Thursday, May 25, 2017

Salem Weekly: Fact Check

March 16 Cover Story
A couple of months ago, Salem Weekly did a piece about a Willamette WakeUp report on the Mid Willamette Homeless Initiative Task Force that aired in January 2017.

To be clear, the piece was merely print media reporting statements from radio media.  Or, as Weekly put it, "This story is limited to presenting some of the remarks made on the January 17, 2017 KMUZ WWU Tuesday morning broadcast, and Marion County’s response."

Marion County's response to the January report, as reported by Weekly, was that Commissioner Carlson and her Public Information Officer, Jolene Kelly, "look forward" to "having the opportunity to 'correct factually inaccurate information, and answer questions by the show hosts regarding the task force.'"

In fact, however, Carlson and Kelly were given  the opportunity to come on the show and answer questions, but chose not to pursue it after their first scheduled appearance was cancelled because of a power outage at the studio.  Perhaps this was because the day the Weekly published its cover story, another radio station interviewed Carlson about the KMUZ report, fact-checked by yours truly, here.  Whatever the reason, they chose not to reschedule.










Clearly, "Marion County" has had both the opportunity to respond and responded.  That, apparently, wasn't enough for Salem Weekly, who this week published yet another story on the KMUZ report, this one headlined, "Commissioner Carlson responds to accusations."  To call it pandering would be an understatement.

The two-page piece purports to be a follow up to Weekly's March cover story.  It states, "Carlson agreed to speak with us about the work and procedures of the [Task Force]."  Below are the more salient "accusations" discussed therein:  

"Hiring Karen Ray" 

 

Weekly: "The radio show team...said Ray and Carson were friends."

The KMUZ report referred to Ray as "her friend, they had worked together in past years." Carlson told Weekly that Ray was "a colleague from before", whose work Carlson "admired", and "actually wrote her doctoral dissertation on one of Ray's books."  Does Carlson's assertion, if true, make the KMUZ factually inaccurate?  You decide.

Weekly: "The radio show team...said Ray's hiring...to do work a qualified volunteer could have done was contrary to the directive to co-chairs that they limit themselves to administrative actions."

What the team said was, "Carlson was unable to persuade Co-Chair Polk County Commissioner Jennifer Wheeler of the need to go out of state, or to pay $20,000 for services that Wheeler suspected very well were available in the community, and probably for free", and "the County Counsel for Marion County, in responding to our request to attend and cover these co-chair meetings said they [the co-chairs] don't have any authority to make any substantive decisions, their authority is to schedule meetings...put items on the agenda, sort of ministerial, not to make any substantive decisions."  Carlson did not deny the truth of either of these statements. 

Weekly:  "The KMUZ team...suggested that Carlson lowered her proposal to pay Ray" by $5,000 "to avoid a deliberative public process."

That is true, the team did say that, and Carlson hasn't denied the truth of the statement.  Rather, she defended her actions, saying they "adhered to MWHI's contract rules and followed the public meetings laws", and they were necessary to "move the process along."
   

"Polk County's Departure from MWHI"

 


Weekly: "Carlson agrees with the KMUZ team in one part, saying Polk County Commissioner Janet [sic] Wheeler did leave...over her unhappiness with the hiring of Ray, but Carlson adds that the departure was also due to personal matters unrelated to the task force."

Carlson would have to agree, therefore, that she did not tell the whole truth when she told KYKN that Wheeler left for personal reasons.  And how would Carlson know that "the departure was also due to personal matters"?  Weekly doesn't explain.  Under the circumstances, including the self-serving nature of Carlson's assertion and the fact that Commissioner Wheeler has stated unequivocally and in writing that she did not leave for personal reasons, is not Wheeler more to be believed than Carlson?    

Weekly: "Carlson...rejects the KMUZ team's...suggestion...that she misled...task force members at the November...meeting...where she stated that several Polk County members 'just couldn't be here.'  It's not accurate, she maintains, to say that she made that statement 'knowing' that Polk County had actually departed."

Carlson's exact words were:  "If I could clarify.  Jennifer resigned.  Steve Bobb sent in his resignation recently.  Heidi Mackay has not resigned.  Sheriff Garton has not resigned.  They just couldn't be here tonight."

The KMUZ report did not say Carlson made the foregoing statement "'knowing' that Polk County had actually departed", but that she made it after she had received and replied, that very morning, to an email from Heidi Mackay, confirming Heidi's earlier resignation by way of Commissioner Wheeler's October 18 letter, which Carlson had withheld from the larger Task Force.  In other words, Carlson lied to the Task Force when she said, Heidi Mackay had not resigned.  And she lied again to Weekly and all its readership in her dissembling account of what was said at the November meeting.   

Weekly: "In fact, Carlson's documentation shows Polk County had not left the task force on November 7, and never did."

