Sunday, April 30, 2017

News from the Continuum

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 awhile 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."  It appears that referrals to the program will come from The ARCHES Project, a program of the MWVCAA.

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, which now appears to be calling itself the "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 being built  by MWVCAA and Jimmy Jones for Marion and Polk Counties.  In fact, it's not entirely clear whether everyone on the board even understands what a coordinated entry system is.  Not surprising, given so few seem to understand what the ROCC is.  This is Keizer Mayor Clark and City Councilor Kim Freeman, both members of the MWHI 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.  
Keeping up with things is not always easy.  City staff seem to be having a hard time keeping up with the City's Strategic Planning Initiative process.  This is perhaps understandable, given there's never before been a City-wide initiative quite like it, and the process moved into committee (workgroups) just as the City's new website was going live.  But, information-sharing is crucial to trust-building and buy-in.  There's really no excuse for not sharing meeting materials before, or at least at meetings.  Even less excuse for not sharing afterward when asked nicely to do so, but that's been our experience with the workgroup on Affordable Housing, Social Services and Homelessness.  To be fair, SHA staff turned in meeting materials and the workgroup's recommendations promptly, expecting they would be promptly posted, but they weren't.  Why staff weren't willing to share except by posting through the website is anyone's guess, but it seems unreasonable and counter to the strategic planning mission. 

Meeting materials for all workgroups were finally posted late Friday afternoon.  Workgroup  recommendations, which will be considered at the upcoming City Council work session (next Saturday, May 6, 8:30 to noon), have not yet been posted.  The recommendations should be, must be, specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound, as the strategic plan will define the City's commitments, especially its commitment to its homeless housing and services plans, for the next five to seven years. [Update 5/3/17: the staff report and links to documents containing workgroup recommendations can be found here.]

Friday, April 28, 2017

News from the Continuum

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.  Our comment on the plan can be found here, and detail on the  awards recommended by the CSCC here.  The Council adopted the plan unchanged, per usual.

The staff vacancies in the Federal Programs Division could not have come at a better time.  Despite having wasted a year on the MWHI Task Force (one of the Federal Programs Division staff was assigned to the Task Force), and all the legitimate worry about whether federal funding streams will slow or dry up, the City has a tremendous opportunity to fill these positions with something more than bean-county, compliance geeks who go to meetings but don't know how to get things done.  Not saying that the prior staff were bean-county, compliance geeks who went to meetings but didn't know how to get things done, necessarily, but they might've been on that spectrum.

Take the below statement, for instance, which comes from the above-reference 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 ones we've seen at those meetings are CoC Program subrecipient staff from 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.  We very occasionally see SHA staff at ROCC (aka OR Balance of State CoC) meetings, but no matter who is present, the meetings are not what we would call productive, collaborative or "vital."  They are meetings for the purpose of being able to say one is meeting.

So, like we said, there's a tremendous opportunity here for the City to find talented people who'll actually get out in the community and bring people together to solve problems, begin to break down silos, and start building trust.   You know, walk the talk that's in the AAP?  But, beyond the AAP, the City needs creative, outgoing staff in the Federal Programs Division who understand and speak the language of collective impact, and not just superficially, either.  We've had too much focus on compliance and are too satisfied with our so-called action planning and strategic planning.  We need staff experienced in collaboration and team-building, in addition to being able to count the beans.  

Proposed "Enhancement" in the City Mgr's Budget

Speaking of staffing, the "transition team" of the MWHI Task Force appears to be counting on the Salem City Council to come through with funding for the "project manager" to oversee implementation of its strategic plan, before they go any further with planning, according to some attending their meeting on April 20.  The public was not notified of the meeting, which took place at COG, but some members of the public found out about it, anyway.  Attendees included Hitesh Parekh, Cathy Clark, Janet Carlson (on the phone), Karen Ray (on the phone), John Reeves, Shaney Starr, Nancy Boyer, COG's executive director, Steve Powers, Salem's City Manager. 

