Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Salem's Resuscitated "Sit-Lie" Ordinance

No Safety Threat                        Safety Threat
As reported in a previous blog, the  City Council's agenda for the 9/11/17 meeting, published the week prior to the meeting, announced that the City Council would consider a new "sit-lie" ordinance, Ordinance Bill 22-17, at its next meeting on 9/25/17.

It was news to most of us, including several City Councilors, who learned of it through social media after the 9/11/17 meeting.  Questions were asked.  

Subsequently, that part of the agenda, including the links to the ordinance bill, were removed.  More questions were asked.

Subsequent to those questions, the text was put back, with new links to the ordinance bill.  The item does appear to be on the agenda for the 9/25/17 meeting, and the Council has been offered three options:  1) proceed to second reading for enactment at a future meeting, 2) direct that the ordinance bill be scheduled for a public hearing, or 3) refer the ordinance back to staff to draft changes.  We'd like to suggest a fourth option: direct that the ordinance bill be scheduled for a work session. 

Whatever they decide to do Monday night, we now have the bill available again, and we can continue with our overview.  Where were we?

Oh yes, we were pondering what evidence the City might have to support the bill's findings that people sitting, lying and leaving personalty on sidewalks threatens pedestrian safety, and intimidates and deters people from using the sidewalk and public and private services (i.e., businesses).  

As indicated in the photo above and in the previous blog, evidence supporting the pedestrian safety threat rationale will need to be reconciled with the bill's exceptions, which suggest that safety may be compromised if necessary to further the interests of certain types of business -- but not the jewelry-on-a-blanket or the street-corner-missionary type of business (unless the missionary is sitting on a bench, standing or in a wheelchair), and certainly not panhandling (likewise).

Maybe such distinctions are constitutionally defensible, but who's to say that sidewalks crowded with signs, chairs, tables and cigarette smoke aren't just as much of a threat to pedestrian safety?  And, who's to say such crowded sidewalks don't have a deterrent effect on shopping?  What's the rational basis for prohibiting one type of use and not the other, if safety is the paramount concern?

The ordinance bill finds that "[p]eople who sit or lie down on public sidewalks, or...leave personal property unattended...deter city residents and visitors from patronizing local shops, restaurants and businesses...and deter people from using the sidewalks in their neighborhoods."  Kinda reminds us of the bad old days, when, based on similar assumptions, the authorities tried to segregate "city residents and visitors" from "people" Sarah's grandmothers referred to as "darkies" and "nigras."   

"People who sit or lie down on public sidewalks, or...leave personal property unattended" is, as we all know, code for scruffy, unwashed, disabled people, people attending to voices in their heads, people busking and panhandling and preaching the gospel and selling cheap jewelry, whether they're sitting, lying, standing or walking by.

"Sorry, you can't sit here"?
The findings state that the purpose of warning-before-citing is to allow the person "the opportunity to obtain referrals to appropriate service entities."  This follows the common assumption that people who live in the streets are not receiving services, or they wouldn't look like they do, or act the way they act.  Regardless, it's fairly obvious that the ordinance is not concerned with whether services are needed.

Years ago, it was so much easier for local authorities to discriminate.  But now, after decades of litigation, it's getting harder and harder to find a "rational basis" that can withstand a legal challenge.  The "rational basis" of the proposed ordinance would appear to be that its prohibitions are needed to maintain public safety, and that they merely target certain kinds of behavior, not any particular group.  Whether that's defensible in court will depend on the case, which basically makes the proposed ordinance a bill for a lawsuit.  

About the finding that people sitting, lying or leaving personalty on sidewalks deters people from using the sidewalks in "their" neighborhoods, it's hard to know exactly what to say, except, really?  More than, say, the fact that so many neighborhood sidewalks need repair? 

Under proposed SRC 95.740, the City may remove unattended personal property from the sidewalk if it poses an immediate threat to public health, safety, or welfare.  (Does the City not already have the authority it needs to remove dangerous material from the sidewalk?)

If the personalty's not an immediate threat, it has to be posted for 24 hours before it may be removed, and after it's removed, the City must hold it for 30 days before it can be destroyed (unless it's perishable, etc.).  During the 30-day retention period, the City must provide the owner reasonable access.  As others have pointed out, however, "an 800 number is of no use if you don't have a phone, a Web address is not helpful if you don't have access to the Internet, and a storage facility halfway across town doesn't help if you lack bus fare."  

City code (SRC 95.560, above) already effectively prohibits camping (including car camping) on public property or right of way.  Nevertheless, proposed SRC 95.730 prohibits setting up, or remaining in a campsite for the purpose of establishing or maintaining a place to live anywhere on public property or in the right of way.  Does the proposed "no camping" provision add anything not available under SRC 95.560?  Ask the City Attorney.  Presumably, it does.

And presumably, each part of Ordinance Bill 22-17, with its findings as to legislative intent and its three-pronged approach (no sitting/lying, no unattended personalty, no camping), is considered somehow necessary, consistent with City policies, and worded in such a way as to withstand the type of legal challenges that have been successful in other jurisdictions (see, e.g., here and here).  It will be important to hear the City Attorney and Chief Moore speak to these questions, whenever the bill comes before the City Council, hopefully in a work session. 

