Sunday, April 30, 2017

News from the Continuum

Revised: January 2019

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Photo Courtesy
The Salem Housing Authority (SHA) this month completed the purge/update of its Housing Choice Voucher (aka Section 8) waitlist that we reported on a while back.  As expected, the waitlist has been reduced substantially -- from ~9,000 to ~3,660, and the wait has been reduced from >3 years to around 2 years.  That reduction, along with the proposed modifications to the PHA plan, is likely to inspire more households to put their names on the list and cause the list to grow again.

The proposed PHA Plan modifications are intended to lower some of the barriers that low income households in this area have faced in trying to access public housing assistance.  They include standardization of criminal history criteria, changing the definition of "family" to include an individual person and changing the waitlist preferences from a points-based system, to date and time plus local preferences.

SHA is not proposing to modify  existing local preferences, which include referred veterans, chronically disabled homeless individuals, households victimized by domestic violence and homeless households (see left).        

The Statesman Journal is reporting that Home for Heroes, WestCare's 30-bed facility for homeless veterans (located where the former Salem Outreach Shelter used to be before it closed in 2013) will be opening "soon." 

ROCC meets monthly by video-conference.  This is a typical meeting.
In other SHA news, Pamala Garrick, SHA Grants Coordinator, was elected to the ROCC board of directors at its April meeting.  At that meeting, the ROCC, aka OR-505 Balance of State CoC, also voted to adopt "basic HMIS policies" to support implementation of a system of coordinated entry in each of its regions by HUD's January 23, 2018 deadline.  Judging by the directors' comments and questions, during the meeting, there is not universal enthusiasm or buy-in for this project, which is supposed to begin May 1st, and basically just expands the "system" that MWVCAA and Jimmy Jones are trying to implement in Marion and Polk Counties, without noticeable success.

Whether everyone on the ROCC board even understands what a coordinated entry system is, remains to be seen.  There is still widespread confusion in the community about what ROCC is, and isn't.  This is Keizer Mayor Clark and City Councilor Kim Freeman, both members of the Mid Willamette Homeless Initiative Task Force, talking about the ROCC during a recent work session on the MWHI Strategic Plan (at ~36:00):

Mayor Clark: Talking about the continuum of care, and this is working with the uh, uh, Marion Polk CCO, uh, [makes face] help me with the acronym.

Kim Freeman:  Are you thinking ROCC?  With Jo?

Mayor Clark: Yeah.

Kim Freeman: I know it as ROCC, so, [pause] regional...

Mayor Clark:  That's rural, that's the rural, uhm...

Kim Freeman: Yeah.  

Friday, April 28, 2017

News from the Continuum

Revised: January 2019

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

As of Friday, April 21, there were zero staff employed in Federal Programs Division of the Urban Development Department.  That meant Kristin Retherford, the newish Director of that Department, had the pleasure of presenting the Annual Action Plan to the Council for adoption, after the public hearing on the 24th.  The Council adopted the plan unchanged, per usual.

The vacancies in the Federal Programs Division occurred suddenly, amid worry about whether federal funding streams will slow or dry up. One staff member had been assigned to the year-long  Mid Willamette Homeless Initiative Task Force, which ended in February.  And, the manager, who left to take a position with Catholic Community Services, was married to the Executive Director of MERIT, a frequent recipient of the City's federal grants, which the manager administered.

The Division has something of a reputation for being bean-county, compliance geeks who go to meetings but don't know how to get things done.  Take the statement below, for instance, which comes from the 2017-2018 AAP. 

We go to the local CoC so-called Collaborative meetings (they don't call them that -- they call them the "Region 7 CoC Grantees" meetings).  The only staff we've seen at those meetings are CoC Program subrecipient staff from the Mid Willamette Valley Community Action Agency (MWVCAA), Shangri-La and the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department (OHCS, the state housing agency).  Five or six people, at most, and none of them City staff.  (MWVCAA stopped holding the local CoC meetings in May 2017.)  We very occasionally see SHA staff at ROCC (aka OR Balance of State CoC) meetings, which are not what we would call productive, collaborative or "vital."
12/8/16 Memo
Meals under the Marion Street Bridge (MUBs) continue, as far as we know, seven days a week, unimpeded.  The City Manager's December memo expressed concern about sanitation, duplication and litter.  We've followed up with the City to see if anything had been done about those concerns and received this update from Mark Becktel, Public Works Operations Manager:

Under the Marion Street Bridge
I have checked with our Parks Operations supervisor regarding if there has been any recent improvement in the trash situation under the Marion Street Bridge and adjacent Marion Square Park and he has noticed some improvement.  The food providers seem to be doing a somewhat better job in cleaning up and policing the trash disposal as part of the organized feedings.  There is still a good amount of trash under both bridges and surrounding area, more than is acceptable…but there has been some improvement.  The project to fence in the area under the east end of the Center Street Bridge is being held up by ODOT and may not happen until this summer. 