This assertion is a straw man, and plainly contradicted by the Weekly's subheading.  The issue was not whether Polk County "left" (i.e., whether its Task Force Charter remained intact), but whether Carlson was ever going to admit (to anyone) that the Polk County team had resigned.  The fact of Wheeler's resignation letter is undisputed.  The fact that Carlson withheld it from the larger Task Force is undisputed.  The fact that Carlson acknowledged receipt of Heidi Mackay's email, confirming her resignation, prior to the meeting in which she stated "Heidi Mackay has not resigned" is undisputed.  The fact that Carlson lied about it is, therefore, undisputed.  Carlson has betrayed, and continues to betray, the public's trust, and Salem Weekly is helping her do it.

"KMUZ's program was not disinterested."  


Weekly:  "The January 17 program...was part of an ongoing conflict between [the show's] co-host Michael Livingston and his wife, Sarah Owens, -- and the task force."

The claim implies, but does not state, that the January report was somehow biased, and therefore lacking in credibility.  In support of this claim, which was not raised in the KYKN interview in January, or anywhere else we know of, Weekly alleges the following:

  1. "Carlson provided Salem Weekly with emails that suggest judgemental [sic] feelings from Owens toward the group began very early on."  (Weekly provided no evidence to support this claim.)
  2. "[Owens's] postings were not productive to [the Task Force's] work."  ("Postings" here refers to the blogs at this Wordpress site, and this claim is also not supported by evidence.)
  3. "Carlson didn't even know Owens."  (True, but does not support the claim.)
  4. "Owens...posted photos of members online and remarked with skepticism on the qualifications...of several."  (Does not support the claim.  See here.)
  5. "Carlson's emails shows [sic] Owens writing...about a meeting in which Mayor Anna Peterson is characterized as Carlson's "own ventriloquist's dummy."  (The actual term was "meat puppet", and it was not directed at Mayor Peterson or any one member of the Task Force.  See here.) [Update 5/26/17: a reader reminded us of a comment on the blog about the first Task Force meeting described the opening of the meeting this way: "Commissioner Carlson, via Mayor Peterson, her very own ventriloquist's dummy, brought the meeting to order. (A neat trick, but Commissioner Carlson's lips were moving the whole time.)"  See here.]
  6. "Carlson's emails shows [sic] Owens writing...about a MWHI meeting as 'a waste of time for all who attended.'"  (This was likely a factual statement, supported by the conclusion of the Polk County delegation that further participation in Task Force proceedings was "pointless."  It does not support the claim.  See here.)  
  7. "Carlson says...[the emails] were disturbing at times."  (Does not support the claim, but is  interesting, as, according to documents produced in response to our records request, Carlson represented to her co-chairs in October that "I don't read Sarah Owens' emails.")
Even assuming all these allegations were true, which they plainly are not, they don't make the case that there was "an ongoing conflict" with the Task Force, or that the January report was biased or otherwise lacking in credibility.  At the end of the day, the simple fact is that Janet Carlson behaved substantially as described in KMUZ's January report, emails and blogs and Carlson's unsupported allegations notwithstanding, and she owes everyone a sincere apology, which we will never receive, because she cannot admit wrongdoing.  There's a lot of that going around, these days.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

HUD Seeks to Ease Tensions Within the ROCC

HUD: "afraid a split would result in more constraints."*

HUD called last week.  Seems "someone" tipped them off there was serious talk about reforming a local CoC.

HUD's stated purpose in calling was to provide information so that any decision would be made with "eyes wide open" as to "what is best for the local area."

However, their actual purpose was more likely to elicit information, because they didn't actually provide any information themselves.

There were seven people from HUD on the call, and at least seven people from Marion and Polk Counties, including Commissioners Wheeler and Carlson, Salem Housing Authority Administrator Andy Wilch, MWVCAA's Jon Reeves and Jimmy Jones, Shangri-La's Robin Winkle, and SIHN's TJ Putman.  Of course, Jo Zimmer, ROCC's part-time staff, was also on the call.  Not everyone identified themselves.     
  
Referring to yours truly as "the parties that are floating the idea", and "the parties most interested", HUD shared our response to a set of questions they'd emailed us a few hours earlier.  They said technical assistance could be offered to help overcome the problems identified, and asked what other reasons people had for considering a split.  Jimmy spoke about a need-resource allocation imbalance.  Andy said it was somewhat of a political issue, but existing resources were not sufficient and SHA wanted an arrangement that would best serve the local area.  TJ talked about not being able to get Tier 2 funding and said the ROCC was not a "fair playing field."  HUD specifically asked to hear from the State about the situation, but no one from OHCS had called in, apparently. 