[9/21/17 Update: The Statesman Journal reported today that the City "takes its chances" passing an ordinance bill like 22-17, which the headline refers to as a "homeless crackdown." 
In an interview at City Hall, officials characterized the proposal as striking a balance between people's rights and concerns that have been raised about proper use of the sidewalks.
Police officers do all they can to find people with "chronic problems and issues" resources and put them in contact with places where they can get help, said Deputy Chief Skip Miller, with the Salem Police Department.
Deputy Chief Miller also said, according to the article, "Officers can't help when they ["people with chronic problems and issues"] refuse services, but police also can't solve others' business and safety concerns, he said."  The police can't help, so the answer is to cite/exclude?  For sitting and lying on the sidewalk?  Hard facts make bad law, as the saying goes, and this is a classic example.  "We're in no way trying to make homelessness a crime", the article quotes Miller as saying, without irony, considering the same argument (lack of intent) was used to invalidate a similar Portland ordinance in 2009.

Where were Deputy Chief Miller and his ordinance bill three years ago, when Mayor Peterson was complaining about forever having to "step over homeless people" downtown?  We didn't think we could "arrest our way out of this" back then, so what's changed?  If Deputy Chief Miller's thinking is representative, it signals a policy shift at the Police Department and in the City Attorney's office.  And the shift, in our view, is from tough-minded, reality-based thinking to something much weaker, wishful, and short-sighted.  Hopefully, the City Council will see the situation in its true light, and refuse to enact this ordinance bill.] 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Salem's Aborted "Sit-Lie" Ordinance

No Safety Threat                             Safety Threat
The City Council was to consider a proposed "sit-lie" ordinance (Ordinance Bill No. 22-17) at its next meeting on September 25, but both the bill and the staff report were taken down this morning.  What does this mean?  We do not know.  

As initially drafted, the proposed ordinance amended SRC Chapter 95 (Miscellaneous), sections 720 (Violations)(to make it "Sitting or Lying Down on Public Sidewalks During Certain Hours"), 730 (Definitions)(to make it "Camping Prohibited on Public Property and Public Right of Way"), 740 (Civil Exclusion)(to make it "Unattended Personal Property on Public Sidewalks Prohibited"); amends and renumbers sections 735 (Downtown Crime Prevention District)(to become 810), 736 (North Salem Crime Prevention District)(to become 820), 750 (Variances from Exclusion)(to become 840) and 760 (Violation of Exclusion Notice)(to become 850); renumbers section 770 (Appeals)(to become 860); creates sections 800 (text of 730, Civil Exclusion Definitions), 830 (text of 740, Civil Exclusion) and 990 (text of 720, Violations).

The staff report, "signed" by our Chief of Police, Jerry Moore, summarized the issues the bill was intended to address as "extended sitting or lying down on sidewalks, leaving personal property unattended on sidewalks, and campsites on public property", and the bill itself this way:
With certain exceptions, Ordinance Bill No. 22-17 restricts sitting or lying on public sidewalks between the hours of 7:00 am and 9:00 pm.  It also prohibits camping and leaving personal property unattended on the sidewalk.  Prior to taking enforcement action, the ordinance bill requires City personnel to warn the individual that the conduct is in violation of the code, and give them an opportunity to correct it
No Safety Threat                     Safety Threat
Note that the problem was identified as "extended" sitting or lying down, and the bill prohibits any sitting or lying down, with these exceptions: sitting or lying down due to a medical emergency; using a wheelchair/walker, stroller, operating or patronizing a business conducted in conformance with the law, participating in or attending a parade, festival, performance, rally, demonstration, meeting or similar event conducted  "pursuant to" and in accordance with the law, sitting on a fixed chair or bench or bus stop ("while waiting for transport").

No Safety Threat                                     Safety Threat
As Michah Houghton put it over on AP's FB page, "Warned = 'hey you can't sit or lie here', Opportunity to correct it = 'Move Along please.'" 

Under the initial proposed ordinance, violations were infractions, which can get a person excluded from certain parts of the City, unless there's an appeal or a variance given.
Does Salem need a law like this?  Yes, said Chief Moore's initial report:  the "lack of existing law that effectively address[es] the harms created by people sitting, laying [sic] or leaving personal property on public sidewalks, and camping on public property" has been a "barrier" eliminating the behavior.    

No Safety Threat                      Double Safety Threat
So, what "harms" result from people sitting, lying or leaving personalty on sidewalks?  According to the bill's findings, when they do that, they "threaten the safety and welfare of all pedestrians, with the greatest impact on those pedestrians who are elderly, young children, or who have physical and mental disabilities."

Is there evidence that the safety and welfare of all pedestrians are threatened by people sitting, lying or leaving personalty on sidewalks?  According to Chief Moore's initial report, "The City has received complaints from residents, businesses and social service providers...[that] include people feeling unsafe to use public sidewalks, and businesses claiming their enterprises are suffering from this behavior."  Hmm.  "Feeling" unsafe?  "Claiming" business suffers"? 

We'd intended to give a fuller report on the proposed ordinance -- the suffering businesses, the need to prohibit camping on sidewalks, etc., but, as we mentioned earlier, the bill's not there anymore.  Has it been yanked for good?  Or just yanked?  Who yanked it?  Who called for a "sit-lie" ordinance to be drafted in the first place?  These questions will have to go unanswered, for now.  All there is left to share with readers is this artifact.  It comes from the findings (section 1 of the initial version of the proposed ordinance):

If and when the ordinance resurfaces, we'll update this blog.  [9/17/17 Update:  The 9/11/17 agenda again indicates that Ordinance Bill 22-17 will be considered at the 9/25/17 City Council meeting.  The text that had been removed from the agenda has reappeared with a new link (the old link in the blog above has been replaced with the new link).  Does this mean the bill is back on the agenda for the 25th?  Maybe.  Or, it could just mean someone down at City Hall figured out the 9/11/17 agenda was a public record that should not have been altered, even if it had been decided subsequently that the bill would not be considered at the 9/25/17 meeting.  We just won't know until the 9/25/17 agenda is published.  Even if the bill is on the agenda (allowing for public comment), there's a better than 50-50 chance that consideration will be postponed to a later date.]   