"The team" still expects to house the position in the Council of Governments (COG).  COG wants a formal proposal, with a commitment of around $120K for salary/benefits (FTE), rent, incidental expenses and a telephone, less if the position is part time.  There's $65K for the position in the City Manager's budget (under "enhancements"), but no guarantees it'll be funded.  There was also no commitment from Marion County or Keizer.

The Marion County Board of Commissioners received the plan with cool skepticism when Commissioner Carlson presented it to them on February 15.  Keizer's City Council received it with slightly more interest when Mayor Clark presented it on April 24th and told them that "the City of Salem and Marion County are both budgeting funds for the first year."  She said Keizer needed to put some "skin in the game", and that she would be asking for $5,000.  Polk County, readers will recall, dropped out of the Task Force proceedings last fall, and the assumption seems to be that they're not likely to want to contribute. 

Mayor Clark's statement that Salem is, with respect to this COG position, "budgeting funds for the first year" was not entirely accurate.  The Council might do so, but no one showed any excitement about the strategic plan when Carlson presented it to the City Council on February 13th, and no one advocated in favor of plan implementation at the recent meeting of the Affordable Housing, Social Services and Homelessness strategic plan work group.  We believe that, rather than commit limited resources to the COG position, the Council would do better to put any resources it has toward the sobering station and Homeless Rental Assistance Program (HRAP), which will actually do some immediate good and save the City money in the long term, as providing safety and healthcare services for those living in the streets is extremely costly.

In any event, some councilor is going to have to move the $65K Homeless Initiatives Coordinator item  into the budget at the May 3 Citizens' Budget Committee meeting.  That's also when the  aforementioned sobering station and HRAP will be considered.  The budget will be adopted on May 15, and the "transition team" is due to meet again in June. 

12/8/16 Memo

Meals under the Marion Street Bridge (MUB) continue, as far as we know, seven days a week, unimpeded.    Readers might recall a memo from the City Manager last December expressing concern about sanitation, duplication and litter.  We recently followed up with the City to see what, 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. 

MUB 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.  

We suspect one reason the City hasn't engaged the MUB folks directly is they aren't prepared for the conversation.  They can't threaten enforcement action.  The police have said, in essence, "Don't give us a task that doesn't fix the problem."  In other words, we're done moving the problem along.  But,  whatever the reason might be that the conversation is not happening, the City should work to get beyond it, to establish relationships, points of contact, and build respect if not trust with these groups, because they're not going away as long as people show up.  The City and MUB (and UGM, for that matter) have the same goal, after all, which is to minimize or eliminate the demand for MUB.  On that note, it will be interesting to see what effect, if any, the HRAP has on MUB and UGM numbers, assuming it is funded.     

Sunday, April 23, 2017

"Least Likely to Access Services"

Salem PD and Housing Authority Outreach Team
As consensus to leave the ROCC (aka OR Balance of State CoC) grows in the provider community, some of us are trying to put together a baseline assessment of our "local continuum", to get a sense of how high (or low) a Marion-Polk County CoC might expect to score in a HUD evaluation, if and when we do form our own CoC.  As part of that effort, we asked the Salem Housing Authority's Nicole Utz (pictured at left, wearing the backpack) of the Salem Housing Authority to help us assess the community's outreach "to unsheltered households, marketed to and accessible by those least likely to access" services (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 SPD 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.  (We're posting this without her permission, so we might have to ask forgiveness, but we think it's worth the risk to bring you her exact words.)

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.

How many in our community, aside from those involved, were aware of these outreach efforts?  We're guessing very few.  These people are just doing their jobs, right?  Well, maybe, but it feels like something out of the ordinary, something to be celebrated and built upon.  In fact, that's just 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 these people clearly know what they're doing, and what they don't know, they'll learn.  It's true the program won't be easy to implement successfully, but that's nothing new to SPD or the Salem Housing Authority or their service partners, who are clearly committed.  The HRAP program deserves the community's sustained commitment and 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

Salem Health's Sharon Heuer at the Stayton Info Mtg

One Step Forward

It's looking like communities in Marion County are finally ready to give the service integration team 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 cachment area) 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 United Way will provide funds and act as financial agent.  

