Thursday, January 26, 2017

ROCC vs. Maximum Feasible Participation

Not the Words of Our Enemies.
As the country finally begins to settle in after the 2017 presidential inauguration, it may surprise some to find the principle of maximum feasible participation in our publicly-funded institutions again under serious threat; not from Washington, D.C. (that was expected), but from local, publicly funded institutions like the Rural Oregon Continuum of Care, a 28-county association of homeless housing and service providers that, since 2011, has included Marion and Polk Counties.  

Maximum feasible participation is a bedrock principle of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which created "community action agencies" around the country to fight poverty by empowering the poor, and later, to offer assistance to the homeless under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.

The principle of maximum feasible participation has long been under attack, because it works.  Or it did, while it was allowed to do so.
Community Action, and its promise of maximum feasible participation of the poor, was about both recognizing the poor as able and perhaps better qualified to make judgments on their needs, as well as recognizing the participatory process itself as a powerful lesson in self-agency and self-respect. However, for many among the poor and among social activists, this recognition of individual capacity to make change translated into capacity to make demands of the state. This part did not jibe so well with many politicians, because to the poor, fighting poverty had to mean more than transformation of the individual into one that was fed, clothed, and educated—people wanted to transform the system. It meant ending discrimination, it meant more jobs and better pay, and it meant pushing local government to improve public services and infrastructure. It was perhaps a passionate desire that could not maintain federal support in a context where the urban poor also happened to be mostly black, and where therefore mobilization of the poor was colored by race and politics. This was how Community Action lost those initial explicit, legal foundations for a different kind of participatory promise, and was molded into a vehicle for service delivery.
For some comfortably well off (a designation that could include providers with relatively stable funding), empowerment is groovy until people stop being helpless and needy, and start wanting to participate in decision-making that affects their community.  Even when participation means no more than attending meetings and observing (which, these days, is what "maximum feasible participation" has come to mean), some will perceive it as threatening.  Thus, the right to attend meetings and observe has come  under attack, and not from the quarter you might expect.

At the last meeting of the aforementioned Rural Oregon Continuum of Care (aka, the Oregon Balance of State CoC), it was announced that the Board of Directors' "retreat" would be closed to non-board members -- meaning non-board members would not be allowed even to observe.  Asked how the decision to close the meeting to non-board members, which appears to have been made not by the board, but by staff, squares with the principle of maximum feasible participation and Sections 1.3, 2.5, 2.7 and 7.2.1 of the ROCC bylaws (which establish a clear and strong policy of transparency, member participation and inclusiveness), staff told us, "the CoC is not a registered non-profit nor does it have any other 501(c)(3) designation.  The CoC is entitled to conduct its meetings as necessary."  

That, in legal circles, would be referred to as a non-responsive answer, because it doesn't address the question.  It's also a non-sequitur, as it's irrelevant whether the CoC is "registered" or has a designation under the federal tax code -- it's still responsible to follow its bylaws.  The  answer is also a tautological, in that the decision can't be justified by claiming that the CoC is "entitled" (the claims are essentially the same).

In fact, the decision cannot be justified.  There is no principled reason not to allow members -- and any other interested persons -- to attend a "retreat" with an agenda that looks like this (at left), and no one with any knowledge or experience in coalition building would dream of excluding from a meeting such as this members of the community who wanted to be included. 

The  ROCC board's apparent willingness to sacrifice basic principles, the abdication of its authority to staff, and staff's heavy-handed and arbitrary manner in handling this matter all reflect very badly on ROCC, and will no doubt weigh in the decision whether or not Marion and Polk Counties should re-form our own CoC.  Certainly, ROCC is giving us little reason to want to stay

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

PTTF: Meeting 10

Karen Ray returns for the Task Force's last meeting in 2 weeks,  Commissioner Carlson informed the Task Force during the last few minutes of Monday night's meeting.

(And what that's gonna cost?**)

Whatever "pivoting to implementation" may mean to the other Task Force members, Carlson's determined to do it.  She's got one plan "on the shelf", so she doesn't want two, 'cause it looks bad.  So, she's got to find some organization to take on the task of implementing the MWHITF's Strategic Plan.  But who?    

After directing the assembly to her January 4 memo, "Implementation Structure Concept" (the last two pages of this document), Carlson told us,
We're starting to talk with some organizations about where this home might be for this new governance structure, so I'm just going to whet your appetite for what we'll be talking about next time, because Karen Ray will be back to actually facilitate our last meeting [on February 7].  [At that meeting] We will be adopting our strategic plan, which Jan Calvin [Marion County Reentry Initiative Project Manager] is helping us put together.  It will include all the recommendations we've voted on so far, plus the few that we said we were going to bring back and work on next time, and any other 'at large' recommendations [except the ones put forward by CANDO and the Veterans Committee].  We have [also] tasked the PACE Team to take a look at other communities' plans to end homelessness...and may have a few recommendations to add in, based on what their analysis tells us, and then we'll spend the balance of the meeting talking about pivoting to implementation.
If you weren't there, it might be hard to imagine just how unappetizing her colleagues must have found the prospect of yet another meeting to consider pages and pages of incomprehensible issue briefs and recommendations, after they'd listened for the better part of two hours as Commissioner Carlson and others "explain" each of the 20 recommendations that had come before them (they adopted all except 33, 34 and 41, which she/they sent back to be "reworked").        