Sunday, September 10, 2017

News from the Continuum

Inaugural Mtg of the North Salem SIT
Better than expected turnout for the very first meeting of the North Salem Service Integration Team this past Wednesday at Center 50+.  We counted over 50 people (continuing arrivals) and 34 organizations (not counting the programs, just the orgs).  The teams are modeled on the highly successful and long-lived Polk County program.  (Polk County Service Integration staff generously assisted in the development of the pilot program in Marion County.)

As we reported earlier this year, the North Salem SIT is one of four teams being piloted in Marion County.  The program has a website and a Facebook page

In addition to Center 50+, participants at the North Salem SIT meeting included Salem Heath (a sponsor), Shangri-La (fiscal agent), Easter Seals, Options Counseling, Catholic Community Services, Northwest Human Services (Clinics, HOAP and Info/Crisis Hotline), the Salvation Army, the Salem Police Department (Crisis Response Team), Marion County District Attorney's Office, Marion Polk Food Share, the Oregon Department of Human Services, West Valley Hospice, the Salem YMCA, PH Tech, Mano a Mano Family Center, Family Building Blocks, Cherriots, Northwest Seniors and People with Disabilities, New Horizons In-home Care, Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency (The ARCHES Project and Head Start), Salem Free Clinic, West Valley Community Health, Childhood Heath Associates of Salem, Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic/Lancaster Family Health Center at Beverly, Houck Middle School, CANDO, KMUZ Community Radio, Salem Leadership Foundation and Salem Alliance Church.

The North Salem SIT meets first Wednesdays from 1:30 to 3 at Center 50+.  Find the calendar with all the coming year's SIT meetings in Marion County at the website.

Yesterday, Saturday, the Salem City Council met in a work session to discuss the strategic plan goals and recommendations of the various work groups that met during the summer, supposedly to "get to work and review all of the input we have received", most recently during the "Community Open House" on June 1st.

All the Council except Councilor McCoid attended the session, along with the City Manager, 12 staff, 2 consultants, and 11 members of the public.

Of most interest to us were the goals and strategies to address affordable housing, social services and homelessness issues.  According to the staff report, "There is greater community need for social services, specifically for homeless shelters and food assistance, than there are currently services and funding to address.  There is also a lack of service coordination, strategic funding and accurate, comprehensive data."  Linked to the staff report are two long lists of affordable housing and social services strategy ideas, color-coded to indicate which strategies the work group was most interested in pursuing.  The goals to be implemented are pretty simple:

The staff summary of the work group's strategic plan recommendations:

Although it was not discussed during the work session, it appears from that last paragraph that the Council intends to have the Urban Development, Community Services and Housing Commission help figure out how to implement the four highlighted strategies, which seems sensible.

During the work session, Councilor Kaser had this to say about the "maximize resources for and coordination of local social services" strategy:

This is actually something I've been asked about a lot, at least in Ward 1, at my neighborhood groups, and just people contacting me.  They always want the City -- "What is the City doing about homelessness?  What is the City doing about...whatever.  And I -- this is just personally -- I feel that we need to make sure that people understand that it's not just the City's responsibility to take care of people, that it's a community-wide effort. 

I think there's a the community that the City's responsible for housing people who are homeless, or the City needs to provide that money or that funding and those staff and all of that stuff -- those buildings.  There's a saying..."Do what you do best, and network the rest."  I don't necessarily think the City's a great -- there's things the City does very very well, and there's things the City doesn't do well. 

So, I think making sure we have those connections, and can empower those organizations and resources already out there to continue doing that kind of work is really good.  I think it's important that we highlight that as a City when we're talking to folks.  The City can provide funding and support and all of that stuff, but it's really these places, these entities that are providing the actual work on the ground.  There's a big misconception that there's absolutely nothing out there.  And all they see is homeless, and people who don't have access to all these services, and they think, "Well, what is the City doing about that?"  So, I'm glad that[the recommendation]'s in there.    
We've heard those "What's the City doing" questions, too, but have a little different perspective on the message, and how to respond.

In our experience, residents mostly know about UGM, The Salvation Army, the Center for Hope and Safety, MWVCAA, etc.  When they ask about "the homeless", they're asking about the visibly homeless, meaning the chronically homeless.  Here in Salem, the percent of homeless that are chronically homeless is at least twice the national average -- so they really stand out.  The appropriate housing program for chronically homeless individuals is permanent supportive housing, of which Salem has almost none, which is one reason for the higher-than-average population of chronically homeless.  There is federal money for permanent supportive housing, but that money has not come to the Salem area, for reasons we've discussed at length, elsewhere in the Archive.    

So, we suspect that people aren't asking Councilor Kaser what the City is doing because they think no one's doing anything, but because they can see very plainly that, whatever area providers are doing, it isn't working very well for the people they are coming in contact with.

Who else should they complain to, after all, than the City?  It's not like there's a functioning coalition of service providers they can go to.  There's only the ROCC -- a 28-county Continuum of Care -- and the City's "lead agency", MWVCAA -- a private non-profit that is accountable only to its board of directors. 

In sum, people probably don't need to be told that homelessness is a community effort.  What they need/want to know is that it's a City effort, because City leadership, to a very large extent, is what's been missing for many years now, and the City has a crucial role to play (funding, support, etc.), as Councilor Kaser acknowledged in her remarks.  Thus, when a constituent asks, "What's the City doing about homelessness", they should be told about the City's Strategic Plan goals and strategies, including HRAP, prioritization according to need, and the effort to reform the local CoC with the ongoing City support and oversight.  These are the sort of things that the City does very well, and the providers simply have not.

