM, Simonka House, St. Francis, etc.).    
(What constitutes a "proven" curriculum in today's world was never discussed.) Although Carlson was unable to persuade the committee to recommend that the Task Force pursue her idea for a $30K/yr homeless Network of Care webpage, which would have duplicated 211info, she did manage to get the committee to recommend that the Task Force "explore Community Data Link as a tool for improving regional service coordination and referrals." CDL would also duplicate 211info.

This third recommendation stands out as extremely odd for several reasons.  1) It assumes that 211info is inadequate and the model cannot be made to work, 2) it was made without notice to or consultation with 211info, 3) it was made without discussing the results of a survey of more than 100 providers about their experience with 211info, which was provided to the committee in advance of the meeting, 4) it was made with little or no information about CDL, six minutes after it was first mentioned, 5) it reverses the committee/Task Force roles, that is to say, it's a committee's job to "explore", not the governing body's.

There was a third meeting of this committee on September 8 that we could not attend, and the audio's not been posted yet.  The agenda says they were to hear about barriers to employment from four presenters, but there's nothing about any recommendations.  If it turns out there were any, we'll update this post. [9/15 UPDATE: Three members of the committee passed two variously and vaguely worded recommendations in the last five minutes of the 9/8 meeting having something to do with promoting 1) WorkSource Oregon "as a hub to strengthen collaboration among local workforce development providers or agencies" and 2) Cherriots' efforts to "train providers on how to connect clients and transit services", staff to reword as needed for official purposes.][10/4 UPDATE: At the 9/15 meeting, staff informed the committee that only the first two recommendations (about finlit) should go to the Task Force, which would  give her time to write "issue briefs" for the remainder.]     

Goal 4 Committee - Public Safety
This committee was charged with developing strategies and new approaches for addressing public safety issues relating to homelessness, including runaway and homeless youth (RHY).  It's not chaired by a member of the Task Force, so Commissioner Carlson's been helping out when she's available, even though she's not on the committee.  After the first meeting, they decided to focus on RHY strategy.  Now, since 2012, the statewide RHY Program has been in the Department of Human Services' Child Well Being Unit, so it is notable that the committee did not discuss the recent recommendations of the DHS Homeless and Runaway Youth Advisory Committee, which, under ORS 417.799, is charged to advise DHS "with respect to policies and procedures to coordinate statewide planning for delivery of services to runaway and homeless youth and their families." 

After the second meeting, the committee voted to recommend that the Task Force "expand RHY services" and, at Carlson's urging, "endorse 'Phase 1' of the Marion County DA's strategy for dealing with drug charges" (referred to as "Step 1" in the DA's presentation).  She also suggested they set up a "grant-writing" sub-committee, which she promptly joined.  On the agenda for that meeting, but not reached, were were these proposed recommendations "expansion of detox beds"***, "community education - panhandling - product vs. money"****, and "fund organizational work vs. [giving] money to panhandlers."*****    

Goal 6 Committee - Veterans
Referred to as "Targeted Populations" in the Strategic Plan, in committee it is  focused on housing and supportive services for veterans.  This committee, co-chaired by Commissioner Wheeler and Task Force member Steve Bobb, has had two, very well-attended meetings. These meetings were much more upbeat than the other committees', partly due to the relative wealth of resources for this population, but also because of the enthusiasm of the participants.  No recommendations have come out of this committee, but they're probably responsible for Operation 365 being on the Task Force's September agenda, and one might expect to see a recommendation along those lines.

Goal 7 Committee - Community Engagement                                   This is the smallest committee, which tells us something.  It's chaired by Jon Reeves and called the "Focus Groups/Coalition Coordination" committee, but "community engagement" is the more apt descriptor, because they're not actually conducting focus groups, and they haven't been coordinating any coalitions, though they have asked for feedback on what questions they should be asking.  According to the "Meeting Matrix" (which has had several iterations), someone, presumably this committee, was supposed to have begun conducting focus groups and community forums last March, and provide feedback to the Task Force in September.  But, that didn't happen, as they say.  Their first community forum (the first as far as we know) is set to take place at CANDO's September 20 meeting, and everyone's invited to attend, 6 pm, at First Christian Church, on the corner of Cottage and Marion Streets.

**Also at the September meeting, the Task Force will dabble in the topic of permanent supportive housing with a presentation by Kenny Lapoint (who chairs the extra-Task Force committee called Health and Housing) on CORE, and also one on Oregon's 1115 Waiver (in place since 1994).  The presenters have been allotted a total of 20 minutes.

***a sobering station is a medical facility where people picked up for public intoxication but are too intoxicated to be housed safely in the jail can sober up under medical control/supervision, usually for 1-2 days.  Current practice is to take these people to the hospital.  Marion County apparently could use 3 beds. Grants Pass, PDX, Eugene, Medford have sobering stations/centers. Costs and administration are issues.

****Panhandling really bothers Mayor Peterson, who gave a "Real Change"-type campaign a half-hearted effort in 2014.  It was not popular.

*****Salem's Mayor-elect has expressed interest in this strategy, which has been implemented in Albuquerque.

UPDATE:  Salem's 2015-2016 CAPER refers to the MWHITF as "working on a strategic plan to include best practices and cross-pollinating funding sources."

1 comment:

  1. The audio recordings of the committee meetings are posted to a Dropbox account. If you're interested, just drop a request for access into an email to Lisa Trauernicht at and she'll get you set up. It's very simple, even if you don't use Dropbox.