MUBs volunteers say they serve around 150 to 200 individuals per meal.  It's interesting that the City has "little information on who is providing the meals", when a quick search of Facebook and a glance at Statesman Journal and Salem Weekly archives will tell you it's Dan Sheets, Mother Lofton and friends, Charlotte Barrett and her Bethesda at Bethel Ministries,  Hillary Park of the Happy Bibim Bap House with volunteers from the Korean Church of Salem and various teams and volunteers from the Fellowship Church, the Morningstar Community Church and the East Salem Church.  It's not like they're hiding what they're doing.  They're proud of it.  They believe they're making a difference.  But see "Meals Under Bridge on Shutdown."   

Sunday, April 23, 2017

"Least Likely to Access Services"

Revised: December 2018

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston


Salem PD and Housing Authority Outreach Team
We recently asked Nicole Utz (pictured at left, wearing the backpack) of the Salem Housing Authority to help us assess this community's outreach "to unsheltered households, marketed to and accessible by those least likely to access" services, which  happens to be a HUD expectation.

We asked Nicole, because, as we've written about before, both she and Sonya Ryland (pictured above to Nicole's right) work with the Salem Police Department to build relationships with "unsheltered households" and to extend to them in the field repeated offers of services and housing. 

Below is her response in its entirety.  

To answer your question about “Street Outreach” …. SHA teamed up with Salem Police Department a little over a year ago when we were asked how many “beds” we had available by a Salem Police Sgt. We advised him that we didn’t have any emergency housing, but with our positive outlook – we were willing to help however we could in the field. It was this very informal request that has led to a long term team relationship with the downtown enforcement team to help those least likely to seek resources. We knew if we could impact just one life it would make a difference and in the course – we’ve been able to change many lives for the better.

It was truly eye opening to see how many individuals just needed a voice, a person to speak up for them, guide them in the right direction to help pave the path to a better future for them. So many just didn’t even know where to start to help themselves or they had given up hope. It definitely was not without trust building that we broke down barriers and had to show individuals that we weren’t just another social service worker telling them were to go – but we were there to pave the path for them.

We spent time educating at the camps and made follow up  appointments to those who could make it our offices. If they couldn’t come to us – we made appointments to go back out to them.  We sought donations for transportation needs, socks, gloves, protein bars, snacks, hand warmers, hand sanitizer, coats, tents and sleeping bags. Through the donations, we have built trust a rapport with the homeless community by genuinely being out in their element to help them however we can at the time.

I always carry a Microsoft Surface Pro lap top that has cellular data with me, so that we can help sign individuals up for Section 8 and SHA owned properties in the field. We also work closely with a PH-tech representative that assists us to get individuals signed up with OHP in the field and get immediate access to medical care also.

We comprised a team of two to go out to the camps whenever possible to assist with outreach and provide social services to those least likely to apply. We’ve traveled to camps in Keizer, South Salem, Cascade Gateway, Minto Island, Homestead Rd, K&D Sand and Gravel, the ridge, the bat caves, the hobbit hole, Portland Rd, and the KROC center. We’ve covered a lot of ground multiple times looking for the one person who is willing to change their life for the better that day. This effort has also help train the Salem Police officers on the questions to ask and the services available to help those who need it the most.
This team effort has grown through the last year and we offer our outreach services to Salem Police Department staff at all hours of  the day or night. We often get calls from our Salem Police contact that wants to see what the best options for the individuals an officer has come into contact with during the course of their regular duties. The shift has been amazing – we are seeing more and more SPD staff reaching out to seek assistance on calls to provide resources or set up appointments to have individuals meet with us the next day. We will also respond out in the field if the call for help deems necessary in the moment. In all this – we still go out to the camps whenever to the opportunity arises and maintain our daily workload at the Housing Authority.