Constituents might also be told, "The City needs citizens who care about these issues to serve on the Salem Housing Advisory Committee (which advises the Salem Housing Authority Board of Commissioners) and the Urban Development, Community Services and Housing Commission (which advises the City Council).  Even though there's not a current vacancy, please consider submitting an interest statement, as vacancies do occur.  We could really use serious, thoughtful people doing this work."

(Above) Councilor Andersen finishes up the "dot exercise", whereby counselors were asked to use dots to  indicate what strategies they thought should be implemented in the coming year.  Strategies under the "Housing Stability" goal eight dots and those under "Health & Social Services" received ten (note that the latter all target the chronically homeless).  The sobering center, redoing the budget process and comprehensive plan, and a climate action plan were identified (gold dots) as "most urgent."  Councilors will go through a slightly different prioritization exercise after the Open House on September 19th (CANDO will not meet that night, to allow members to attend).  The Council is set to vote on the final strategic plan at their regular meeting on October 23.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

News from the Continuum

Open charges against individuals on the HRAP waitlist
The news from the continuum this week is about "the best", the "all", the "every" and the "enormous" "monumental" and "never before possible." 

At least that's how it's described in the August report of the MWVCAA's Community Resources Program, which the website describes as a "two-pronged program consisting of rural resource centers and housing services (RENT, ARCHES, Tenant-Based Assistance, Housing Stabilization Program and Housing Collaborative."

The first bit of good news from CRP is that their research indicates the City "is doing a better job of not pursuing a charging policy that needlessly targets that [chronically homeless] population."  The report seems to suggest that only a fraction of those being referred to the City's Homeless Rental Assistance Program appear to have unresolved criminal charges, which should  make getting them housed that much easier.

In related news, it seems Municipal Judge Jane Aiken (sister of United States District Court Judge Ann Akiken) is making progress on her project to create a homeless diversion program (details at right).  Of course, because local law enforcement has, for some long time now, been trying, whenever possible,
to connect individuals living on the streets with services as an alternative to arresting them, the significant cost-savings envisioned in the CRP report might not materialize.  But, they should give it a go, nonetheless.

The CRP is also reporting a successful temporary workaround to the problem of getting local shelters to commit staff and training time to learning how to use ServicePoint, Oregon's Homeless Management Information System software application -- CRP staff are going to do it.

It's not clear from the report just how CRP is able to devote sufficient of their own staff's time to do all this data entry, but that appears to be the goal, at least for now.  One downside to this arrangement is that the shelter staff will either not have access to their clients' information in ServicePoint, or the information will have to be transmitted through indirect (and probably more cumbersome) means, with all the attendant security risks and potential for error.  It's also doubtful whether HUD would recognize such an informal arrangement as "participation in HMIS" for purposes of the Housing Inventory Count.

CRP will, once again, be seeking the bulk of the area's CoC funding for two projects: rapid rehousing ($383K) and coordinated entry "supportive services only"  ($36K).  CRP reports it will be supporting the Salem Interfaith Hospitality Network's application for a permanent supportive housing program ($200K) grant, which TJ Putman says will target chronically homeless households with children.  (Note: if funded, these three projects will bring $619K, not $910K, to the area, as stated in the CRP report.) The CRP report makes no mention of CoC funding for Shangri-La programs.  
The CRP report makes strong claims about the benefits of what CRP calls its "Coordinated Entry Program", which has been funded with CoC Program dollars (see  project description here, at item 35).  The year-old program, which is apparently not "signature" enough to be listed on the CRP webpage, consists entirely of consultation (across the other 26 counties of ROCC) and data collection services (here in Marion & Polk)(referred to in the report as "the research project").  The claims (for instance, the claims that the program has demonstrated "the social utility of a data-driven, research based approach to homeless services" and "had enormous impact on homeless services around the state") are not supported by any data in the report.        

A functional coordinated entry system (CES) is required for certain HUD programs, and for the effective delivery of homeless assistance.  Here in Marion and Polk Counties, homeless housing providers as a whole have yet to agree to, or implement, a CES, in part because implementation essentially requires participating providers to use ServicePoint, which, for various reasons, has been a sticking point.  CRP's workaround (discussed above) whereby CRP staff will enter enter non-participating providers' data themselves, would seem to be both impractical and unsustainable.

Home for Heroes room set up for double occupancy
The data collected in the Coordinated Entry Program is used to create a housing wait list prioritized by need.  CRP uses that list to refer homeless veterans to two programs, the Veteran's Rental Assistance Program (VRAP) (individuals with serious mental illness) funded by an OHA grant to Salem Housing Authority (CRP is the subgrantee), and WestCare's Veterans Home, reportedly funded with Supportive Services for Veterans (SSVF) and "OHA-RAP" funds (Westcare as the subgrantee).  VRAP was supposed to house 42 veterans by September 30, 2017.  According to this most recent CRP report, only 28 have been housed, but 42 are "enrolled."

The Home for Heroes program, which was ready last spring to receive referrals, has also been off to a slow start.  The delay was due in part to the need to adjust its model to meet the requirements of CRP's funding sources (including changing to single occupancy).  Nevertheless, Home for Heroes reports it now has 5 individuals housed in its 15-room facility (the former Salem Outreach Shelter, closed in 2013) and a "grand opening" event is planned for September.

Since moving to its new location in June, CRP has suspended the ROCC Region 7 monthly meetings, so we've not yet been inside the new facility, which must be renovated before the day center can reopen.  CRP reports it intends to apply to to the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde for $75,000 "for the Day Center" (renovation costs?), and to Willamette Valley Community Health for $65,000 for a "staffing position for a director of co-location services."

