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.     

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