Thursday, December 29, 2016

ROCC: Leave or Remain?

Should Marion/Polk Counties Leave or Remain in ROCC?
Update:  As reported here on April 16, the Mayor of the City of Salem and three City Councilors have indicated they will recommend leaving the ROCC (aka Oregon Balance of State CoC) be made a strategic plan goal.  As community outreach concludes, the clear consensus is to begin leave planning, with only one local provider expressing concerns (see below).

Update:  On February 21, 2017, the CANDO board considered the question, "Should Salem and Marion and Polk Counties begin planning to re-create a local continuum of care to plan and coordinate the effective delivery of local homeless housing and services, some of which are funded through HUD's CoC Program?"  The board had received a letter from one of two CoC Program grantees expressing concerns about  leaving the regional organization, however, after receiving a presentation from Jimmy Jones on the unique needs of the homeless in Salem and Marion and Polk Counties, the CANDO board voted unanimously to support the commencement of leave-planning.

Executive Summary

Congress finally acknowledged homelessness as a national problem in the late 1980s with enactment of homeless assistance legislation.  In 1994, HUD instructed local communities to form primary planning/coordinating bodies to oversee the delivery of all homeless housing and services.  These planning bodies, which HUD calls Continuums of Care (CoCs), were to all include homeless housing and service providers, including police, hospitals, schools, etc., regardless of whether or not they received HUD funding.

In response, six Oregon "communities" formed CoCs, including Marion/Polk.  Oregon's remaining 26 counties became by default the "Balance of State" CoC (aka Rural Oregon CoC or ROCC). 

For several years, the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency (MWVCAA), administered Marion/Polk CoC's grants.  Besides MWVCAA, grantees included Shangri-La Corp., Northwest Human Services, Salem YWCA (has since folded), The Salvation Army and the Salem Housing Authority.  Although a couple of people have said that the provider community collaborated pretty well in those years, evidence is lacking.  It is undisputed that the Marion/Polk CoC never formed the functional “primary planning/coordinating body” that HUD was looking for, or that  MWVCAA struggled just to administer the program, finally giving up in 2011. 

When Marion/Polk CoC merged with ROCC in 2011, ROCC was supported by the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department.  About a year after the merger, OHCS cut ROCC loose (discontinued the program).  Since that time, ROCC has sought unsuccessfully to build its organizational capacity as an unincorporated association.  Its board of directors is very weak and defers to its part-time staff, who travel among the 28 counties conducting video-conferenced meetings narrowly focused on compliance issues.  Participation is discouraged, the bylaws are not observed, and the board refuses accountability on the grounds that ROCC is a "fake" organization that exists only as a HUD requirement.  There is no dedicated office or website, and information is not readily accessible.  This lack of organizational capacity has made it increasingly difficult for ROCC to compete successfully for HUD funds.

Today, only two providers serving Marion/Polk receive CoC Program grants.  For whatever reason, ROCC receives only about 10% of Oregon's total CoC Program allocation, despite having about 43% of its homeless, 15% of which is in Marion and Polk Counties based on the 2016 PITC.  In 2016, Marion/Polk received less than one fifth what Lane County received, and over $300K less than Marion/Polk received in 2010.  Finally, Marion/Polk receives only about 2% of Oregon's total CoC Program allocation, despite having about 6% of its homeless based on the 2016 PITC.

There is a growing consensus that that the goal of preventing and ending homelessness in Marion and Polk Counties would be advanced significantly if the community could concentrate its planning and coordinating efforts to Marion and Polk Counties, rather than continuing to try to plan, coordinate, and compete for funds along with ROCC’s 26, mostly rural, counties.  A successful separation will require careful planning and preparation to ensure the necessary organizational structures and capacity are in place before it occurs.  With that in mind, several members of the community have been discussing separation and sharing information with "stakeholders" and interested persons through out the area about how we might create an effective “primary planning/coordinating body” of homeless providers in Marion and Polk Counties. 

Learn more about HMIS and Coordinated Entry here and here.  Read more about ROCC here, here, here and here, and view descriptions of Marion and Polk Counties' 2017-18 projects hereSee ROCC's most recent consolidated application here (includes the OHCS/PHB Contract & CAPO MOU, which is characterized as the CoC "governance agreement").  Read the only statement in support of remaining that we've received thus far (March 4, 2017), here.

Institutional History

In 1994, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) instructed local communities to form a primary planning and coordinating body for homeless housing and services to work toward the goal of ending homelessness. HUD referred to these groups as the local Continuums of Care (CoCs).  CoCs were supposed to carry out specific functions, including creating and approving the annual submission to HUD to apply for CoC homeless assistance grants (formerly known as Supportive Housing Program, Shelter Plus Care, Moderate Rehabilitation, etc.). At some point, Portland/Multnomah County formed a CoC, as did several other Oregon Counties, including Marion and Polk.  All records of the Marion and Polk CoC formation have been lost or destroyed.

In 2004, the City of Portland, Portland Housing Bureau (PHB), implemented a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) for the Portland/Multnomah County CoC, and contracted with Bowman Systems, LLC, to provide ServicePoint software (Oregon’s HMIS application) and services.

Over the years, the Marion & Polk CoC, under the leadership of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, carried out the functions needed to receive CoC homeless assistance grants, but it never succeeded in forming a “primary planning and coordinating body for homeless housing and services” or in extending its active membership beyond the grantee agencies.  In 2011, the Marion & Polk CoC merged with the 26-county Balance of State CoC (aka Rural Oregon CoC or ROCC), led by Oregon’s Housing and Community Services Department.

In 2012, HUD released an Interim Program Rule that codified the CoC structure and defined its responsibilities, and the Oregon Department of Housing and Community Services, ROCC’s Collaborative Applicant, entered into an intergovernmental agreement with PHB for the designation and transfer of rights to purchase and use ServicePoint licenses.  PHB continues to own and operates the HMIS, and serve as the Primary System Administrator and custodian of the HMIS data, and OHCS continues to administer user licenses for ROCC, however, in September 2012, OHCS notified ROCC that it would cease acting as its Collaborative Applicant.

Since 2012 ROCC, led by its Board of Directors and Coordinator, and with Community Action Partnership of Oregon (CAPO) in the technical role of Collaborative Applicant, has struggled unsuccessfully to increase its organizational capacity, expand the use of Oregon's HMIS application to non-grantee agencies, and create a system of coordinated entry, all of which are needed to allocate homeless assistance grants to maximum effect.  On December 1, 2016, the Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative Task Force approved a recommendation that Marion and Polk Counties “[a]ssess local inclusion in the Rural Oregon Continuum of Care”, prompting two members of the community to initiate one-on-one conversations with homeless housing and service providers in both counties for the purpose of determining whether there was consensus for leaving ROCC to re-form a Marion-Polk CoC. 

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