Notably, Polk County manages its resource centers without additional management staff. 

Whose Resource Centers?
Readers will be forgiven for being  confused as to whether the Commercial Street facility is supposed to be a day center for the homeless, or a resource center like the one in Dallas.  According to MWVCAA's website, it's the latter.  But, according to the CRP report, it's the former.  For the moment, however, it's neither. 

Readers might also be confused as to who is running these centers.  The website makes it sound like Community Action manages the Dallas facility or perhaps that Marion County is in charge of the Commercial Street facility, neither of which happens to be true.

In addition to the Community Court project discussed above, the ServicePoint participation workaround, the Rapid Rehousing, Coordinated Entry, and Veterans Rental Assistance Programs, the Westcare Veterans Home,  HRAP and Dallas Resource Center support, the planning/development of the Commercial Street project, RENT tenant education and tenant-based rental assistance to the rural areas (not discussed above), CRP is a "partner" in delivering reentry services in Marion County, and, perhaps more importantly, is supposed to deliver nine different state homeless/housing programs (Emergency Housing Assistance (EHA), EHA-Document Recording Fee, EHA Vet-DRF, Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) (federal pass-through), Housing Stabilization and Fresh Start Housing Programs (delivered in partnership with DHS), Low Income Rental Housing Fund (LIRHF), State Homeless Assistance Program (SHAP) and Elderly Rental Assistance (ERA)) worth over $2M annually (a rough estimate based on incomplete information), and see to it that MWCAA fulfills its "lead agency" responsibilities to the City of Salem and ROCC Region 7 CoC grantees by ensuring compliance with HUD CoC and ESG program regulations, including homeless outreach efforts (e.g., visiting known homeless encampments and participating in Community Connect, Veterans Stand Down and extreme weather shelter events), expanding ServicePoint participation, establishing a local coordinated entry system, conducting and reporting on the annual Point in Time Homeless Count and Housing Inventory Count, and making regular program reports to HUD and OHCS.  In addition to all that, CRP staff are expected to lead or participate in community meetings (e.g., Coordinated Entry Work Group, Health and Housing Committee, Salem Homeless Coalition, Emergency Housing Network, as well as meetings like Silverton Together out in the rural areas) and fundraising activities (car washes, golf tournaments, fun runs, etc.), maintain contact with the media (CRP report cites Salem Weekly and The Guardian), and manage an internship program.  All this with a full-time staff of 29, according to the CRP Report.

Should we be impressed?  Well, certainly, CRP is trying to do a very great deal.  But, what everyone really wants to know is whether all this effort and activity is having any effect.  Unfortunately, that question cannot be answered, because, for all its claims about the enormous impact of its programs,  the August CRP report did not include any year-end program information or analysis, but only the last quarter's raw data on individuals served by the state programs, which is just not very informative.  Here's the kind of report you'd expect to see:

Here's a sample of the raw data in the report:

If CRP truly believed in "the social utility of a data-driven, research based approach to homeless services", it would be reflected in their reporting and analysis, but that turns out not to be the case, certainly not since last April.  Yes, the community can take heart that such efforts are being made, but we need to know that these efforts are as effective as they can be.  The August CRP report doesn't begin to give us the information or analysis we need to make that determination. 

[9/6/17 Update:  substituted the official name, "Westcare Veterans Home" for the informal "Home for Heroes."  Added ERA link.]

Friday, August 25, 2017

Is Your State Homeless Assistance Program Working? How Can you Tell?

In Oregon, all federal antipoverty and state housing/homeless assistance funds (e.g. Emergency Housing Assistance (EHA) and State Homeless Assistance Program (SHAP)) are delivered through Community Action Agencies (CAAs). 

Of the 17 CAAs that serve Oregon's 36 counties, only 3 are public (Lane, Multnomah, Clackamas).  The rest are private non-profit agencies, perhaps  more appropriately described as "quasi-public" agencies (a quasi-public agency is a publicly chartered body that provides a public service and is overseen by an appointed board, commission, or committee).

Although it's through the local CAAs that these programs are delivered (on the theory that these things are best left in local control), it's the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department (OHCS) that's charged with program administration.  This relationship -- the one between CAAs and OHCS -- is not especially well understood.  Consider, for example a recent discussion at a meeting of the AOC Housing subcommittee where, according to the staff summary, members wanted to know:
  1. What is the link to the non-profit organizations that utilize EHA/SHAP?
  2. How is the impact of these state funds reported to the state?
  3. What outcome measures are used to measure statewide impact of EHA/SHAP?
Here's how their lobbying firm explained things: 
  1. The community action network includes 18 [sic] community action agencies (sometimes referred to as CAAs) that serve all 36 counties in Oregon. While the majority of community action agencies are non-profits, three are public and housed in county government. The ‘public CAAs are in Multnomah, Clackamas and Lane county. Because community action believes the greatest impact occurs at the local level, many CAAs, including the public CAAs subcontract with community based organizations, culturally based organizations and faith based groups to deliver services that meet local needs. It is this relationship that brings in a host of non-profit organizations, especially among the public CAAs.
  2. OHCS distributes EHA/SHAP dollars to CAAs throughout the state by formula. Some of those dollars may be passed through to other non-profits doing homelessness prevention/service work in the community. Those non-profits are required to report back to their local CAA on how the funds were spent,  how many people were served and the outcomes achieved. Community Action Agencies then do a similar type of reporting to Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) that includes the data they received from the non-profit partners in their communities.
  3. OHCS compiles this data. One of the purposes for this collection is to report to the legislature on Key Performance Measures related to their work.  [Bold emphasis added above.]
In brief, then, CAAs report the "impact" of homeless/housing assistance funds to OHCS, who compiles all the data and reports the result to the legislature.  Sounds very efficient, right?  Well, maybe.  But who reports the local data to the local communities? 

