Friday, December 30, 2016

Ending Homelessness with Data

Revised: January 2019

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Slide courtesy Jimmy Jones
This is what homelessness looks like in our community -- to a data analyst.

Since October 1, 2016, the Mid Willamette Valley Community Action Agency (MWVCAA)'s Jimmy Jones and others have assessed the vulnerability of more than 354 homeless individuals in 318 households containing 611 individuals, using a tool called the SPDAT.  So far, their scores range from 2 (less vulnerable) to 17 (very vulnerable).

The graph (left) plots the scores clockwise from highest to lowest.   

Those with scores inside the green and red circles (~5 to 9) are likely to be successful in transitional housing (TH) placements.  Those scoring higher -- which the graph shows is about half of those assessed, have much higher needs, and require permanent supportive housing to be successful.  Our community, meaning Marion and Polk Counties, has virtually no permanent supportive housing (PSH).

What happens when someone needs a certain level of support to succeed, and doesn't get it?  Well, obviously, they're going to fail.  We see that in the child welfare system, for instance.  Traumatized children who act out, lose interest in school, etc., because although they're getting basic-level care, they don't get the care they need.  It's the same situation in homeless housing system.  When we force highly vulnerable people in need of PSH into long-term resort to shelters and camping, they're not going to succeed; they're going to become what's called, "chronically homeless" and "service resistant."  This is the primary reason our community has a chronic homeless rate that is twice the national average, according to the most recent data collected by MWVCAA.  It's not just their failure, though, it's ours, too.  

How many Task Force recommendations address this problem?  Zero.

Data of this sort, which MWVCAA continues to collect, is absolutely vital if we are to understand and confront the problems in our community with realistic solutions.  For too long, the City of Salem has relied on the charity of the supporters of the Union Gospel Mission and Salvation Army to take care of its most vulnerable residents while it basically looks the other way, or worse, complains about their lack of success.  As the events of recent weeks have indicated, we've reached a tipping point.  And it's not because Portland is "busing their homeless to Salem", as much as we might like to think so.  Nor is it solely the result of the lack of affordable housing, though that's certainly a factor.  And, housing experts agree, it's going to get worse over the next few years.

It's nice that the City of Salem recently arranged to let UGM use its leased property at 770 Commercial Street (which served as an inclement weather shelter a couple of weeks ago) for its overflow, after Chief Niblock cut it to 28 from the previous no-one-turned-away in inclement weather.  But whereas UGM formerly could shelter up to ~300, now they've got only the 180 beds at the Mission, overflow capacity of 28, plus another 40-60 at 770 Commercial Street.  That's a net loss of ~50-30 shelter beds.  And keep in mind that up to one-half of those in, or seeking shelter, more than likely have higher needs that UGM can provide for.

It's a similar story at the Salvation Army's Lighthouse Shelter.  We spoke recently with one of TSA's co-directors, Captain Kim Williams, who came to Salem from Oakland, California about six months ago.  She told us she expected Salem's homelessness issues would not be nearly as severe as what she'd left in California.  She was surprised to learn that in fact, they're worse, particularly with respect to the severity of guests' mental health and substance abuse issues, and she's at a loss to know how to help many of them, given her program's (and the community's) limited resources.  Jimmy's data support her observations.     

Slide courtesy Jimmy Jones
UGM's Simonka Place takes in women and families with children. Jimmy's master list prioritizes based on SPDAT score (most vulnerable given highest priority).  There are, so far, 130 single female head-of-household families with a total of 138 children.  The average SPDAT score for those households is 9.88.  That's outside the range where transitional housing is appropriate. 

Graph at right shows how many of those women report a history of domestic violence.  
The takeaway here is that more shelters and more affordable housing are not going to address the needs of the most vulnerable -- and most visible -- in our community.  Neither is more transitional housing.  This community needs to make resources available for permanent supportive housing, and prioritize existing resources according to SPDAT scores.  We need to stop putting people where they can't succeed, stop trying to help them by giving them what we have available, and start trying to give them what they need to be successful.

To learn more about this subject, listen to the podcast of Michael's interview with Jimmy Jones.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

MWVCAA's Cold Weather Shelter 2016-2017

Revised: December 2018

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

The winter of 2016-2017 continued a cherished holiday tradition in Salem: the frantic search for shelter for citizens threatened by freezing weather.  See here for the story on the winter of 2015-2016.
Guests Prepare to Depart 770 Commercial St Ctr on 12/15

Salem Forecast for December 13 through December 17, 2016

This winter's tale began December 5, 2016, with the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency's announcement that a warming shelter for veterans would be opening the following night, if they could secure enough volunteers.

When questioned, CAA staff said no one seeking shelter would be turned away, regardless of their veteran status.

