Tuesday, October 18, 2016

MWHITF: Meeting 7 - Polk County Calls it Quits

No More Regional Task Force - Marion to Go it Alone
Less than half the Task Force was present when Mayor Peterson called the 7th meeting of the Task Force to order last night, with about 20 veteran hangers-on like us in the audience.  Noticeably absent were Commissioner Wheeler, Steve Bobb, Irma Oliveros and Brent Demoe, all of Polk County.  Wheeler is, or was, one of the Task Force co-Chairs; she and Bobb co-Chaired the Veterans' committee.  Oliveros served on the Support Services/Education committee, and Demoe was a technical advisor who, up until last night, attended meetings with Wheeler.  Both Demoe and Oliveros were initially scheduled to present (see here), but Demoe was removed from the agenda last week shortly after it was published.  Although Oliveros was still on the schedule, she failed to appear, and no reason was given for her, or any of the others' absences.  (Also absent: Bednarz, Blum, Leith, Moore and Starr.) 
Late arrivals by Mayor Clark and Jon Reeves allowed the Task Force to approve the minutes of September's meeting, aside from which no action was taken last night, and we do mean, "none."       

The agenda called for a 30-minute presentation on resources for runaway and homeless youth (RHY), followed by a 20-minute Q&A with a RHY panel.  There was no panel per se, rather, the Task Force heard, as predicted, a brief encore presentation about what a local, 12-bed shelter for minors would cost (~$.5M), and what the Task Force could do to help secure the federal grant needed to pay for it (letters of support).  The conversation about the proposed budget was hard to follow ($.5M per year? 2 years?), as mere audience members were not provided copies or shown slides, nor was the budget posted to the website.  [10/18 Update: budget now posted here.]

Consistent with the Task Force's approach to other alleged gaps in the so-called continuum of care, there was no demonstration of need, probably because they don't intend to pursue it if the grant doesn't come through, which it probably won't, given the competition (see here).

If you're interested, though, figures provided to the Public Safety committee in August tell us that HOME Youth and Resource Center, the local day center for minors, served 514 individuals last year, 83 of whom self-identified as homeless.  During that same period, HOST saw roughly 30 minors in their day center and 50 through street outreach, 30 of whom identified as homeless.  Note:  HOST refers minors to HOME during its hours of operation, so their numbers overlap to some unknown degree, as would be true of the 11 Marion or Polk County minors served during the same period by Jackson Street Youth Services in Albany and Corvallis.  Some will recall that NWHS used to run a shelter for minors, but it was closed down three or four years ago, and not solely because they lost their funding source; parents and DHS were known to drop off or ignore kids and foster-care runaways staying at the shelter, because they knew the kids were being cared for.  That's why the Public Safety committee was given to understand in August that the number of shelter beds needed here, now, was about 3 to 5, and "triple that number if the community knew and DHS knew [a shelter] was available."

Following the discussion of a shelter for minors, the Task Force heard from the superintendent of Polk County's Central School District.  The Task Force (excepting maybe Janet) was all kinds of impressed with what he had to say about the District's collaboration with the County's school-based mental health services, dental and health services for students and their families through the Central Health and Wellness Center, and the Service Integration Teams.  Unlike the situation in 24J (see here), 13J didn't appear to need a thing.  But, of course, Marion County couldn't possibly follow Polk County's example, we're too big

The Center for Hope and Safety, item 3 on the agenda, didn't seem to need anything either, unless it was for the Task Force not to do anything that might upset the favored position of domestic violence victim service providers, like identifying homeless veterans or the chronically homeless as a "target population."

There was not much in the way of updates from the "subcommittees", and no recommendations were put forward.  Asked when the community engagement committee would be ready to report back to the Task Force, Jon Reeves initially said February.  When told that was the Task Force's "last meeting", he replied (with some uncertainty) "January", but he could use some help organizing the responses.  He actually seemed to think it would still matter by then.

It's official as of this morning.  [10/20 Update: the leadership is refusing to recognize Polk County's announcement it will not be participating in future proceedings.  They say they will be considering next steps at a meeting on Monday, 10/24.]  Polk County has abandoned ship.  Sailed away, more like, and left Marion County adrift in an unseaworthy vessel, in a thick fog of unctuousness.  Don't blame 'em.  Not everyone enjoys charades, if we may now switch metaphors.  Some people, in fact,  just aren't any good at it.  The trick is to believe, despite all appearances, that everything's going according to plan: 

I do want to say how gratified I have been over the last several months as we have learned about the various faces of homelessness in our community, that people are becoming less invisible because we're becoming more aware, and if we've done nothing else [a hint of insight there], we've begun to build that awareness, so I'm proud of the work that we are doing collectively, together to make a difference, one at a time, for people in our community.  -- Mayor Cathy Clark     

At the very end of the meeting, Commissioner Carlson provided this update:  

We have a group of Willamette MBA students working with the Task Force...they will focus on two areas...they will be looking at what other communities are doing, researching best practices...I have received 1,125 emails...I went through and printed out the reports and I have a stack of paper this high...so we have not had the chance to really thoughtfully digest those and figure out where they fit -- are there just really big things that we are missing in our sub-committees, just because we don't know what we don't know?...I think that is something that will be of great benefit to this group.
Then, once we have completed our strategic plan, the second thing is for them to...help us come up with measurements...we don't want to add a whole bunch of workload to already overworked people on the one hand, but on the other hand we want to be able to say a year out, two years out, five years out, did we make a difference with the things we put in here that we're going to do?  

That's a "yes" to the first question, and a "not in a good way" to the second question.  

The "really big thing" that's being missed is OUR PARTNER just LEFT US.  And as our partner was much better than we are at collaborating and integrating and doing all the stuff we say we want to start doing for the sake of helping those in need, don't you think, Task Force, before proceeding any further with this so-called strategic planning nonsense, that the leadership needs to inform the community what the heck is going on with this Task Force, and how they intend to fix it?  Because if you don't fix it, you'll be remembered for running off the most capable partner we had, thereby making things worse for the neediest on this side of the river and those who care about them.

[10/20 Update: Marion County staff yesterday dismissed as "rumor" Polk County's announcement it will not be participating in future proceedings of the Task Force, but said that the co-chairs would be meeting Monday 10/24 to talk about it.  Expect a legalistic approach to the problem, something along the lines of, Polk is required by its Charter to participate until the Charter is revoked.  Note that section 4.d. allows for members to resign in writing to Task Force staff.]  [11/4 Update: Sure enough, the "leadership" today issued a memo announcing that everything's fine, "the charters...remain intact" and hired an out-of-state consultant to aid in the whitewash at the Task Force's November meeting.] 

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