Neither of the co-chairs gave any hint who, among those they'd spoken to, had shown any willingness to have their organization play the role of "home" (or "backbone", as it was originally referred to) (or, "Switzerland", as Mayor Clark put it).  Might someone on the Task Force be willing?  Hard to say.  Of the eighteen members still listed on the letterhead, only nine were present for most of the meeting -- not even enough for a quorum.  Might someone in the audience, a provider perhaps, be willing?  Not too many of them, either.  Salem Interfaith Hospitality Network?  (TJ was there.)  Salem Leadership Foundation?  (Herm Boes was there.)  Salem Health? (Sharon Heuer was there.)  Conclusion:  there just doesn't seem to be anyone willing to take this on.

If in fact no one has come forward, this explains why Carlson's memo makes no mention of a "backbone org", but calls instead for "participating jurisdictions" to create a "housing commission" and share the cost of a "project manager" to do all the "work."

But, do we really need another public body like the Task Force

Salem of course has two housing commissions, one oversees the Salem Housing Authority and is advised by the Salem Housing Advisory Committee, and the other oversees the delivery of homeless and other social services.  These two commissions are -- already, now, today -- doing many of the things covered by Task Force recommendations.  They have their own plans and programs.  They provide services for both Salem and Keizer residents, and they cooperate with Polk and Marion Counties.  Similarly, Polk County has West Valley Housing Authority, the Grand Ronde Housing Department, and the Polk Community Development Corporation -- and Marion County has a housing authority.  All of them have their own plans and programs.   

What, then, is so compelling about the Task Force recommendations that they require a separate commission to oversee their implementation?  This new commission would have to collaborate with the existing commissions on many items -- how, then, would a new commission not be just a further complication and expense, another layer of bureaucracy?  Why not give the recommendations to an existing commission or housing authority, and let them decide what is worthy of their time and resources?

It comes down to this: if the "participating jurisdictions" truly care about homelessness and want to "do" something, they should empower the agencies they have, not create new ones.

"Why indeed".  -SS 

All this concern over implementation assumes, without evidence, that the Task Force's recommendations are based on solid data and "proven strategies."  But one has only to look at them to see that this is very far from the case.  Some of the recommendations are worthwhile, but many are not, nor are they comprehensive, well thought out, integrated, or strategic, or any things like that.  So, to the extent that Commissioner Carlson or Karen Ray are afraid that the new plan will sit on a shelf, just like the old plan, they might ask themselves, "Why?".

There was no public comment.  The next and supposedly final meeting takes place in two weeks, on Tuesday, February 7.          

**We're betting the February meeting will cost $5K.  We've asked Marion County for a copy of the new contract, as we did the first, which expired 12/31/16.  The reason we're guessing $5K is that Carlson asked Ray last September during negotiations, "any way you could scale the proposal down" to $20,000, which was "the cap for the sole source", and Ray agreed, while offering to return under a separate arrangement to assist with the "pivot to implementation."  So far, the County has not responded to our request.  Karen Ray's services at the last meeting will apparently be covered by the existing contract, whose expiration date was extended from 12/31/16 to 2/28/17.

[Update 1/28/17: added the ** and this link to Willamette Wakeup's report on the meeting.]
[Update 2/1/17: edited the ** to reflect new information obtained from the County.] 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Out of the Cold

By Sarah Rohrs

Warming Center at 770 Commercial St
A warming center is, obviously, a place to get out of the cold and warm up. The very name conjures up something temporary, a place to take refuge for a bit before heading back out into the weather.

For more than one hundred homeless people in Salem, a warming center set up in the former Oregon Department of Energy was exactly that – a place to get out of the cold for a few hours.

It was certainly not ideal but it was better than nothing in the recent cold snap when temperatures plunged.

The primary purpose of warming centers is to prevent homeless people from freezing to death.  Last year the Community Action Agency activated the warming shelter only four nights. So far, this season the center has been activated 17 nights.

The decision to activate has something to do with where the mercury falls on the thermometer and for how long. But for anyone sleeping outside, I image that kind of criteria means nothing. If the temperature is just above or below freezing hardly matters.

Most of us could, conceivably, call our homes “warming centers.” After we’ve been outside running errands we can go inside and warm up. The big difference is that we have access to our homes 24/7 . We have hot water, food, a bed with plenty of blankets, plus our possessions under one roof. For the homeless their access to the warming center is restricted to nighttime hours only.

I contemplated all this and more when I volunteered for one four-hour shift at the Salem warming center. As a KMUZ Community Radio volunteer I had heard announcements about the center opening up in late December when the temperatures turned frigid. A fellow radio volunteer posted on Facebook that the centers could not operate without volunteers. Then I saw a notice on this blog about volunteers. I figured I could leave my home for a few hours to help out.

I picked a 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. shift rather than the 11:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. shift, or the 3:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. shift. I go to bed early. I have no idea how volunteers in the later shifts could stay away in the wee hours of the morning. When I arrived around 7:20pm, I saw a long line of people with their shopping carts, bicycles, pets and other belongings up against the building. It was already freezing outside but they had to wait until all the volunteers were ready inside.

So, I went inside and stood around feeling pretty stupid and useless until our shift’s crew leader, Pam, assembled us all together, showed us around and told us how things operated. She told us that each guest got a number and a bracelet like the kind you get at the hospital. They had to leave their shopping carts and other large items outside, and then got a large plastic bag with a blanket in it to use when they went to sleep. I looked around a large room and saw thin, narrow mats like yoga mats lined up in long rows.

I got assigned to the hot beverage area, a long table with large containers of hot decaf coffee, and hot water for tea and bullion. Two of us in that area also had to clean off tables where people ate, and also straighten out piles of donated jeans, sweaters, coats, gloves and hats. It was easy. Other volunteers had to keep the bathrooms cleaned, check people in and monitor the crowd outside.