Around this time, a guest of UGM complained to the Fire Marshall about the crowded conditions at the Men's Mission (capacity at that time said to be ~180, with overflow capacity for an additional ~90).  After an inspection, UGM began limiting the number of overnight guests to 28, leaving many nowhere to go.  At 3pm on December 7, John Olivera, owner of Steeles Karate, opened his gym at 860 High St. NE to anyone  needing shelter.  The night of December 8, 20 guests took shelter at the gym.

John Olivera at City Council on 12/12
The Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency's decision to open its church-based overnight shelter only under limited circumstances [see 12/8 announcement below] was criticized in local and social media.  See Currie, C. "Warming centers scarce for homeless." (Statesman Journal, 8 December 2016).

The weekend of December 10/11, the national weather service predicted freezing temperatures and a wintry mix of precipitation beginning the middle of the following week.  Also about this time, the churches in line to host MWVCAA's overnight shelter discovered that they were scheduled to host homeless families through the Salem Interfaith Hospitality Network  (SIHN) "over the next couple of weeks."

Those churches told MWVCAA, and later the City Council, that they could not host the MWVCAA overnight shelter in the coming weeks because of their commitment to SIHN.

On Monday, December 12, the Salem City Council moved to second reading Ordinance Bill 26-16, which, basically, allows weather events to be considered emergencies, and allows the City to open and operate something called "mass shelters" on City-controlled property in conjunction with a Declaration of Weather Event Emergency.  See staff report here.  See Statesman Journal coverage here.

Laura Perez, FCUCC, at City Council
On Tuesday, December 13, a "weather event emergency" began at 6pm.  The City, MWVCAA and local providers scrambled to prepare two shelters.  One at the "O'Brien Site" at Liberty and Division, which the City was leasing in the hope it would one day be the site of a new police facility, the other at First Christian Church, where CANDO holds its regular monthly meetings.   

The Mid Willamette Homeless Initiative Task Force never discussed the need for warming shelters.

On December 15, guests departing both shelters as snow was falling reported having had a good night, except for the talking, with around 30 guests total at each shelter.  According to Statesman Journal reports, the Commercial Street shelter had 40 guests and First Christian had 38, supported by >60 volunteers, neither reaching capacity.

Both facilities had crates for guests' animals.  Yellow Cab  transported volunteers without charge.  Total snowfall in Salem was around 5".  The initial call for volunteers was for 8-10 per shift at the Liberty Street shelter, and 24 per shift at First Christian Church.   The call for the Liberty St shelter was later changed to 27 per shift.  The temp was 19 degrees F at 5 am, with 32 degrees F the expected high for the day, which was predicted to be sunny.  The low temps meant there was very little melting of the snow during the day.

Both shelters opened Saturday and Sunday, December 17 and 18. Rain and above-freezing temperatures were predicted for the rest of the week.

MWVCAA notice issued 12/8/16
First Christian Church on 12/15 am - Entrance to Shelter
On December 28, MWVCAA reported the following:

Total Unique Guests: 187 (91 at First Christian and 96 at Commercial St)

Total Pets: 11 (1 dog at First Christian and 7 dogs, 3 cats at Commercial St)

Total Nights of Shelter: 187 people stayed 342 nights 
* 26 guests stayed 4 nights
* 17 guests stayed 3 nights
* 47 guests stayed 2 nights
* 93 guests stayed 1 night

Total Volunteers: 175 (at First Christian = 97/580 hours) (at
Commercial St = 78/511 hours)
MWVCAA activated warming shelters for New Years Day 1/1/7 thru 1/4/17 at the former Department of Energy building owned by First Christian Church, located between the Church and Cinebarre, below.  It later was extended  through 1/6/17.

On January 9, MWVCAA announced it was activating another warming shelter, beginning Wednesday night 1/11 to run through Friday 1/13.

Tuesday's predicted low is 29, with
rain/snow expected.  The forecast  doesn't meet MWVCAA's criteria for activation, which is 27 degrees F for 3 consecutive nights.

Former Department of Energy (owned by First Christian Church)

Forecast for Friday 1/6/17 thru 1/9/17

Forecast for 1/10 thru 1/13

Sunday, December 4, 2016

MWHITF: Meeting 9 - No Backbone

Revised: December 2018

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Ryan G., Nowshin A., Meghan M., Shanbo Z., Devon D.
Despite quite a few Task Force members being absent, the Task Force outnumbered the audience  at the December meeting.  There are two meetings left to go.

Salem Mayor-elect Chuck Bennett is now subbing for Mayor Petersen.  

After another of Commissioner Carlson's rambling introductions, five graduate students from Willamette University, enrolled in a course intended to offer "experiential learning as business consultants" and styling themselves as "PACE 2.1 Consulting", gave a 10-minute presentation broadly describing their project "scope" as "conduct primary and secondary research" and "analyze and evaluate strategic plans for each subcommittee", their research on "Veterans Support" (Polk County's efforts in this area), and their "Future Project Plans."  Data analyst Ryan Gail talked about the need for assessment tools to ensure the allocation of resources based on a person's unique needs.