Two Steps Back

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) (see here).  With the assistance of Salem Housing Authority Administrator 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, who'd made the comments originally complained of, and who'd not said anything during the training, asked, "Is that because we're the state capital, and we have the state penitentiary here?"

One Step Forward

The Affordable Housing, Social Services and Homelessness workgroup (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 workgroup'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.

Interestingly, there was no one there from Home Base Shelters of Salem, whose website's been dark for several weeks.  Their absence from such a significant meeting would seem to suggest the plan to partner with the City to develop a Eugene-style Rest Stop program has been abandoned.  If it's not been abandoned, they've certainly missed an opportunity to influence the City to move in their direction. 

The discussion of affordable housing strategies centered, if at all, on 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 Salem Housing Authority 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.  Happily, therefore, it seems that a "leave" recommendation will be headed to the Council retreat, along with a recommendation to fund the HRAP, referred to above, and all or part of a sobering center.  

So, while the math says we're just where we started one step forward, two back, one forward), it feels like we're moving forward, and, for once, we seem to be moving in the right direction.  We're not even that worried that the proposed budget (at B2) includes a $65,000 "enhancement" for a "Homeless Initiatives Coordinator" (which, by the way, the workgroup did not even discuss).  Of course, readers will know that spending $65,000 just so Janet Carlson can say her MWHITF's strategic plan did not end up on a shelf somewhere would be a tragic waste of resources.  The good news is, we think the City Council knows that, as well.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Not on Target: Salem's 2017 Action Plan