Pam had told us about guests with incontinence problems and said adult diapers would be available. One man named Dave clearly had this problem. Both his pant legs were deeply soiled. We had been told to offer to help such people like Dave, coax them to take a shower and put on clean clothes. But I was afraid when I saw him and didn’t do anything.

Other guests finally complained about him smelling so bad. Pam asked a couple of men to help her convince Dave to get cleaned up but they declined. I saw her walk over to where he was laying on a mat but he was apparently asleep and she left him alone.

As people checked in and got their blankets, the room quickly filled up with people claiming their mats on the linoleum floor. Some of the people clearly suffered from mental disorders of various kinds and degrees, such as paranoia and schizophrenia. Some paced around the tables while others sat and laughed and talked to themselves. One man believed he was the owner of the Raiders and spent hours trying to corral garbage bins and other items into one area of the room for the football team. He yelled at me when I told him he couldn’t take an entire box of knitted hats away from the clothing area. To distract him I offered him a pair of clean socks I found and he sat down on the floor to put them on. Then I saw he had a flexible cast on one leg which he laboriously unwrapped and then wrapped up again. When not on his crusade to keep things safe for the Raiders he was quite pleasant and coherent.

Warming Center at frmr DOE Building

As I tried to stay busy, I remembered a recording a fellow KMUZ volunteer made of a woman at the Polk County Connect saying that she had been afraid of homeless people but then came to realize they were just people like everyone else. I kept those words in mind as I talked to guests. I offered to help them find pants in their sizes, or talked with one man about dry skin after he showed me the deep cracks in his chapped fingers. I accompanied one lady to the bathroom because she was afraid someone was hurt inside.

At one table, a group of Latino men laughed and talked. It was nice to see the warming center a spot for laughter and socializing. Someone had given them a cake at “the bridge” which I assumed to mean the Marion Street Bridge, and they seemed to be enjoying themselves as they talked and passed out slices of cake. I assured them I’d clean up after them which I gladly did. At another table, a young couple sat close to one another sharing a container of Ramen noodles they had heated up with the hot water. They huddled together at the table with their hoods and jackets tightly cinched and closed. They looked cold, and tired to the bone. After they ate their meager dinner, they kissed briefly and that kiss seemed more sad than sweet.

At 10 p.m., the lights dimmed. Most of the guests were already settled on their mats, some even in some semblance of night clothes. I watched one woman writing in her journal and her male companion reading a book. Some guests snored and others fidgeted and complained about their neighbors.

Center volunteers continuously walked up and down the lines of mats, often settling minor disputes and asking people to quiet down. Around the front door, some guests had a last smoke before trying to get to sleep and others kept going outside, worried about their shopping carts.

I was grateful when my shift was over but felt vaguely guilty as I got into a car, blasted the heat and then drove to my “warming center,” a home I found conspicuously well heated when I got inside. Other than keep sugar bowls full and tables clean I felt I did very little to help the guests out in any meaningful way. I was grateful they were able to get out of the cold, and grateful for the more experienced social workers in the room who were able to work with them on a more one-on-one basis.

I certainly had no say, nor input into the welcoming center, nor did I do anything to help get it started, staffed or stocked with a myriad number of donated items. Still, I was a bit sad at the narrow, thin mats the guests slept on, and how close those mats were placed together. It seemed heartless that the guests would be back out into the cold in the morning. It took the city of Salem and social service organizations weeks to get this temporary facility open and running. I’m glad it was available, but it’s hardly any kind of solution to the large number of homeless people outside in the winter. What will it take for something more permanent or at least more comfortable?

--Sarah Rohrs

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

PTTF: Agenda for Mtg 10

Senior housing and community voices will be featured in the Task Force's second-to last meeting this coming Monday, along with further discussion of what, if any organization will be implementing the Task Force's strategic plan, now in the final stages of development.

There's a new category of recommendations (now being referred to as "proposals") called "at-large", which "By invitation" is going to be presenting -- or that's what the agenda says, anyway.  It's anybody's guess what those terms mean in this context.  If anyone knows, how about leaving a comment for the benefit of the rest of us.  Update 1/22/17:  On Friday, 1/20, staff distributed to the MWHI Task Force and interested persons the list of proposals the Task Force will be considering, referred to on the list as "strategy recommendations."  Among them are "at large" proposals attributed to Northwest Seniors and People with Disabilities, Dr. Hal Boyd, the City of Salem, Marion County, and the Willamette PACE Team.  (The recommendations from CANDO and the Veterans Committee are, once again, not being put before the Task Force, and at this point, never will be.)  There's very little, if anything, new in this list.  Along with the proposals, staff distributed a memo titled "Homelessness in Salem" from the Steve Powers (Salem City Mgr) to the Mayor/Council.  This memo is the source of two of the "at large" proposals by the City of Salem (sobering station and one-stop resource center).  Neither the proposals or the memo have been posted to the TF web page.  The memo is posted below, with a few items that might be of particular community interest highlighted.

[Update 1/23/17: third set of recommendations (to be considered at today's meeting) posted below.]
[Update 1/24/17: added links from materials posted to TF website.]

[1/23/17 Update:  the third set of recommendations (a total of 20) (distributed by email on 1/20) have been pasted below, renumbered to follow the second set adopted in December, and the the first set, which were adopted in September.  The highlight indicates the recommendation is new, i.e., was not included in Karen Ray's list of proposed recommendations.  See a summary of recommendations here.]