The "PACE Project", first mentioned back in October, is apparently the result of conversations between Carlson and the course instructor.

Notably, the Task Force was not asked to take any action to approve or ratify the "project scope" or plan, and no time frame for completion, other than "the spring", was given.  As with the decision to contract with Karen Ray, the Task Force was simply informed that the students would be involved. 

Following the students' presentation, the Task Force was running about 10 minutes late.  The process of approving the second set of recommendations also ran over 10 minutes, leaving only 5 minutes to decide what the Task Force's successor organization should look like, based on Karen Ray's memo of options.

During the discussion of the recommendations, Mayor Clark asked to have the word "camping" taken out of the recommendation to look into some kind of sanctioned camping program (specifically, "Analyze the advisability of allowing, supporting or facilitating some form of temporary, support-coordinated camping.")  She was okay with the recommendation, just not the word "camping."  As someone in the audience put it, "They recommend not discussing the reality of people's lives."

On the form of the successor organization, there was a brief, unenthusiastic, very general discussion, but, no decision.  One member thought funding should precede a decision on form, but had no suggestions about funding.  Ultimately, it was the opinion of the Chair (Mayor Clark) that the Task Force was looking for a combination of options 2 (public-private) and 3 (collaboration), which preference she and Carlson would take back to Karen Ray for further development.

KMUZ's Sara Cromwell and Michael Livingston
There was public comment from KMUZ's Willamette Wake Up Tuesday hosts on all the things local providers could do with $20,000, which just happens to be the exact amount spent for Karen Ray consultation services to the Task Force.  The full text of their comment is below.

You've Just Been Given $20K!

I've been following and reporting on the work of the Task Force for KMUZ Community Radio. In preparation for a future program, we asked a number of local social service providers the following question: Pretend you've just been given $20,000 for your program.  The only requirement is that you spend it on something that is likely to have immediate impact, as opposed to a long-term project. Please list all the things you might use the money for. 

Sara Cromwell -- another KMUZ volunteer --and I are here today to share with you some of the responses. 

If HOME Youth and Resource Center -- a Community Action program -- had $20,000 to spend, they’d use it for
  • 16 hours training in mental and behavioral health and suicide prevention
  • 20 sets of new undergarments for girls
  • 20 sleeping bags
  • 20 pairs of boys' underwear
  • 20 sets of youth rain gear
  • 80 hours of case management and street outreach
  • 40 hours and mileage transporting youth in need of shelter, medical care and other basics
  • stabilize one family with a rent or utilities payment
  • make a needed repair to a youth's house or buy a needed household item
  • one laptop to use in the field or for street outreach
  • travel expenses to reunite youth with their families outside the area
  • 50 youth bus passes
  • help with 20 youths' phone bills
  • 40 birth certificates and IDs
  • 50 haircut vouchers
  • 50 pairs of new shoes
  • help with college tuition or youth internship stipend
  • AND 20 quality backpacks.

If the Salem Interfaith Hospitality Network had $20,000 to spend, they’d use it one of two ways
. They could pay the first and last month’s rent and a security deposit to put 6 families into transitional housing.  $20,000 would also allow them to hire one-half a full time staff person to develop the capacity of their Family Mentoring Program, which matches trained volunteers with vulnerable families in an effort to create a sustained and productive mentoring relationship. The volunteer mentors work with families on budgeting, parenting, and relationship-building.  The program was developed and is used by Interfaith Hospitality Network affiliates across the country, as well as other organizations working with low-income families.

If Congregations Helping People had $20,000 to spend, they’d use it in their Back-to-Work Program to pay for 

  • 10 certificates, re-certifications, or license renewals
  • 10 pairs of workboots and socks
  • 10 sets of flagger supplies
  • 10 sets of scrubs and shoes for CNA, CMA, dental hygiene assistants
  • 10 construction or maintenance belts with tools
  • 19 food handler permits
  • AND 45 bus passes or gas vouchers
Northwest Human Services’ Homeless Outreach Advocacy Program could, with $20,000, immediately put 6 families into permanent housing.  If they had any money left over, they’d use it to help people obtain their out-of-state birth certificates so they could then get their IDs.

Polk County could use $20,000
to buy a used van or truck to pick up donations of large household items for use by families exiting homelessness.  Currently, county employees pick up these items on their own time, using their own vehicles.  With a dedicated vehicle, this task could be picked up by local volunteers.  Any amount left over would be used to buy mattresses, sleeping bags, tents, socks, jackets, boots, tarps, camping gear for cooking, help with security deposits, pet food, pet care and pet supplies, waterproof backpacks, sleeping pads, air mattresses, head lice kits, and rain gear.

$20,000 could expand the number of beds covered by Servicepoint --
Oregon’s Homeless Management Information System -- and the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency’s coordinated entry system, by paying for 8 Servicepoint licenses and more than 100 hours of training and technical assistance for the eight organizations that don’t currently use Servicepoint or participate in the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency’s coordinated entry system.