This entire document is a single Comment on the the draft 2017 Annual Action Plan (The Plan), prepared for the City of Salem and issued March 15, 2017.  
The Annual Action Plan is supposed to provide a yearly update of jurisdictions’ proposed community planning and development action steps and priorities for the next program year.  This Comment is concerned with the narrative portion of The Plan as it relates to the goal of  ending homelessness. Like our Comment on the City of Salem’s draft 2016 Annual Action Plan, it is concerned only with the narrative, and assumes, without endorsing, the appropriateness of the most recent funding recommendations, the accuracy of The Plan’s financial statements, and the correct application of program-specific requirements.   
In this year’s Plan, the City has attempted to address the concern expressed in our Comment on last year’s Plan about the lack of specificity regarding its efforts to coordinate the community response to its housing/homeless problems.  This additional information is helpful and necessary to citizens wishing to understand the actions that are being taken on their behalf in this area.  But, the question remains whether or not these efforts are sufficient to address the problems in Salem’s homeless services delivery system, considering the resources the City has available to it.    
For years, the City’s approach to its housing/homeless problems has been limited to selecting (with the advice of the Urban Development, Community Services and Housing Commission [CSHC] and its predecessor entities), well established, individual grantees to provide stop-gap solutions to problems, tolerating, if not encouraged, their working separately and in competition, evaluating their performance in isolation, and “working with…key agencies…to better coordinate housing, health, mental health, prevention of homelessness, and social services in the City of Salem” through networking meetings and conventional bureaucratic processes.  (Plan at 7.)
This approach had contributed to what Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative (MWHI) Task Force member and Salem Police Chief Jerry Moore calls Salem’s "survival of the fittest” culture.  As he puts it, Salem's non-profit homeless service providers “may all be trying to do the same thing, but they're battling each other, and they're not really coordinating amongst themselves."  Why?  Largely because their funders, including the City of Salem, reward that behavior.  They certainly haven’t required them to do anything else.
To quote another MWHI Task Force member, Jon Reeves, the Executive Director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency (MWVCAA), which is the City’s “lead agency” responsible for coordinating with the “Continuum of Care”, the non-profit organizations are not the only ones responsible:  “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 [homelessness].”
So what must the City do to “change its practice”?  First, the City needs to acknowledge the limitations of its mainstream partner organizations and structures and examine its role in those relationships.  
For instance, the “collective goals established through the Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative strategic plan” likely will not “help in providing a more coordinated approach to assisting individuals experiencing homelessness both on the agency level, local government level, and regionally.”  (Plan at 8.)  One has only to read the plan to realize what a disorganized, unstrategic and uncreative mishmash it is.  There’s not a single area provider, executive or field staff who is excited about the plan’s implementation, or thinks the Task Force was anything other than a waste of time and resources.  The entire Polk County contingent concluded (on the record) after six meetings that the Task Force was “pointless”, and dropped out.   
The “Continuum of Care” is an even less reliable partner.  According to the Plan, “The Continuum of Care is a community-based long-range planning organization…”  (Plan at 8.)  But that’s just what the Continuum of Care is supposed to be.  Salem’s continuum of care organization -- called the Rural Oregon Continuum of Care (ROCC),  or sometimes the “Balance of State” CoC -- is a loose association of 28 mostly rural counties that Salem, Marion and Polk County merged into in 2011.  It is staffed by one, part-time, consultant/coordinator who is nominally employed through Community Action Partners of Oregon (CAPO), which exercises no influence over the ROCC’s activities.  The association is, in a word, dysfunctional, disorganized, and rapidly deteriorating.  On a HUD rating scale of 0 to 200, the ROCC consistently scores well below (last year, 117) the weighted average median score earned by other CoCs (last year, 160).  Since joining the ROCC in 2011, the Salem area has lost hundreds of thousands of federal homeless assistance program funds, even as its chronically homeless resident population has swelled to more than twice the national average.  The Plan’s claim that Salem can expect its future consultations with the ROCC to result in “ the ability to better leverage funding in the future” is just counterfactual nonsense.  (Plan at 23.)  Salem’s membership in ROCC has only made it less able to “leverage funding.”  
Within the ROCC are seven regions.  Salem is in Region 7, along with the rest of Marion and Polk Counties.  The Plan refers to Region 7 as “the local CoC.”  The organization responsible for coordinating “the local CoC” is MWVCAA (see ORS 458.505 et seq).  Despite this responsibility,  MWVCAA, by its own admission, has never managed to extend its coordination efforts with respect to the local CoC beyond their monthly grantee meetings.  This is partly due to their tendency to overextend out of an apparent desire for “visibility” in the community, resulting in poorly planned and poorly communicated projects (e.g., Home Base Shelters of Salem and the Warming Centers).  Despite being to some extent aware of these problems, MWVCAA remains siloed (“silos within silos”, according to its Executive Director), unable to bring about any real or lasting impact, and just as much a participant in the local “survival of the fittest” culture as any other local organization.  They can’t even be relied on to provide the City with accurate PIT Count data.
So, if networking meetings and conventional bureaucratic processes will not transform these organizations and the culture that supports them, if implementing the strategic plan developed by the MWHI Task Force is doomed because of the flaws in the plan and the resulting lack of buy-in, and if a continuing association with the ROCC will only dilute Salem’s successes and weaken its efforts, what should the City be doing differently?  We have three suggestions.
For years, the Plan has claimed that “City of Salem City staff has been meeting with key community leaders to implement a "’Housing First’ model that would mirror the prevalent permanent supportive housing best practices approach. This includes: Resource mapping to identify all community resources currently flowing into the housing and social service delivery system; leveraging Section 8 vouchers, SHA resources, local and federal funds in a comprehensive way to provide maximum benefit to target populations; changing housing capital resource allocation processes to ensure integrated, outcome-based investment strategies; and creating new programs utilizing existing unrestricted market housing units as the backbone for implementing a ‘Housing First’ model. This includes creating financial and non-financial incentives to participate.”  (Plan at 24.)  In previous years, there was no real truth to the statement.  This year, however, the statement is partly true.
This year, the Salem Housing Authority Board of Commissioners gave tacit approval to the proposed Homeless Housing Assistance Program (HRAP), which would, for the first time ever in this community, target resources toward stably housing our chronically homeless residents.  This program, which has been called “smart”, “bold” and “courageous”, would be the community’s first, and only, to follow the “Housing First” model.  But it must be funded, and not just for the coming fiscal year, if it is to have lasting impact.  Salem should make the HRAP part of a strategic and long-term commitment to a systematic approach to homelessness that includes reexamining how Salem allocates funds through its Federal Programs Division, partnering with Marion and Polk Counties to develop a shared coordinated entry system and a coalition of service providers to the homeless that can compete effectively for HUD Continuum of Care Program funds, engaging the support of landlords, property managers and the wider business community, and monitoring outcomes.  Even though there is no mention of them in the Plan, efforts to accomplish these objectives are already under way, and the City should get behind them.   
The Plan claims that “[t]he City of Salem in conjunction with the Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative is evaluating if there could be wider participation in the use of [ServicePoint,] the [Homeless Management Information] system [used in Oregon] across the four jurisdictions of the City of Salem, City of Keizer, Marion County, and Polk County.”  (Plan at 9.)  However, it is not “evaluation” that is required here, but education -- and action.  For years now, the City could have been and should have been promoting wider participation in the use of ServicePoint by giving preference points to programs that use it and requiring its use as a condition of social-services-related funding.  Widespread use of a common database is critical to the development of an effective coordinated entry system and to the City’s ability to measure/monitor outcomes.  Therefore, the City should dispense with further “evaluation”, especially with the MWHI, and immediately begin promoting wider participation in ServicePoint in the two-county area.    
The work of the MWHI Task Force having been concluded, and with a new Mayor and City Council poised for action, the time is ripe for the City of Salem, in consultation with Polk and Marion Counties, to get serious about creating their own “continuum of care” organization.  Therefore, the third thing the City could and should do, together with Polk and Marion Counties, is determine which of the three is best suited to take on the role of  “backbone” in a re-formed Salem, Marion and Polk County Continuum of Care.  Once that’s decided, appropriate staff should be authorized to begin -- in partnership with a coalition of service providers to the homeless -- the planning and preparation needed to fulfill the “backbone” role in a local continuum.  The groundwork, like the groundwork for a coordinated entry system and the expansion of ServicePoint, is already under way at the community level.  The City of Salem just needs to support these community efforts by convening the affected government entities and facilitating a decision.  It’s appropriate for the City to take on that role, as the City has the greatest concentration of homeless residents and service providers, and it has the resources.  We hope the City will consider all these suggestions with appropriate urgency and ensure appropriate steps are taken as soon as practicable. 