Minutes 1/17/17

January 17, 2017

Bruce Hoffman, Chair
Woody Dukes
Brock Campbell
Michael Livingston,
Vice Chair
Bob Hanna
Bill Holmstrom
Sarah Owens, Secretary-Treasurer
Neal Kern
David Dahle
Erma Hoffman
Rebekah Engle

p=present a=absent e=excused

Residents: Hank Stebbins, Rob Uplinger
Organizations: Andrew Tull, 3J Consulting, Inc; Dan Edwards; Brian McMahon; Alan Alexander, Salem Parks Foundation
City and County Representatives: Officers Kevin Hill and Josh Edmiston, SPD  
Guests: none

The regular meeting of the CanDo Board of Directors was called to order at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 17, 2017, at the First Christian Church at 685 Marion Street NE, Salem.  The Chair and Secretary-Treasurer were present.

The minutes of the November meeting were approved by unanimous consent.

Officer Hill reported that the holiday season downtown was thankfully uneventful and that during the recent periods of severe cold, his officers were actively looking for residents living outside, under bridges and on the street to move them into the shelters and warming centers, often providing transportation.  

The Chair reported that Councilor Kaser had written the board to say she could not be present for the meeting but would attend in February.  (Note: her email included information about several  community events, including the Salem Reads program, the City’s strategic planning open house, and the appeals to LUBA of the Council’s decision to expand the Urban Growth Boundary.)

There followed presentations by Alan Alexander about the good work of the Salem Parks Foundation, and by Andrew Tull, Dan Edwards and Brian McMahon about “Emerald Garden Estates”, a new memory care and independent living facility being planned for 901 Front Street NE along the Willamette River.  The plan calls for the 2-building, 98,000 sf facility, which will require a conditional use permit, to replace warehouses on 3.88 acres and be oriented toward the river.  The plan also includes some form of public right of way along the river on the west side of the facility, and from Front Street to the river along Mill Creek. The board was generally receptive to the plan as presented.         

There being no other business before the board, the meeting should have been adjourned at 7:04 p.m.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Beyond the PIT Count

Marion and Polk Counties are preparing for the 2017 Point-in-Time Count.  

Out in Polk County, they're getting ready for another Polk Community Connect event.  They're also going to hold a community forum on homelessness on January 19 out in Dallas (same location as the Connect). 

The PIT Count exists because the federal government seeks to allocate resources based on data.  To help us understand how we as a community might better meet the need for data, we've been corresponding with Jimmy Jones, who told us the PIT Count methodology used in Marion and Polk Counties, needs some attention.

He pointed us to Yakima County, WA, and "a pretty good story about the struggles Yakima County has had in getting good PIT Count numbers.  He said their population is about 250,000—which is smaller than what we have in Marion-Polk (about 400,000).  He told us, "It’s a very rural county in most regards, and getting folks in a central location to count them has been a struggle—not unlike what we’ve seen outside the urban footprint here in Marion-Polk." 

He also told us that, nationally, the counted homeless population in an urban area is between about .3 and .6 percent of the total population, and that using those figures, Marion-Polk should be counting between 1,200 to 2,400 homeless -- which are the “hard homeless”, meaning people living outside or in shelter.  He said, "assuming Marion-Polk has a roughly low-to-moderate rate (let’s say .38 percent), we should expect to count about 1,520."
"The actual number of 'hard homeless' is very likely closer to 2,000-2,200.  A full picture of homelessness in Marion-Polk would include people at all levels of vulnerability."  (Vulnerability is measured using intake assessment tools with names like "Vulnerability Index - Service Provider Data Assessment Tool" and "Vulnerability Assessment Tool", about which we've blogged previously.)

And, he said, for every "literally homeless" individual (Category 1 below), one should expect to find another in Category 3 or 4.

"I think we can say that, at any given point, there are between  4,000 and 4,500 homeless folks (under all definitions) in Marion-Polk, which would make the homeless exactly .1 percent of the total population, which is a very conservative and reasonable estimate."

Jimmy also told us that Yakima has managed to cut their numbers considerably for several reasons:
  1. They embraced coordinated entry and created a homeless network provider service.
  2. They partnered with the housing authority, which gave them 100 vouchers for homeless clients,
  3. They developed a good diversion plan, which targeted non-chronic populations (of temporarily homeless folks). 
If Jimmy has anything to say about it, Marion and Polk providers will be soon be embracing coordinated entry and working collaboratively to improve the way they deliver of homeless housing and services.  But, to do that, they require data.  To start with, they require data to demonstrate need, both the type and the severity, and data to support the allocation of additional resources.

But, good PIT Count numbers aren't sufficient to do that, Jimmy tells us.  So, since last October, he's been gathering other data by conducting intensive interviews with everyone seeking homeless services in our area.  He's assessed more than 450 residents (both counties), and expects to assess another 1,200 within the year.  You can read about his work and what he's finding here, or you can hear him tell you about it himself, by listening to this podcast of a recent interview with the team of KMUZ's Willamette Wakeup.  We promise that it will change the way you look at our "homeless problem."    

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Hopeless Task Force - Part 3

"There ain't nothin' more powerful than the odor of mendacity"

"What's the smell in this room?  Didn't you notice it, Brick?  Didn't you notice a powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in this room?" 

-- "Big Daddy" Pollitt

Hopeless Task Force Part 1 asked  whether Karen Ray was worth her $20,000 price tag.  Hopeless Task Force Part 2 asked whether the decision to hire her did not, among other things, violate Oregon public meetings laws.  Part 3 explores in more detail the role that deception has played in certain Task Force decisions.

