Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mayor Announces Ambitious Plan for Chronic Homeless

This is a very complicated issue, but let me tell you, what we will begin doing in Salem, as a result of this work by Mr. Wilch and his staff, I hope will make you proud, both of our ability to solve a problem, and our humanity when we solve it.   

--Chuck Bennett

Finally, a mayor who understands how to use City resources.

Today, in his first State of the City address as Mayor, our former Ward 1 Councilor Chuck Bennett asked the City to join him, City staff, and area providers as they set about to end chronic homelessness in Salem.  In his words:

Perhaps the most vexing problem that cities face is housing the homeless. Solutions around the country, and even in nearby cities, have been, essentially, to declare defeat, and decide that it is acceptable to have these residents live in tent communities in the public right of way, parks and neighborhoods.  We're not following that path.
I hope we can have a better vision here in Salem.  Three weeks ago, I asked our Housing Authority Director Andy Wilch [SHA Administrator] to come up with a program to house the most difficult people in our community to house.  He and his staff met with me Friday and presented their work product, and I have to tell you, I'm very excited about this project.
Remember, these [SHA staff] are the people who have moved many hard-to-house people off the streets this year [already]...There are estimated to be in excess of 500 people on Salem's streets in this category.  These are the homeless we most commonly see sleeping on sidewalks, on benches, in parks and under bridges.  These are the most difficult people to house from among our estimated 1,500 to 2,000 homeless people in Salem.  And these are also the most vulnerable among the homeless.
This is a very complicated issue, but let me tell you, what we will begin doing in Salem, as a result of this work by Mr. Wilch and his staff, I hope will make you proud, both of our ability to solve a problem, and our humanity when we solve it.    
We're going to initiate a homeless rental assistance program...we are going to find these people a room, a house or an apartment.  We are developing a sophisticated data file on every homeless person inside Salem, to begin to better serve their needs. We'll provide case management services in health, mental health, addiction services and life skills. Many of these people are in very serious health conditions, many are suffering from untreated, often severe, mental health issues, and a very large percentage are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Again, these folks are the hardest to house among our homeless people, and we will continue to work with these folks, aimed at long-term housing.  Frankly, it's time to recognize that compassion without action is just...observation.  The time for study of this issue is long past.  We have the resources.  It's not going to raise your taxes.  We're not going to take [resources] away from the police or fire [department] or the library.  This is marshaling resources that already exist.  The expertise is there -- we don't have to hire new people.  All the expertise exists among our staff, as well as our collaborators in this effort.
We'll be led by the City and its partners to focus on this issue.  We've set a goal to focus on a hundred of these -- until now, hopeless, and I really mean hopeless -- cases.  Please don't leave thinking this isn't an aggressive goal.  These are absolutely the hardest cases on the street...There will be a temptation to retreat from this mission.  If we can stick it out, we can save and change lives that are now considered hopeless.  I hope you will join me in this effort.   

Also today, Marion County Commissioner Carlson made to the other two Commissioners basically the same MWHI Task Force presentation she made Monday night to the Salem City Council.  Among the variations between the two presentations was that this morning, Carlson said that the City of Salem was interested in implementing a "Real Change" (anti-panhandling) program (it was not mentioned at the City Council meeting).

Speaking about the proposal to put a project manager in the MWV Council of Governments to oversee implementation of the Task Force's strategic plan, Carlson said Mayor Bennett "jumped on the idea and said he thought it was a great idea" (not mentioned at the City Council meeting, nor did the Mayor seem all that enthusiastic Monday night). 

She said she and Mayor Clark had "talked to each of the jurisdictions...about setting aside some funds so we can jump start this project manager position over at the COG", but did not mention the $40,000 each from Salem and Marion County that she referred to at the City Council meeting.

Carlson said the project manager would report to an executive team made up of the executive directors of various agencies and "jurisdictions who would help guide the process" and "oversee the implementation, for example, the housing authority directors, the Community Action director, the Union Gospel Mission director, those people would be key in helping guide that work because they're the ones that are providing those services."  (UGM's and MWVCAA's directors were on the Task Force, so they might have consented to this, but it's doubtful any other agencies or "jurisdictions" even know about this plan.)


When Carlson asked for questions, Commissioner Cameron wanted to know what to expect to receive in the way of "reports."  Carlson said she couldn't yet say.  In a typically rambling response, she said she suspected that Salem and Marion County combined provide "the lion's share" of resources for the homeless, and that "thousands of people are housed in the City of Salem every day in programs by the Housing Authority."

Commissioner Brentano said he sensed Commissioner Carlson's concern, and didn't want to offend, but he didn't know "what we're signing on for.  We need a better picture of the real dollars and the commitment long term that you're looking for, so, there's a lot of that's what I'll be looking for."  He also said that he was "always concerned about setting up programs that attract others to come into the area...I don't want to become the Mecca for homelessness.  I want to take care of our own, but not expand it."  In another rambling response, Carlson talked about Eugene's camping programs, and the HBSS proposal for a camping program in Salem or Marion County, and indicated her belief that neither owned a suitable parcel.   

It's worth it to watch the video of Mayor Bennett's address.  The part quoted above begins somewhere around 25'. 

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