Key Performance Measures (KPMs), are reported in annual Progress Reports to the legislature.  The only OHCS KPM that relates to homelessness is KPM #1: the "percentage of homeless households [statewide] who exited into permanent housing and retained that housing for six months or longer."  Maybe (maybe) this measure tells legislators something, but it tells local communities nothing about what programs the state is funding in their community, how many dollars are involved, how the money's being spent and leveraged, what the return on investment is or what kind of outcomes they're seeing.

There's another report produced by OHCS that does contain local data.  It's produced biennially, and is supposed to report on the efforts of state agencies, OHCS included, to reduce the incidence of poverty in Oregon.  See ORS 458.505(6)(d) and the 2015 Poverty Report (dubiously titled, "Moving from Poverty to Prosperity in Oregon"). 

OHCS duties under ORS 458.505(6)(d)
In addition to reporting on efforts to reduce poverty, this biennial report is supposed to "describe the status of efforts by the department [OHCS] and the Department of Human Services to implement the state policy regarding homelessness."  See ORS 458.528.  The 2015 Poverty Report just reported the point-in-time homeless counts -- hardly what the legislature asked for.  (For those who don't know, the state policy regarding homelessness is that OHCS, DHS, the Oregon Housing Stability Council, and CAPO should "work to encourage innovation by state, regional and local agencies that will create a comprehensive and collaborative support system and housing resources vital for a successful campaign to end homelessness."  [Emphasis added.])

It's to be hoped that the 2017 Poverty Report will have something meaningful to say about the state's efforts to implement the state policy regarding homelessness (and will also change the title of the report to something more on point, like "How Oregon is Addressing Poverty and Homelessness in 2017.")  It is also to be hoped that, given OHCS has chosen CAAs to deliver its homeless/housing programs, it will begin to organize the Poverty Report around CAAs, or even CoCs, instead of counties. (Oregon's 2016 CAPER seems to suggest the latter might make the most sense.)

2015 Poverty Report
The point we are trying to make here is that OHCS is being fed all this data, but it's not being shared  effectively at the local level, and  neither the Progress Report, nor the Poverty Report, are telling local communities what homeless assistance programs the state is funding in their community, how many dollars are involved, how the money's being spent and leveraged, what the outcomes are or what the return on investment is.  Without that kind of information, "local agencies" cannot "create a comprehensive and collaborative support system and housing resources vital for a successful campaign to end homelessness." 

Now, maybe OHCS thinks CAAs are just naturally going to report relevant local data (e.g., the reports they're required to make to OHCS).  Maybe some do, but more don't, as indicated by the questions from the AOC Housing subcommittee referred to above.  Consider the fact that OHCS and the Community Action Partnership of Oregon (CAPO) are putting together a "Community Action Agency 101" course for OHCS's Housing Stability CouncilSee here, beginning at page 15.  If CAAs were consistently sharing data and coordinating homeless/housing systems, a "101" for people with knowledge/experience in low-income housing would hardly be necessary.

MWVCAA FY2015 Annual Report
Most people we talk to know that Oregon's CAAs are not functioning as they should when it comes to sharing information on their homeless/housing programs.  Take, for example, our local CAA, the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency (MWVCAA).  Based on FY 2014 expenditures (sadly, the most recent numbers available), it's a pretty significant operation with a lot of employees.  It's also notoriously stingy with information about its homeless/housing programs, which are delivered through its Community Resource Program (HUD CoC, ESG, EHA, SHAP, HOME TBA, SSVF and DHS Child Welfare).  While we're told that CRP accounts for around 8% of overall expenditures, we're not told how those funds (about $1,790,000 in 2014) are spent, or in which programs.  And if there were a problem with how funds were spent, we almost certainly would not be told

Early this past summer, MWVCAA began posting Board of Directors meeting materials on its website, but only because new Head Start performance standards required it.  Those materials contain some information about homeless/housing programs, but they hardly provide a complete picture.  So, it's a start, but more is needed.

2016 State Agencies Expenditure Report

Oregon gets good marks for spending transparency.  For example, we can know to the penny what the state paid the Director of OHCS in 2016 for mileage, for meals, or for attending conferences.  But the only information on what the state paid our local CAA is a total: $3,467,543.  We have no idea which state program the funds came out of, or who was supposed to deliver services, or what the services were.  We don't even know if the funds were spent, or returned to the state.

Now, we're not suggesting that the State Agencies Expenditure Report is the best place to look for this kind of information.  We are suggesting only that it should be available somewhere.  We are also suggesting that the Oregon Housing Stability Council, along with OHCS, DHS and CAPO, have a responsibility under ORS 458.525 (at right) and ORS 458.528 to share relevant information about homeless/housing program administration with local communities, and to encourage, or require, CAAs to share relevant homeless/housing program delivery information with their local communities, because, in all likelihood, other CAAs across the state are not any better about sharing information than ours is.  It's not a requirement, so they probably just don't think about it.  But they absolutely need to be thinking about it, and OHCS should help them do that. 

In 2015, the legislature abolished the Interagency Council on Hunger and Homelessness, and moved responsibility for ensuring that homelessness relief efforts operate efficiently and effectively to the Housing Stability Council.  To carry out that responsibility, the HSC needs information.  Local communities have just as much need for the same kind of information at the community level.  Moreover, such information sharing is the only way the Oregon's policy on homelessness will ever be carried out.  Communities simply must be told what homeless assistance programs the state is funding in their community, how many dollars are involved, how the money's being spent and leveraged, what the return on investment is and what kind of outcomes they're getting.  It is not too much to ask, given the likelihood the reports exist, and are just not being published.  OHCS and the Housing Stability Council can and should ensure that local communities have access to the information they need to ensure that local homelessness relief effort operate efficiently and effectively.