Polk County's letter of resignation gave no reason for the decision to leave.  After Commissioner Wheeler submitted the letter on October 18, 2016, she asked twice, by email, whether her letter had been forwarded to the other members of the Task Force, as she had requested.  She received no reply.  Concerned that sending the letter herself would violate Oregon public meetings laws, she waited.

The news of Polk County's exit reportedly reached Commissioner Carlson on the morning of a large, regular meeting of public officials, and resulted in an emotional "meltdown" strong enough to cause Mayor Peterson to come to her aid.  After a few "there there"s, it was resolved that the Mayors would go to lunch and decide "what to do."  There's no indication in the public record that any of "the team" ever wondered why Polk County had resigned; it was only ever "what to do" about it that concerned them.

11/4/16 Memo
The strategy of "what to do" that evolved over the next several days included tactics already discussed, like refusing to acknowledge the resignation or share it with the rest of the Task Force, avoiding email discussions ("I would prefer not to be using email to talk about issues like these"), stonewalling, and, of course, secret meetings.  They included trying to get Polk County to appoint replacements and looking for reasons that would allow them to ignore the resignation (e.g., "the charter remains intact"), which is pretty much where they ended up -- ignoring the resignation.  And they did it by interpreting the letter on technical grounds as applying only to Commissioner Wheeler, while still refusing to acknowledge its receipt.

Confused?  Here's what happened.  On October 28, 2016, Commissioner Carlson sent a letter to all the Polk County appointees (except Commissioner Wheeler), introducing Karen Ray and letting them know she would be facilitating the November 7 meeting.  Of course, the letter also let them know, indirectly, that as far as the leadership team was concerned, they had not resigned.

That same day, Commissioner Carlson sent the Mayors a draft of a memorandum "to be presented to the task force for approval at the November 7 meeting."  Although its subject line was "Update", the memo made no reference to any resignation, and stated that "representatives from all jurisdictions continue to be engaged."  The only hint of an "update" was the removal of Commissioner Wheeler's name from the letterhead.  Mayor Peterson's comment on the memo:  "It is perfect."

The Polk County team conferred about what to do.  On November 2, Steve Bobb sent staff an email confirming his resignation.  On November 7, Heidi Mackay did the same, and Carlson acknowledged receipt of her email at 9:22 am.     

That evening, during the discussion of the memo, Commissioner Carlson told the Task Force that Heidi Mackay had not resigned, that she and Sheriff Garton "just couldn't be here."  She said it by way of "clarification", when Jon Reeves, aware that the memo was in response to Polk County's leaving, asked to know the reason.  Here, below, is what they said:
Jon Reeves:  "I just wanted to say I appreciate the broad stroke coming from the co-chairs, and I don't necessarily have any concerns with the wording of the document that we're putting forward, but...seeing that we have only one...of our Polk County representatives here...I'm just curious how we intend to address that, because we've made a commitment to have both Marion and Polk Counties included...Partnership to me is about the people who are at the table...and it's very important to me that we ensure that those individuals are somehow brought back to the table in some capacity...they came to the table for a reason, and left the table for a reason, and it would be nice to make sure we understand what that is...I have not heard from any of these folks why they would walk away."

"If I could clarify."
Janet Carlson: "If I could clarify.  Jennifer resigned.  Steve Bobb sent in his resignation recently.  Heidi Mackay has not resigned.  Sheriff Garton has not resigned.  They just couldn't be here tonight."

Reeves: "It's two meetings in a row, though, so it feels like it's related."

Carlson: "Right.  So, we have reached out.  Lisa has contacted all of the Polk County members.  We have talked with the Commissioners of Polk County, Craig and Mike Ainsworth, and their legal counsel, to affirm that they have not rescinded their charter, so we clarified all of that.  It's really up to their jurisdiction to determine if they're going to appoint replacements...we are pivoting to implementation, and there will be opportunities in the implementation process to move forward.  That would be my clarification.  So, do we have a motion on the floor?"

At which point, the ever-credulous Warren Bednarz, seemingly completely unaware of what had just happened, changed the subject, and the curtain was drawn on the window of opportunity through which truth and accountability might have shone.  The motion to adopt the pointless memorandum passed unanimously, without further inquiry or discussion of Polk County's reasons for "walking away", or the implications of that for Task Force or its work, and the meeting continued, facilitated by Karen Ray at a cost of about $200/minute.**
If it needs to be said, Polk County left because they knew the Task Force was a hopeless waste of time as long as Commissioner Carlson was allowed to dictate what was to be done, by whom, when, and how she wanted it, which is the only way Janet Carlson knows how to do anything.  Polk County left because they know you have to "start as you mean to go", which means if you want people to collaborate, you can't be dictating what they should be working on, etc., and this awareness put them hopelessly at odds with Carlson's methods.  So, very sensibly, they left.

The fault here was not entirely Commissioner Carlson's.  As elected officials, her co-chairs had individual moral, ethical and legal responsibilities to at least try to live up to, rather than take the path of least resistance.  Only one of them did that.

As for the other Task Force members, they must consult their own consciences, hopefully every time they encounter someone living in poverty and loneliness in the woods out in the county, or on the streets of Keizer or Salem.  At the same time, we have no doubt that, in agreeing to serve, they did not envision having to take on Commissioner Carlson, in addition to the problems of homelessness.

The provider community and the general public also bear some responsibility for the hopelessness of this Task Force.  They/we did not  interest ourselves enough in what the Task Force was doing or how, did not speak out forcefully, and did not bring pressure to bear on our public officials and colleagues to try to influence the situation for the better.

