Friday, March 3, 2017

News from the Continuum

Morningstar Community Church
In case you missed it, there was a Big Meeting of the Rural Oregon Continuum of Care (ROCC) last month, right here in Salem, at the Morningstar Community Church.  We knew about it because we were invited to attend, but when we got there, we were told we were not welcome.  We were, of course, disappointed, but not surprised, on account of our daring to suggest Marion and Polk Counties might be better off re-creating our own CoC.  See here, here, here, here, here, here, and here According to reports, there was a lot of cool data and resources and information presented during the 2-day meeting, which begs the question why they wouldn't want that information to get out into the community.  (We were told it would be shared, but, one month later: nothing.)  No reason was ever given for closing the meeting, and neither the staff, nor the board (who defer to staff) seemed to care that closing the entire meeting for no reason violated ROCC's guiding principles, as stated in its bylaws.  "We're a not a legal organization", Jo Zimmer told us by way of explanation, "we're fake!"  In other words, unincorporated associations don't have to adhere to their bylaws because they're "not legal."

And they wonder why some of us are thinking ROCC is not quite up to the job of ending homelessness.

Also (reportedly) discussed at the meeting was ROCC's "rebranding" itself as the "Oregon Balance of State CoC."  If that seems a little like arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, it nevertheless has the ring of truth.  It's not hard to imagine them really believing, "There's nothing wrong here, but maybe we need to disassociate ourselves from the community's perception that there's something wrong and we might do that by changing our name."  However, "rebranding is notoriously difficult, especially with businesses that have an established identity and history", to say nothing about rebranding to anything like, "Oregon Balance of State CoC."  

Team Toilet: Anna, Gary, Tim, PK, Darlene, Verena
Also in case you missed it, after 18 months in service, the two Arta Potties behind the Bishop building and at the corner of Front and Court Streets have been put in storage with Ace Chemical Toilets (there's still one in the parking lot of the First Congregational Church, though).

The reason given for the removal was overuse.  "We simply need all 7 placed, not two or three potties. We have had long morning lines to serve", organizer Rebecca Courtney told us.  "We...have just formed a new partnership with "Partnerships in Community Living, Inc...this way we can provide tax deductions and receive the non profit $$, meeting the city requirements" [for a $4K grant/loan authorized last spring.]

There's a little more information here about the organizers getting more people involved and renegotiating the terms of the City's $4K loan/grant, but no real information or plan has emerged.  According to the Salem Weekly article, "Interested people can make tax-deductible donations to Partnerships in Community Living’s 'Arta-Potties' account. Funds will be used to purchase more potties, art installment and weekly cleaning from the project’s continued partner, Ace Chemical Toilets."

Salem Fellowship of Reconciliation 2/26/17 Mtg Ad 
Home Base Shelters of Salem in recent weeks appears to have moved on from advocating with the City to allow tent camping in secure sites to "developing micro-housing."

Towards the end of 2016, HBSS members met with the City Manager about their proposal to provide secure tent camping facilities for select homeless adults.  Mr. Powers reportedly told them that the City did not have any property/parcels that would be suitable for their project, which the City was not all that keen on to begin with.  HBSS received a similar message at a meeting with Marion County Commissioner Janet Carlson, according to her oral report at the February 15 meeting of the Marion County Board of Commissioners.  Consequently, it seems, HBSS is reworking their proposal, and their image, as "a group dedicated to developing micro-housing."  According to statements made at the February meeting of the Salem Homeless Coalition, HBSS intends to return to City Council some time this month, or perhaps April.

[3/5/17 Update: according to the summary of HBSS's micro-housing plans here, they "have a prospective village site in Marion County outside high-density urban residential neighborhoods and retail commercial areas."  Seems like it's going to be hard for folks living out in the county, especially if they've been assessed by ARCHES as "highly vulnerable" as the summary suggests, "to actively work to develop the community connections, knowledge and skills necessary to secure more stable shelter", not to mention "participate in the Salem community by providing weekly volunteer service."  Also, $12K annual budget seems low.][Update 3/8/17: website taken down. Per HBSS, the new info was published prematurely.]