Salem Weekly Fact Check

Salem Weekly Shills for ARCHES
Salem Weekly yesterday published a rehash of a story it published August 3rd about The ARCHES Project moving to 615 Commercial Street NE with the addition of an unsourced detail that appears to be an attempt to answer the main question raised in this recent blog, which is whether the state approved the use of state funds to acquire the property. 

In the rehash, Salem Weekly and author Delana Beaton assert that the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department approved the use of $.5M in state funds to purchase the new ARCHES building in February of 2017.  As noted, the assertion is unsourced, and devoid of supporting details.  We asked Delana where she got her information and whether she had been provided any documentation, but she has not responded to our inquiry.

If Salem Weekly/Delana’s assertion is true, it means MWVCAA sought approval from the state to purchase the building before seeking approval of the MWVCAA board of directors, which would be contrary to ORS 458.505(4)(c), which requires the board to approve "all contracts, grant applications and budgets and operational policies of the agency."

Of course, there is no mention anywhere in the minutes of the board's January meeting or the February management reports, or the minutes of the board's February meeting or the March management reports, of the state having approved the use of $.5M in state funds to purchase the new ARCHES building.  There is in fact no mention of any plan to purchase a building until March, when Executive Director Jon Reeves sought board approval to use $.4M in EHA funds for a down payment, without any mention of needing, much less having received, approval from the state to use the funds in that manner.

Notably, in February, the board appears to have been concerned with details of an ongoing audit, strategic planning efforts, the need to elect new officers following the resignation of the chair of the board, and the fact that the current director of the Community Resources Program (which includes The ARCHES Project) had resigned after less than a year in the position.  Hardly a propitious time to undertake a major investment project.

And that's just what the board thought when they first heard about the idea in March.  As noted in our recent blog, the board had very grave concerns about timing and MWVCAA's capacity to pull off such a project, and asked for a detailed project proposal to help them evaluate the project's feasibility.

Did they ever get their detailed project proposal?  It's one of many unanswered questions.  It's reasonable to assume that, if they had, it would have appeared, or at least be mentioned, in subsequent minutes and meeting materials.  But, subsequent minutes and meeting materials published so far contain no mention of a project proposal, which is telling because an application (remember ORS 458.505(4)(c)) and a detailed project proposal were required to obtain state approval of the use of EHA funds for property acquisition.  

Ask yourself, would a properly vetted, viable project, need Salem Weekly and Delana to shill in its defense?  ARCHES may be serving more sack lunches and assessing more clients in its new location, and it may have organized a 3-day cooling center (but not "in the midst of major renovation work", and not without the help of the City of Salem), but none of those activities required $.5M of state Emergency Housing Assistance funds or a 32,000 16,000 SF office building.  Hope is not a plan.  The sobering center, the co-location, the renovations -- none of those things have happened yet, nor are they guaranteed.

Maybe MWVCAA can show its use of the $.5M was duly authorized.  If they can, they should do so, directly, and on the record.  The same if they can't.  Answering either way would be far more dignified than trying to manipulate public opinion with fake news through the Salem Weekly.

[8/30/17 Update: corrected the office building square footage (lot size, not building, is ~32,000 SF).]

[9/7/17 Update: we found today (online) an August 30 memo from OHCS Assistant Director Claire Seguin and Homeless Program Analyst Vickey Massey to Executive Director Salazar that states MWVCAA did apply to OHCS to use $472K in EHA funds and $15K in SHAP funds to acquire the Commercial Street property, and their application was approved.  Attached to the memo is a list of project details and the blank application forms.  The actual application we have not yet seen.   The memo ends with these rather telling "next steps":
A fair reading between these final lines is that, although the project was approved, OHCS now recognizes that it probably should not have been, at least not based on the application that was submitted, and they intend to take steps to make sure, going forward, that such projects receive the scrutiny they deserve (see, e.g., application requirements 1 and 2).  This might be as much as the community could realistically expect at this point (mistakes were made), but it's not going to save state's investment if MWVCAA is unable to carry the significant debt service on their new property, and the seller forecloses.  Hopefully, OCHS will feel some responsibility to work with the MWVCAA board (who clearly lack the expertise to deal with the situation) to develop a genuine and workable business plan.] 

At right, the last slide of an OHCS presentation to the Oregon Housing Stability Council that claims, incorrectly, that MWVCAA used its funds to "increase units through acquisition."]

[This 9/7/17 Update was also posted to the main blog on this topic.]    

Saturday, August 19, 2017

News from the Continuum

From TSA's Website
Back in July, we reported that The Salvation Army's Lighthouse Shelter was discontinuing its transitional shelter program, effective August 1.  Going forward, TSA plans to operate Lighthouse Shelter as an emergency or overnight shelter, with no in-house case management.

The decision to terminate the program was reportedly due not to changing demands of our community, but rather to a funding shortage of several hundred thousand dollars, following the death of a substantial donor.

As of mid-August, the shelter still had about 40 guests remaining in the transitional shelter program, and 6 guests in the overnight program.  TSA hopes to continue to support the 40 "grandfathered" guests until they can be stably housed.  The expectations of each group differ, and their beds are set off from one another within each room, one for men and another for women.

Notice in the July SIT Newsletter
Newcomers must go through an intake process that involves a criminal background check (Seattle just recently voted to bar landlords from using criminal records to screen tenants).  Initial assessments are done between 1 and 3 p.m. over at TSA's Family Services building at 1977 Front Street.  Some are asked to go down the street to The ARCHES Project for further assessment using the VI-SPDAT. 