If there's a lesson here, it's that the provider community needs to get its act together.  How many times did we hear it said in Task Force meetings that Salem's non-profits don't coordinate?  That "[t]hey may all be trying to do the same thing, but they're battling each other."  We heard it over and over, "They're all battling for the same dollar, and some of them do the same thing, but they don't coordinate."  If Mayor Peterson had had a competent commission or coalition of service providers overseeing homeless housing and services delivery in Marion and Polk Counties, do you or anyone think for a minute she would have pushed the Public Safety Coordinating Council to undertake this hopeless task force?  The answer's no, because she wouldn't have needed to. 

So, if you providers don't get your act together, you're going to be visited by another top-down commission, initiative or task force, wasting its time trying to figure out how to "help" you, but mostly just wasting your time and the community's resources.  So, please, providers, no more hopeless task forces.  Come together and work things out so we don't have to keep doing this.  Build a functional coalition of service providers here in Marion and Polk Counties.

[Update 2/1/17: following the 1/23 announcement that Karen Ray would be facilitating the last meeting, we inquired of the County about the terms of that service.  We learned yesterday that Ray's contract was extended from 12/31/16 to 2/18/17.  Assuming she takes another 90 minutes at the February meeting, her per minute rate would be only $100/minute.]

[Update 3/30/17: Commissioner Carlson denies any impropriety here and more on Polk County's decision to leave the Task Force here.]

Monday, January 9, 2017

Salem's Social Spending

Former Ward 6 Councilor Benjamin

"The Council needs to find out who's getting the [City's social service] funds and what they're supposed to be doing with it."

                     --Daniel Benjamin, August 2015

The holidays are over, and it's the time of year that area housing and social services providers who've applied to the City of Salem for funding start getting anxious, as the Urban Development Community Services and Housing Commission (CSHC) begin reviewing and ranking their applications.

Funding recommendations are usually completed in February and thereafter incorporated in a draft Annual Action Plan.  In May, the Plan's approved by the Council for submission to HUD.

Despite the public nature of the review/approval process is, it's not all that easy to follow where this money goes, as Councilor Benjamin's comment indicates.  You really have to want to do it.

This blog attempts to detail the funds that were awarded last May, and are being spent now until they run out, or through the end of June if they hold out.  Prior years' funding decisions were discussed briefly in a previous blog, and the process, or some of it, explained in another.  Somehow, last year's awards seem more relevant now than they did last May, what with the new mayor and the community expressing a heightened interest in homelessness, the homeless Point-in-Time Count just around the corner, and HCSC gearing up to deliberate on this year's applications. 

The money's really not all that hard to follow, once you start paying attention.  You will notice, for instance, that the same organizations and programs tend to be funded year in and year out.

It used to be that there were two advisory boards to review applications, but now there's just one -- the CSHC.  Last year, CSHC had about $2M to allocate among all the applicants.  That was $643,090 in HOME funds and $748,579 + $201,950 in CDBG funds, plus another $398,000 from the City of Salem General Fund.  The funds allocated by CSHC are always divided into two big pots.  Think of the biggest pot being for housing and economic development, the smaller pot for social services.    

The Big Pot

The 2016-17 pot for housing and economic development was about $1.4M ($643,090 in HOME funds and $748,579 in CDBG funds).  As best we can determine based on minutes, staff reports and the Annual Action Plan, $440,710 of the $1.4M went to rehab Jason Lee Manor, a senior housing facility; $340,000 went to rehab Shelly's House, a women's transitional reentry housing facility; $320,000 went to Salem Interfaith Hospitality Network for a tenant-based rental assistance program called "Fresh Start"; $125,790 went toward Salem Housing Authority's South Fair apartments to convert under-used daycare space into two housing units; $30,000 went to operate Catholic Community Services Foundation's Community Housing Development Organization, and $288,770 went to four "economic development" programs to provide technical assistance to 32 small businesses, 9 people welding training and job placement, and at least 6 small business loans.  The balance went, we think, to administrative costs and reserves.

The Small Pot

This is the pot Councilor Benjamin wanted to know about.  The pot that concerned Mayor Peterson  August 2015, because it goes to social service agencies that, in her mind, "draw people into the downtown area" and yet "don't feel a sense of responsibility for the result" (panhandling).  Put another way, this is the pot that some see as a giant handout for which there is no accountability.  

2016-17 pot for social services was about $.6M ($398,000 in General Funds and $201,950 in CDBG funds).  Of the CDBG funds, the Center for Hope and Safety received $87,990 (case management), Congregations Helping People received $56,480 (subsistence payments), and Salem Interfaith Hospitality Network received $57,480 (case management).  Much of the General Fund allocation went, as usual, for case management: Mano-a-Mano received $30,000, Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency received $30,000, St. Francis Shelter received $30,000, and Northwest Human Services - HOST received $35,000.  In addition, NWHS received $110,000 for their crisis hotline, Marion/Polk Food Share received $142,000 for food, and Congregations Helping People received another $20,000 for subsistence payments.  This distribution is pretty typical. 

2017 Competition

As the CSHC prepares to make its 2017 recommendations, it will have substantially less to work with from the big pot.  Recall that last fall, the City Council committed $400,000 in 2017 HOME funds to Mountain West's affordable housing project on Portland Road.  Tonight, they will commit another $500,000 in 2017 CDBG funds for the Salem Housing Authority's affordable housing renovation of Yaquina Hall.  Investing in affordable housing is definitely what the City needs to do, but this does leave only about half a million in the pot for other projects, including tenant-based rental assistance.

2015-19 Con Plan Goals
Given the City's Consolidated Plan priorities, which places  promoting economic development above ending homelessness and providing affordable housing, the tenant-based rental assistance project could well be in jeopardy.