[Update 4/20/17: the City's Response and our response to the City's Response, below.]

Sunday, April 2, 2017

News from the Continuum

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've not replied by April 10 (because, say, they've not kept their mailing address current, or they no longer seek 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).  SHA wait times.

Strategic Plan Workgroups

Salem Housing Authority Administrator, Andy Wilch, will be leading the City's Strategic Planning workgroup 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.  The retreat is, presumably, also public, unlike the planning retreats of the Rural Oregon Continuum of Care board.  According to Councilor Kaser, a community open house is planned for June 1.

Also this month, there is a planned and as-yet unannounced meeting of the MWHI "Transition Team" at the Council of Governments.  Invitees include Janet Carlson, Cathy Clark, Mike Ainsworth (COG Chair), Jon Reeves, Shaney Starr and Steve Powers.  Mayor Bennett, who's invitation was sent to his old email address, is looking into the situation, but, as of now, there is no plan to coordinate the business at COG with Wilch's workgroup.  However, if the City intends to participate in implementing the MWHI strategic plan, the workgroup needs to include those plans in their deliberations.  You would think this would be obvious from the fact that both involve the City and something called strategic plans. 

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 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 beginning of a coalition of service providers to the homeless, it's 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, the HRAP is 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, and so expectations can be managed.  That includes the City being clear about its intentions with respect to implementing the MWHI strategic plan.  If, as it appears, the City has backed off its public statements of support at the MWHI Task Force's last meeting, let's just get that on the record, so the City can move forward with its strategic planning.     

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.

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 then allowed their only Latino member to "put on" his "Mexican-American hat" and respond.  None of the other commissioners was willing to confront their fellow on his racism (some would say subtle racism) at the time.  Hence, their subsequent resolve to take a refresher course, including coaching on how to confront subtle forms of racism effectively in public forums.

We think, one day, society will look back at its attitudes and behaviors toward people experiencing homelessness, and wonder how they were allowed to continue as long as they were.  However, we also think Salem's attitude and behaviors toward those experiencing homelessness is beginning to change, so let us blow on the coals of these fragile beginnings, and keep the flame alive.