Guests accepted into the overnight program must pass a daily UA and check in by 5 p.m.  Dinner is at 5:30. Employed guests who've provided staff their work schedule are not required to check in by 5 p.m., do not have to strip their beds in the morning, and may leave belongings in a locking, two-drawer unit under their beds.  In addition to dinner, services include breakfast (continental), showers, laundry (sign up), and a sack lunch (sign-up).  Guests need to depart by 8, and may stay a maximum of 90 days within a 6-month period.

Lighthouse Shelter has a maximum capacity of 83, but we're told things start getting pretty tight at around 65, giving the shelter a functional capacity of 65.  With a cushion of about 10 beds for emergencies (e.g., an apartment bldg goes up in flames), that leaves 15 beds for guests in the overnight program, at least until the transitional beds come available.  The aim is to have about half the overnight program beds reserved for men and half for women, which is a good segue to the topic of discussion at the last meeting of the Emergency Housing Network: "Transgender and LGBTQ issues under Fair Housing Law."

The presentation and discussion that followed left participants with concerns that transgendered adults who are not victims of domestic violence do not have access to emergency shelter in Salem, which suggests some local shelter policies may be in conflict with state and local anti-discrimination laws.  To be clear, the issue is not whether shelters comply with HUD regulations.  The fact that an organization accepts no government support, aside from, say, its property tax-exemption, does not relieve it from having to comply with state and local anti-discrimination laws. 

We checked with our non-DV, adult emergency shelters, TSA and UGM, to see if there is, in fact, a problem.  TSA's Social Services Director, Jason Ramos, told us that the Lighthouse Shelter has individual rooms available on a confidential basis for guests who do not feel comfortable staying in either the male or female room.  Guests still have to pass a criminal background check and daily UA. Our contact at UGM told us she would have to check the policy before answering, and a week later, we've had no response.  Looks like we have a problem.  [8/26/17 Update:  Meaning, we have a local problem, in addition to the one in DC, signaled when "The 10th floor ordered the removal of online training materials meant, in part, to help homeless shelters make sure they were providing equal access to transgender people."]

Flyer Circulating in CANDO July 31st
With the Lighthouse Shelter limiting lunch service to program participants, ARCHES has seen an uptick in the number of lunches they are serving.  Staff report they're providing twice as many sack lunches now (about 400/day) as they provided from their Madison Street location**, and they're also VI-SPDATing more people.  As far as plans to open the day center, that's unlikely to happen before November, which assumes they're able to sort out any other issues that might pertain.

On August 2d, MWVCAA's executive director wrote:  "Our drawings for those plans [to renovate the first floor] are being finalized now and we hope to be back up and running at full capacity sometime in November.  In the meantime, we continue to operate and connect people in need to available resources.  The people who use our services have been notified of these plans and we are working to address any hardship caused by our short-term limitations, which will in the long run allow us to create a one-stop-shop for homeless services in Salem."

We asked the director what sort of things MWVCAA was doing to address any hardship caused by closing the day center, but he declined to answer, or to comment on an obscure flyer that was being circulated in CANDO.  As one provider put it, "I think I know what they're trying to communicate, but I'm pretty sure a consumer wouldn't."  We've also heard complaints from neighbors that people are wandering up and down Commercial Street asking "Where is 615?" because there's no signage visible from the sidewalk.  At a meeting on August 14, the director indicated they were aware of the signage issue, and would be addressing it at some point.

ARCHES hidden Coldwell Banker Bldg
ARCHES staff report 39 consumers took advantage of the City cooling center during the recent heat wave (August 1-3).  According to a recent Willamette Wakeup interview with Mayor Bennett, the City is considering using that same location -- 770 Commercial Street, for a sobering center, or they might use part of ARCHES' first floor, or they might put it some place else in north downtown.  It's taken longer to come together than he had hoped, but the City Manager assures him "we're moving forward."

MWVCAA has finally posted the 2017 Point-In-Time Count report, and a corrected PITC report for 2016.  In 2016, 733 homeless households, (546 sheltered, 187 unsheltered) consisting of 811 individuals were counted.  In 2017, 871  homeless households (584 sheltered, 287 unsheltered) consisting of 1,151 individuals were counted.  Community Resources Program Director  Jimmy Jones attributes some of the increase to this year's effort to count homeless persons living "up the Canyon", something he says had not been done for six years.  He asserts the count methodology needs a complete overhaul, and that he and his team will be having "conversations later this month" to plan the 2018 PIT count.  Notably, the Region 7 CoC either did not meet in July or August, or the meeting was closed.

See Page 25

No hot lunches, showers, laundry since July
**Not sure about the lunch math.  We calculate ARCHES is serving 4x the lunches served at Madison Street.

At top left are the figures ARCHES reported for the first half of the fiscal year.  No idea how they got the hot lunch average daily of 48.  Total sack lunches YTD divided by 6 = 351 divided by 20 (days per month serving lunches) = about 18.  Add an average of about 24 hot lunches per day for an average 42 lunches per day during first half of the year.

At bottom left are the figures reported for the 3d quarter.  Total sack lunches Jan-Mar = 1,733 divided by 3 = 577 divided by 20 = about 29.  Add about 18 hot lunches per day during this quarter for a total of 47 lunches per day during the 3d quarter.

It's worth noting that people showering and doing laundry at ARCHES (an average of 13 and 7 per day, respectively) have since July either had to use the facilities at HOAP or UGM, or do without.  Could account for the renewed complaints CANDO is hearing from some of HOAP's neighbors.