Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Send Up a Flare

One way to involve Cherriots in affordable housing development
The City Council last week voted to approve a set aside of $400K of next year's HOME allocation and $100K of the FY 2018-19 allocation for 288 units of  affordable housing on Portland and Caplinger Roads.  Details here.  In musing as to how and whether Cherriots tracks  new housing development, and, you know, knows to send buses to where they're needed, it was suggested that the City "send up a flare."  And to think we've ever questioned the Mayor's calling Salem the "Collaboration Capital."

Also last week, staff finally got 'round to posting the audio of the 9/15 Support Services/Education committee meeting.  The first 20 minutes were spent re-re-writing the committee's first two recommendations (discussed previously here and here), resulting in: 
1. Assist Collaborate with the school districts within Marion and Polk Counties to offer expand effective and relevant financial literacy training in selected schools through proven curriculum materials and community trainers.
2. Assist Support NEDCO, Maps Credit Union, and others in implementing site-based financial literacy training at selected community nonprofit organizations (UGM, Simonka House, St. Francis, etc.).
The chair, it seems, was concerned about over-committing: "once the Task Force terminates/concludes, we're not going to be in a position to support or do anything else to further these efforts."  "Encourage" or "support" was better than "assist", she opined, and a bit later, "Oh, that's a good word -- 'suggest'...we need language that says we support their efforts, but we're not going to be able to do anything about them."  At which point Janet joined the meeting.

"The Task Force will be disbanded in January", she clarified, but "[a]ll of these recommendations - there will be an entity that will say 'we will do this' or 'we will make sure this happens'", so "we need an action word that's got some teeth in it, and 'encourage' is not one of those words."  She subsequently said the Task Force would be "disbanded in February." The latest meeting schedule is here.

With the word-smithing of those recommendations out of the way, the committee then heard about the needs of homeless students in the Salem-Keizer School District.  The problems/barriers/challenges identified during the discussion may be summarized as follows:   

1) 10-day drop policy (must re-enroll after 10 days unexcused absence)
2) low awareness (unwelcoming atmosphere in District)
3) poor staff/teacher training (trauma-informed/homeless needs)
4) age discrimination (19-20 yo shunted to alternative programs)
5) few in-school supports (high student-to-teacher/counselor ratio)
6) high wait lists (esp. literacy program which has just 3 teachers)
7) more high-needs students generally (not just homeless)
8) homeless students' lower skill level (esp. reading)
9) few or no home supports (including laundry facilities)
10) situational anxiety/depression and related
Recognizing that the Task Force was not in a position to [action word] the District to [action word] these problems, Irma Oliveros (a member of the Task Force) told the committee that what she wanted from the Task Force was to [action word] to [action word] productive/pro-social options for older students wait-listed for alternative programs -- like the computer lab she used to run at the Ike Box.    
The committee then heard from Craig Oviatt (a technical adviser to the Task Force), who affirmed the situation was as bad as had been described, and told the committee that homeless and at-risk students basically need a quiet place to study and daily encouragement to look beyond their circumstances in planning their futures.  It seems that he and others at the Dream Center in West Salem's Edgewater neighborhood have been working with youth for some time, and were seeking to open a learning center for students whose parents don't have the resources or life experience needed to help them learn study skills and generally expand their horizons.  He was the last to be allowed to speak.

In summing up, Janet said the committee would need to recommend to [action
word] the Dream Center's expansion, along with "a ton of" other things based on the "really rich conversation" they'd just had, but no action was taken, and the committee isn't scheduled to meet again before the Task Force meets on October 17.  As of now, the main item on that day's agenda happens to be RHY, so it's too bad the committee's recommendations won't be ready for the Task Force to consider.  [10/9 Update: the agenda posted 10/4 has been taken down (not replaced).]      

In an interesting aside toward the end of the meeting, Janet announced "we" are bringing Chan Hellman, "one of the nation's leading experts on hope theory and the science of hope", to Salem in January. It seems Janet went to this conference last spring, and wants to expand Marion County's use of something called the Adult Hope Scale developed circa 1991 by the late "positive psychologist" C. R. Snyder et al. to measure program "efficacy." 

Also last week, the Transitional Housing/Shelter committee met and, after having a nice chat about SROs, voted to recommend that the Task Force authorize staff to inventory vacant and distressed properties in Marion/Polk that might be used for housing or shelter.  Jon Reeves, who is not a member of the committee, expressed his interest in finding a new location for MWVCAA's ARCHES Project, possibly co-locating with others using the Dallas Academy model.  Seems he'd heard the committee might be discussing the disposition of the former Salem Rehab Hospital, now sitting vacant, and right across from MWVCAA's offices.  Interesting, but not particularly pertinent to the committee's work.

At the very end of that meeting, the chair noted that a field trip to Eugene's Square One Villages was being organized and asked whether the committee might want to endorse the development of similar program in Salem.  Once again, Reeves passed up the opportunity to talk about the Home Base Shelters of Salem project that he's involved in; he didn't so much as mention it.  Instead, Ron Hays, also not a member of the committee, but having knowledge of the Eugene program, cautioned the committee to visit the camps first, before drawing any conclusions. 

Finally, this past Monday, there was another joint meeting of the Affordable Housing and Finance Committees, sort of (only three members attended, so no quorum).  But they had a good little natter with the six (6) City and County staff and the former affordable housing developer who were also present about what allowing ADUs could do for Salem's multi-family housing deficit.  Nothing too exciting from the Task Force perspective, as people who are poor and homeless generally don't have access to that market, as Andy Wilch, Administrator for the Salem Housing Authority, politely pointed out.

So that's what's been happening since the last Task Force meeting.  It's been interesting to listen to all these vague conversations about SROs, fixing up vacant, delapidated and distressed properties, and experimenting with conestogas and whatnot.  They all seem to cover the same ground and then just stop.  The repetition allows patterns to emerge.  Take Pat Farr's comments at the last Task Force meeting:      

Conestoga under construction in Eugene
It's not where you'd want your granddaughter to live, by any stretch of the imagination, and it's not where anybody would want to live, but you compare it to an emergency housing, which is one-night-only housing, or you compare it to living under a bush, and it's hugely popular.  [Emphasis added.]
We think maybe one day, in the distant future (or maybe not so distant future), civilization will examine statements like this, and compare the thinking behind them to the days of slavery, segregation and other forms of invidious discrimination.  "They choose to live as they do", "They prefer camping", and, "Some people just can't be helped."  From an historical perspective, it's not at all unusual to find otherwise good and decent people blaming the victims of structural inequity for their situations, and unconsciously developing a perspective of "not good, but good enough for them."  Confronting our implicit bias does not build houses, of course, but it would make it a lot easier to build them.

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