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.

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