Recall Jerry Moore's observations last November and December, that, among Salem's non-profits, "it's survival of the fittest.  They may all be trying to do the same thing, but they're battling each other, and they're not really coordinating amongst themselves."  And recall Jon Reeves and Bruce Bailey, directors of Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency and Union Gospel Mission, nodding in agreement when he said that, and Commissioner Carlson and Mayor Clark laughing as if someone had just said something funny.

Recall, finally, Reeves saying, "It's not just the non-profit organizations.  If the government doesn't change its practice, if our local jurisdictions don't come to the table in a different way, we're never going to get anywhere with this issue."  It would have been helpful for him to have said what, exactly, he meant by that, but he didn't, and, typically, no one asked him.  But let's guess he was calling for government to hold non-profit housing and social services organizations accountable for the resources entrusted to them, which would include requiring them to collaborate, which is demonstrably not what they're doing now.  That would be a good start.

It's too late this year to incorporate preferences and performance measures -- the applications are all in and the review process has begun.  But it's not too late for next year.

The Oft-Ignored Duties of the CSHC under SRC Chapter 20G
As it happens, the City Council has already charged a commission to carry out this sort of function -- the CSHC.  No entity is better positioned to know the strengths and weaknesses of  programs, or use that knowledge to favor the most effective/collaborative, than the entity responsible for resource allocation.

So why has the CSHC not been seen to be fulfilling these duties?  The Commission was never even mentioned in MWHITF proceedings, much less consulted as to the "social service needs of the community", or the efforts it's attempted "toward exchanging information for the purpose of coordinating social service delivery systems..."  That's partly because it hasn't actually done those things, but followed in the footsteps of its predecessor, the Social Services Advisory Board, who also failed in this regard, because they claim not to have the time.  Imagine the Planning Commission trying to get away with that.   

It comes down to this.  The real reason the CSHC hasn't fulfilled its duties is because City staff and the City Council haven't required them to.  Maybe, that's some of what Mr. Reeves meant -- that government has to change its expectations of housing and social services providers by asking more of boards and commissions like the CSHC, on whom they depend to do what would otherwise be their work.

If the CSHC requires more guidance from the Council to get them started, then the Council should give it to them.  But, unless the Council asks the CSHC to fulfill all its duties under SRC Chapter 20G, the CSHC is probably going to continue to meet only its "minimum requirements" as dictated by staff.  If the Council isn't willing to work with CSHC to raise the standards of its work, it probably doesn't need another commission, either.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Hopeless Task Force - Part 2

The Leadership Team

"[T]he leadership team is not making recommendations to the task force on substantive task force matters."  -- Gloria Roy, Marion County Counsel

Hopeless Task Force Part 1 asked whether the decision to spend $20,000 to hire Commissioner Janet Carlson's good friend Karen Ray was a good one.  Part 2 will look at how that decision was made, who made it, and its effect on "substantive task force matters."

Marion County records obtained through a public records request show, unsurprisingly, that it was Carlson who, on her own, contacted Ray late last summer, and asked her to submit a proposal for a personal services contract.  On September 9, 2016, Carlson wrote:
Hi Karen - Thanks so much for your proposal! I've edited [sic] to make sure we're in synch with the factual pieces (edits attached).  My plan is to send a revised draft, once I get it back from you, to the other three conveners for their review and feedback.  Then, assuming they like the concept, we can move forward.
One of the "edits" Carlson made was to take out "any references to me, or anywhere where I am separated from the other three conveners.  I think we will avoid sensitivity if we just talk about the conveners and staff generally."  (Emphasis added.)  In other words, even as she was aware that the other three conveners might not, in her words, "buy into this", she was trying to make it look like a team effort, so as to avoid "sensitivity." 

Carlson was also concerned about the $25,000 price tag.  That's right, the original proposal was for $25,000, but that amount exceeded the "sole source" cap, and would require a deliberative public process.  So Carlson asked her friend, "Any way you could scale the proposal down to [$20,000]...?"  As is now known, her friend obliged, thus allowing Carlson to avoid additional "sensitivity."

It was not enough.  Carlson was unable to persuade her co-chairs, particularly Commissioner Jennifer Wheeler, of the need to go out-of-state or pay $20,000 for services she, Wheeler, knew very well were available in the community and probably for free.  Wheeler especially did not like the idea of the co-chairs making the decision for the Task Force.  She thought the matter should be brought before, and decided by, the Task Force as a whole.  So, the proposal did not move forward.

Not until the next meeting, which Wheeler could not attend.  Then it moved forward.

On October 4, 2016, Carlson informed Ray,
The co-chairs agreed to move forward with your contract and are excited to work with you towards a strong implementation plan for the future...And since Jennifer could not attend yesterday's meeting, we appreciate your offer to set up a time to visit with her by phone to gain her perspective.
Of course, by "co-chairs agreed" Carlson meant a majority of co-chairs, because Wheeler never agreed to move forward. 

That is how the decision to hire Karen Ray came to be made, and by whom.  Now we will look at its effect on "substantive task force matters."  