Few in the community, aside from those involved, are aware of these outreach efforts.  But we think it's pretty extraordinary, something to be celebrated -- and replicated. 

That happens to be what the Mayor is doing in proposing the City implement his/SHA's Homeless Rental Assistance Program (HRAP), which goes before the Citizen's Budget Committee on May 3.  It's been said that the program is a bold one, but it seems to have a strong foundation. It deserves our support.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

4/18/17 Minutes

Residents: Deb Comini
Organizations: Jeanine Knight, UGM; Evan Osborne, Capitol [sic] City Cycleshare
City and County Representatives: Mayor Bennett; Councilor Kaser; Lt. Treven Upkes, SPD; Kristin Retherford, Urban Development Department;  Rose Walker, Community Development Department.  
Guests: none 

The Annual Meeting was called to order at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, April 18, 2017, at the First Christian Church at 685 Marion Street NE, Salem.  The Chair and Secretary-Treasurer were present.

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

Councilor Kaser reported on the City’s Strategic Planning Project process (still in Phase 2) and that there will be an open house at 6p on June 1st at Broadway Commons.  On April 19, there will be a hearing on the Planning Commission’s recommended code amendments affecting short-term “AirBnB” type rentals, now being offered contrary to existing regulations.  On April 24, there will be a public hearing on replacing Salem’s existing regulations for vehicle for hire and transportation network companies (SRC 30.700 to 30.835) [Background: In August 2015, City Council amended SRC Chapter 30 to allow for operation of transportation network companies, such as Uber and Lyft, within the City Limits (see Jul 2015 Report).] Around the time City Council passed the amendments, Uber ceased operation within the City, and as far as is known, that continues to be the case.  On January 9, 2017, on the Mayor’s motion, Council directed staff to prepare amendments to the Salem Revised Code to accommodate TNCs “business model.”  On March 13, the Council voted to proceed to first reading and a public hearing.  (See Mar 2017 Report.)]   

Mayor Bennett reported that the Homeless Rental Initiative Program (HRAP) will go before the Citizens’ Budget Committee on May 3rd, and, if approved, will get under way as soon as the budget is adopted.  He also reported that the City would soon be setting up a sobering station using mainly police resources, and that progress making all of downtown a railroad quiet zone continues apace.
Lt. Treven Upkes reported on the Community Response section of SPD’s Patrol Division. This section, which he heads, combines school resource officers, officers assigned to “gang-enforcement” unit, the Downtown Team, and the Mental Health Unit (officers assigned to respond to mental health crises in the community).  Sgt. DeMarco heads the mobile crisis response team in Polk County, and Sgt. Vanmeter heads the team in Marion County.  The officers in these units “soft skills” like mentoring and problem-solving to deal with situations that are a problem, but haven’t risen to a criminal level.   

In public comments, Jeanine Knight spoke briefly about UGM’s “Search and Rescue” outreach program that sends two staff and a van out into the county (both Polk and Marion) to make contact with those who might need shelter or services.  Rose Walker said she appreciated CANDO’s work on behalf of the central area.

The neighborhood then heard a presentation by Kristin Retherford, Urban Development Department Director, on projects in the Downtown Urban Renewal Area and the priority areas identified last fall through a series of focus groups (a three-way tie between: streets and streetscape improvements, opportunity purchases and housing [which might dovetail with future opportunity purchases], and continued funding of the grant program).  A working group on the streets and streetscapes was formed this spring.  The scope of work will be completed in June, and a consultant should come on board in the fall.  At that point, the public will be invited to participate in the design phase, and funds should come available in 2018.  She said the project might involve traffic calming/safety measures (e.g. bulb-outs,  landscaping, depending on whether the public are willing to forego some street parking) and making Court and/or State Streets two-way, but will not involve anything that requires changes to the Transportation System Plan.        

After the chair opened the floor for nominations to the Board of Directors, Michael Livingston nominated Neal Kern for re-election and Rebekah Engle nominated David Dahle.  Neal Kern was re-elected and David Dahle was not.  The chair then closed the Annual Meeting, called to order a meeting of the board, and opened the floor for nominations for officers to replace those currently serving.  There being none, the board unanimously consented to re-elect:  Bruce Hoffman as Chair, Michael Livingston as Vice-Chair, Sarah Owens as Secretary/Treasurer.

