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.

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