The extended period of sub-freezing weather in January, boosted by social media, raised awareness among Polk County residents of their unsheltered and inadequately housed neighbors, culminating in a community forum attended by about 80 members of the community and area providers.  One result of that gathering could turn out to be a Dallas-based Interfaith Hospitality Network modeled on the Salem IHN directed by TJ Putman, in which volunteers host homeless families overnight in church classrooms for a week at a time, while the parents work on finding housing, employment, etc., supported by a case manager.  The program's claimed 100% success rate will be hard to reproduce, though, without also screening families for criminal histories and active substance abuse issues, and having a well-funded tenant-based rental assistance program. There was an informational meeting about the IHN in Monmouth last Thursday called, "Supporting Families Back on Their Feet", but we haven't yet heard how that went.

There was something new at the Polk Community Connect event in January, an acknowledgement that reproductive health care qualifies as a basic need.

We volunteered at the Connect, and also tabled for KMUZ Community Radio.  Our table was next to the Planned Parenthood table, which allowed us to observe the many people who visited it to ask about the wide range of services PP offers, including general health, transgender counseling and advice about STDs, like what to do when one partner is being treated and the other isn't (one question of many along those lines that we overheard).  Other visitors to the table wanted only a handful of mints and/or condoms, which were about equal in popularity.  Several others, including a couple of OHSU nursing students, commented to us how gratified they were to see the PP table at this Polk County event, indicating they, too, thought it a valuable service to participants.
PP Welcome Here, Not in Salem

But, if you were expecting to see a PP table at the Salem-Keizer Community Connect this year, you'll be disappointed.  They weren't allowed last year, either.  The event is sponsored by Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, the Salem Leadership Foundation, Cherriots, Salem First Baptist Church (host), the United Way and Profund Northwest.  The City of Salem supports the dental van(s) with a $2K grant.  We're not sure which one(s) of these was unwilling to "Care.  No matter what", but it's too bad they were allowed to decide for everybody else.                 

The Polk Connect took place the same day as the Marion and Polk Counties' Point-in-Time Count.  Preliminary (oral) reports on the PITC results suggest we will not see large increases in the numbers counted, despite additional efforts on the part of MWVCAA staff and others to "get out into the county" this year.  MWVCAA did not publish a  2016 report (though they have in years past), but we asked for their data, and based on that, last year's count was 857.  Jimmy Jones, with MWVCAA, has been collecting data on Marion and Polk Counties' community's homeless population since August of last year.  He estimates that there are now, in Salem alone, about 2,000 people experiencing homelessness.  MWVCAA recently asked Jimmy to take over the direction of its Community Resources Program (which includes the ARCHES Project), and he will be speaking to the Salem City Club about his research on March 17.

from the December 2016 SHA Program Management Report
Updates on a couple of Salem Housing Authority's programs.  The RAP for vets with SMI is reportedly doing well.  According to ARCHES staff, "we are off to a good start.  Sara Webb runs that program for Linda [Strike], and she's very committed to the cause and a very talented person generally. We're finding new vets to be screened every day, and I would say we have a pretty good data picture of what the vet issues are in the community, even only 5 months into the game."

Still, "it's hard to gauge the relative effectiveness of any program this early in the game. You get a lot of false positives until you have a full data set to examine.  We'd need a year of entry, and then be able to look at how many we assessed, how many then got a mental health screening, how many were offered assistance, and how many were able to lease up. Then we'd need to know how many were successfully housed after a year, and so on."  In other words, they're just getting started.

Funding for the program to house Salem's chronically homeless announced by the Mayor in his State of the City address on February 15 will be going before Salem's Citizens' Budget Committee some time in April or May.  We've not seen any "official" statement of the plan/program yet, but Salem Housing Authority staff are engaged in planning, and Housing Administrator Andy Wilch told the Salem Housing Advisory Committee last week that long-term success in ending chronic homelessness will require the community to adopt a "uniform approach with coordinated access", a message consistent with experience nationwide and HUD guidance.  The  Mayor reports he will be meeting with Wilch and City Manager Steve Powers "soon" to plan next steps.  If you want to hear more about these plans, tune in to KMUZ on Tuesday morning, March 7, for Mayor Bennett's monthly visit with Willamette Wakeup (8 am on KMUZ 100.7 FM in Salem).   

Finally, you may have heard that the assets of the Marion County Housing Authority are being transferred quietly to other appropriate agencies, and the MCHA will be "no more" within in a few months.  This is generally believed to be an efficiency move that is unlikely to have any adverse effect on its clients.  If anyone has information to the contrary, please be sure and drop a comment.    


  1. Salem Weekly did article on meals...

    1. Thanks, Dan, we saw that, but it didn't mention issues raised previously by UGM and this memo from the City, so we were waiting to write about it until we'd given the City and UGM a chance to comment.