The motions of Sarah Owens to adopt the proposed 2017-2018 Annual Goals, and of Erma Hoffman to approve retroactively the purchase of the evening’s refreshments, both passed unanimously.

There being no other business before the board, the meeting adjourned at 7:01 p.m.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

News from the Continuum

Revised: January 2019

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Salem Health's Sharon Heuer at the Stayton Info Mtg

It's looking like communities in Marion County are finally ready to give the service integration model a go.  There was solid turnout at informational meetings held this week in Salem, Stayton and Woodburn.  The meetings are the culmination of several months of consultation and planning by representatives from Northwest Human Services, Salvation Army, Shangri-La, Salem Health, the United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley, and Polk County Family and Community Services.  

Communities (defined geographically by their high school catchment areas) have until June 30, 2017 to submit an application to host a pilot service integration team.  A steering committee will select two, one in Salem and one in the County, sometime in July, and the teams would begin meeting in August 2017.  Salem Health will provide a facilitator and funds, and Shangri-La has agreed to provide funds and act as financial agent.  

Also this week, the Mayor visited with the Salem Rental Housing Association at their monthly meeting out in Keizer to ask for their help with the City's nascent Homeless Rental Assistance Program (HRAP).  With the assistance of Salem Housing Authority Administrator (SHA) Andy Wilch, he laid out the problem with the low vacancy rate and acknowledged in the starkest terms the reasons owners might be reluctant to rent their properties to program participants.  After a few polite questions, things turned quite hostile.

The storm began with the woman who said she was concerned about allowing the homeless to "jump the queue" for housing vouchers, and from there moved to a man shouting and gesticulating angrily, "You're a typical policitian!  You think the answer to everything is to throw money at it!  I have to operate my properties like a business! I'm sick of government interference!", and other words to that effect.  He stayed angry, even after Mayor Bennett pointed out that participation was entirely voluntary, inspiring another attendee to shout something about "parasites" who should "get a &%#@ job" and other foul language, all of which he excused by saying he knew "it's not politically correct, but."

The Mayor's response to these (and other) ignorant and hateful comments was steadfast: "We are going to try to house 100 of Salem's hardest-to-house residents.  That is what we are going to do."

The Urban Development, Community Services and Housing Commission (CSHC) also met this week and received a "Title VI and Diversity Training" course from Gretchen Bennett, Assistant City Manager and  Human Rights and Relations/Federal Compliance Coordinator, in response to complaints about  inappropriate remarks made about the Latino Microenterprise Program during deliberations on the 2017 CDBG, HOME and General Fund grant allocations.  (See here.)

After an hour and a half of instruction on the importance of equity and inclusion, the requirements of SRC Chapter 97 and Title VI, the importance of language and the sharing of tips for dealing with regrettable comments (one's own or others'), Bennett began wrapping things up by observing how diverse a city Salem was.  She said Salem was, per capita, more diverse than Portland, with 27 different "cultural hubs."  Sure enough, this prompted Curt McCormack, whose comments had necessitated the training and who'd not spoken during it, asked, "Is that because we're the state capital, and we have the state penitentiary here?"

The Affordable Housing, Social Services and Homelessness work group (Bennett, Andersen, McCoid Cook, Wilch) also met last week, for the first time, to begin to "develop potential solutions, strategies and goals" to recommend to the full Council at their retreat on May 6.  The work group's goals (all of which have to do with the City's Strategic Planning Process) are 1) to develop potential solutions, strategies, goals; 2) to discuss the City's role and which departments will execute same; and, 3) to develop recommendations.  Staff said meetings will continue, after the retreat, through October, to "flesh out" their recommendations.

Most of the discussion of affordable housing strategies was about incentives (e.g., non-cash tax exemptions and bonus density and surplus property programs).  The Mayor and Councilors Andersen and McCoid signaled a willingness to rely on SHA Administrator Andy Wilch for recommendations and basically ignored Councilor Cook's repeated concerns that any recommendation should include provisions to ensure livability, sidewalks and street crossings to connect schools and parks and business, access to affordable transit, grocery stores, etc.  The subject then turned to social services and homelessness.   

After a brief and literally unmemorable introduction, all seemed to agree that the time was ripe to form, or re-form a local CoC.  A "leave" recommendation will be headed to the Council retreat, along with a recommendation to fund HRAP and all or part of a sobering center.  There was no discussion on the sobering center, which made the cut because the Mayor wants it, or on the need for a Homeless Initiatives Coordinator, which wasn't even mentioned.   