Carlson's October 4 announcement that the co-chairs had agreed to move forward with Karen Ray's contract included notice of two leadership team meetings with Ray.  On October 6, 2016, Wheeler replied, 
Regarding the proposed upcoming conversations with Karen Ray, I feel that those conversations would be crucial to have before the entire task force as a whole, not just the leadership team.  I do not see the benefit of attending a leadership team meeting with Karen Ray and would rather utilize my time and her time before the entire task force. 
Wheeler's reply received no response.  She eventually decided she'd had enough.  She conferred with the Polk County team, and, on October 18, 2016, she submitted a letter of resignation on behalf of the Polk County appointees by email:
Lisa, Please forward the attached memorandum to all members of the task force.  I will be forwarding the minutes of the last Veterans Sub-committee with recommendations later this morning.    
"Lisa" forwarded Wheeler's email and letter, but only to Carlson and the Mayors, who would ultimately decide --in secret-- not to acknowledge the letter's receipt, forward it to the other members, or notify them that Polk County did not intend to participate in future Task Force proceedings.  As the other members of the Task Force did not know what had happened, they were prevented from taking any action in mitigation.  As a consequence, the Task Force lost four of its members (Irma Oliveros decided to continue participating, but only as a representative of the Salem-Kiezer School District), the Veterans committee (chaired by Wheeler and Steve Bobb) and the voice of Polk County on the Task Force.

Would any disinterested person believe that these are not "not substantive task force matters"?

We will never know whether Karen Ray would have been hired or Polk County have left the Task Force if the leadership team had opened up its meetings and deliberated in public, but we would at least know why the leadership team made the decisions it did.  As it is, we can only make educated guesses.

One thing we do know, however, is that the leadership team is not merely recommending strategy, they're deciding strategy, and yet they're still being allowed to conduct their meetings in secret.  They maintain they can do that because they're not a "governing body" or a subcommittee, thus proving to anyone with a brain that they're not as interested in "inclusivity" (or collaboration) as they pretend to be.  

From the MWHITF's "Public Meetings Summary"
This account illustrates, among other things, the role that deception has played in certain Task Force decisions.  That theme will be explored further in Hopeless Task Force Part 3. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Does Salem Need a Homelessness Commission?

The Salem Breakfast on Bikes blog  reports that homelessness ranks high in the list of concerns that Salem residents want the City to address, according to a recent phone survey.

The survey also said that, "When asked in an open-ended format what issue is most important for city leaders to address, 21% mentioned an issue relating to housing or homelessness.  This is a 13 percentage point increase since this question was asked in May 2016." 

The survey results have not, as far as we know, been published can be found here (SBOB was given a copy by "a reader"), so we don't know when in December the survey was conducted (Update: see SBOB's comment, below).  However, the increased concern between May and December is pretty predictable, being attributable at least in part to the onset of cold weather, charitable holiday activities, and media attention.  Happens.every.winter, and dissipates every spring.
Statesman Journal

Salem has a new mayor.  According a recent interview with him on KMUZ's Willamette WakeUp and the Statesman Journal, our new mayor is thinking of creating a commission on homelessness.  Does Salem need another commission?  Can such a commission replace, enhance or coordinate any of these existing and nascent organizations? 
  1. Rural Oregon Continuum of Care (ROCC) - sponsored by HUD CoC Program area grantees; 2 hrs monthly (+ committees)
  2. ROCC Region 7 - sponsored by MWVCAA; 2 hrs monthly
  3. Marion/Polk Community Network for Veterans -  sponsored by MWVCAA; monthly
  4. Emergency Housing Network (EHN) - sponsored by Salem Housing Authority and UGM; 1 hr monthly, originally a committee of Marion and Polk's CoC, now for area homeless housing and related service providers
  5. Salem Housing Advisory Committee (SHAC) - sponsored by City of Salem; 1 hr monthly
  6. 6 Polk Service Integration Teams (SITs) - sponsored by Polk Co, Salem Health, School District;  each 2 hrs monthly, all community service providers
  7. Marion Service Integration Teams - Northwest Human Services, Salvation Army, Shangri-La and Salem Health have all expressed serious interest in forming a Salem SIT; a planning meeting is scheduled for January 10, 2017.
  8. Salem Homeless Coalition (SHC) - sponsored by St Mark Lutheran Church; 1 hr monthly
  9. Home Base Shelters of Salem (HBSS) - supported by MWVCAA; meetings of the board of directors vary
  10. Salem Urban Development Community Services and Housing Commission (CSHC)  - sponsored by City of Salem; 1-2 hrs monthly 
  11. Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative Task Force (MWHITF) - sponsored by Marion County and Cities of Keizer and Salem (formerly involved Polk County); 2 hrs monthly through February 2017

SRC Chapter 20G
The CSHC (No. 10 above) is charged under SRC Chapter 20G to execute certain duties that it does not currently fulfill.  Would those duties be given over to the new commission?  Why? 

Salem's Ward 1 has a new councilorShe also takes an interest in homelessness, but her interest, according to the Statesman Journal, is in "tackling homelessness in the downtown area", taking "action as opposed to planning for a silver bullet solution."  What "action" does she have in mindWhat did she mean by "silver bullet solution"?  Does she intend to take action through existing organizations such as the CSHC?  Is she talking with the mayor about his homelessness commission idea?      
Statesman Journal
Governor Brown told the Statesman Journal that our new mayor "gets how government works" and has priorities that include affordable housing and the needs of the homeless in Salem.  We think that is just very good news.  It's high time we had such a mayor.  And, we are also very encouraged to know that our new Ward 1 Councilor has similar prioritiesBut please, please, please, before we start taking action on a problem, let's do something different.  Let's give the problem "Tree Commission" treatment: let's take our time to make sure we thoroughly understand the situation, have all the necessary conversations, and give lots of notice and opportunity to be heard.  Yes, we want action, but more than that, we want effective action.  The City is a hugely important piece of the solution to Salem's problems in providing effective homeless services delivery, so it's hugely important that we "start as we mean to go" by taking a comprehensive approach, no matter how good it might feel in the short term to "do something" immediately.  Been there, done that, doesn't help.