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. 

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