To get the sobering center, however, the City must agree to support Commissioner Carlson's coordinator position.  That's why the proposed budget (at B2) includes that $65,000 "enhancement." 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

News from the Continuum

Revised: January 2019

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

As of the end of March, there were more than 9,700 families on the Salem Housing Authority's waiting list for Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher assistance.

The majority of households on the list include children, and more than 90% have less than $20,000 annual income. Because the list is so long (the oldest application is from 2014), SHA undertook recently to conduct a "purge."  That entails notifying all households on the list to renew their application in writing.

Those who don't reply by April 10 (because, say, they've not kept their mailing address current, or they're no longer seeking a voucher) will be removed from the list.  By the end of April, SHA should have a more realistic picture of just how many households are currently seeking vouchers.  According to SHA staff, the list has not been purged for many years (>15).

Strategic Plan Workgroups
Salem Housing Authority Administrator, Andy Wilch, will be leading the City's Strategic Planning work group on Affordable Housing, Social Services and Homelessness, according to an announcement at the March 27 meeting of the Salem Housing Advisory Committee (SHAC) and the City's Strategic Planning webpage.  Wilch, along with Councilors Andersen, Cook and McCoid, will conduct several public meetings beginning mid-month, and report along with all the other committees at a retreat in May.  A community open house is planned for June 1.

There is no plan to coordinate the work group with the work of the MWHI "Transition Team", which is holding a meeting at the MWV Council of Governments on April 20.  Meeting invitees include Janet Carlson, Cathy Clark, Mike Ainsworth (COG Chair), Jon Reeves, Shaney Starr, Chuck Bennett and Steve Powers.

At the Legislature:  HB 2240 proposes to eliminate landlords' ability to evict problem tenants on 30 days' notice.  The Salem City Council's legislative committee recommended opposing HB 2240 on the advice of the Salem Police Department.  The law would also make it more difficult to persuade landlords to rent to "hard-to-house" tenants like the ones that will be targeted by the SHA's proposed Homeless Housing Assistance Program (HRAP).  However, at the Council meeting on March 27, the Council failed to agree, and so did not take a position one way, or the other.  Some say HB 2240 has no chance of passing, so it doesn't much matter.  The bill is still in committee.

2016 Citizens Budget Committee
The Homeless Rental Assistance Program (HRAP) will come before the Citizens' Budget Committee some time this month, or perhaps in May.  So far, we're not hearing anything but reasonable questions about the program.  It's important, though, that the Committee understands that the HRAP is not one project -- it is many, and it is long term.

It's the City's first big commitment to permanent supportive housing, it's the beginning of a coordinated entry system, it's expansion of the use of ServicePoint, it's the early beginnings of a coalition of service providers to the homeless, it's hopefully the beginning of a culture shift in the community's approach to homelessness, and it's the groundwork that will allow the area to form a CoC independent of ROCC.

In other words, HRAP is or could be the beginning of a systemic approach to our problems of homelessness. It's going to require a genuine commitment from the community, so everything needs to be above board, because people need to understand the challenges, so expectations can be managed.   

Finally, the Urban Development, Community Services and Housing Commission (CSHC) is planning to take a refresher course on what's commonly referred to as diversity and inclusion, after certain inappropriate remarks were made about the Latino Microenterprise Program during the course of their deliberations on how the City should allocate 2017 CDBG, HOME and General Fund grants.  Commission Member Curt McCormack's question/comment:

One of the things that troubled me...are they training these folks to have a business in Mexico?  And I ask that because they're mainly teaching in Spanish, and if they're going to have a business here, maybe you can help me understand this [directed to the only Latino member of the Commission], if they're going to have a business in Salem, I think they would really need to learn English.  One of the problems I have at the food bank, and out of necessity I've learned some phrases, but I see the same families coming in, over and over again, and they refuse to learn English.  

The other Commissioners sat silent while Arturo Vargas, their only Latino member, "put on" his "Mexican-American hat" (as he put it) and responded patiently to McCormack.  None of the other commissioners was willing to confront McCormack on his racism (some would say subtle racism).  The decision to take a refresher course, including coaching on how to confront subtle forms of racism effectively in public forums, came only after a complaint from the public (us).