Our reasons were summed up as being "a little more on the autonomy side", and the others as "a desire to see more funding."  HUD said they discourage splits because communities don't benefit as much as they expect to.  They said this was mostly due to unrealistic expectations about their ability to perform (compete).  Acknowledging that Salem-Marion-Polk was "not exactly small",  funds were nonetheless, "limited."  How limited?  "We have to think through exactly how the money will be divided", they said, and suggested that Polk, for instance, might decide not to split off.

Photo courtesy The Task Mistress
At that, Andy commented that the population being discussed was around 450,000, that we don't get our pro-rata share of resources, and "the areas are integrated on this issue."  Jon Reeves then echoed TJ's comments, and talked about not having to compete with so many other projects were we a separate CoC.  HUD emphasized that "pro rata need" was not a guarantee of funding, although it is a factor in the planning and bonus grants, and then said HUD was "afraid a split would result in more constraints" (whatever that means).  HUD obviously has no clue how constraining it is to try and collaborate across 28 counties through an organization that won't even follow its own bylaws.

The call wound up with HUD re-extending the offer of TA, which "usually goes through the CoC", at which point several on the ROCC board said they thought it would be helpful.  (No one else did, though.)  Commissioner Carlson asked that "the jurisdictions" be included in future discussions.  Jo Zimmer asked whether ROCC gets to vote on the split, and was told there would be "a voice on all sides", "heavy engagement", that it "takes time" to ensure "equal distribution" of resources.  It being 5p Eastern Time on the nose, HUD then hung up.

Was the call a waste of time?  Depends on its purpose.  If its purpose was to elicit information, probably so, because everyone was definitely holding back.  If its purpose was to chill enthusiasm for a split, it may have had some effect.  Especially on those focused exclusively on the resource aspect.  But, chilling is not necessarily a bad thing.  It can, for instance, help manage expectations.

A recent baseline assessment of the Salem, Marion and Polk CoC (see here) shows how much work there is to do before we are in a position to compete effectively for HUD funding.  This is work that should have been done before, but was not, due in large part, we believe, to the the lack of accountability and transparency in ROCC's and MWVCAA's structure and governance, and the inability to extract county-level data off the HUD data exchange.  
             
The May ROCC Mtg

The subject, "Geographical Split - reforming previous CoC in Marion-Polk counties", was on the agenda of the ROCC board's May 24th meeting. There were about 25 participants on that call, including Todd Adkins (HUD PDX) and (briefly) Jimmy Jones (MWVCAA), who don't usually attend.  

As she droned on about the 2017 competition, Zimmer admitted that "when that NOFA drops, it's frenzy, frankly."  We hope Adkins heard that.  It would not be "a frenzy" in a local CoC.  

There was a brief discussion of system performance measures, with the obligatory begging for projects to clean up their data.  Jimmy's told us that Marion and Polk have very clean data.  Assuming that's true (we can't know, because MWVCAA's not made those reports available, and county-level data can't be extracted from the ROCC data that's on the HUD Data Exchange), we don't especially benefit from it, because local metrics are diluted by those of the other 26 counties.

Ten minutes into the second hour of the meeting, Zimmer got to the "Geographical Split - reforming previous CoC in Marion-Polk counties" agenda item, saying somewhat ominously, "awareness needs to be put out over the CoC just as a matter of process", and "I've not been directly involved in those conversations."

This was a lie, of course, our having corresponded with her about it last December, and discussed the matter at length on December 28th, when she finally admitted that she'd "tried to take a position" (on the reforming idea), but "couldn't, because I can see it both ways."  The fact is, she's known these talks were taking place since last August, when she declined to talk about a possible split on the record with a MWHI Task Force committee.  Nothing prevented her from reaching out, if she wanted to work the problem, but, she didn't.  Instead, she persuaded the board to have a big fat secret meeting, for no particular reason
      

Zimmer informed the board that "a conversation was had with HUD" last week to answer "the myriad questions that arise" when a local CoC seeks to go it alone.  She reported that HUD had warned that "doing so would be a complex and drawn out process" (uhm, not exactly) and that HUD had agreed to provide "TA to help work through this potential split conversation and to work with [ROCC] on strategic planning."  She said "if there is forward movement" and "paperwork and all that moves forward", then HUD would provide an opportunity to have "voices heard."

"I hate to be grey about all of that", she said in closing. 

At that point, Todd Adkins chimed in for HUD, saying he was happy to answer any questions, and that his office would be putting a request for "TA" up the chain, and everyone would have an opportunity to review the scope of work being requested.  He said the view from headquarters was that the talk of splitting was "a manifestation of the stresses and difficulties that balance of state CoCs are experiencing across the country", and that TA could help ease the situation.  There weren't any questions, and the meeting adjourned early, about ten minutes later.  ROCC's annual meeting will take place June 28-29 at the Salem Convention Center.     
          
*Photo courtesy ThinkRite.com"  

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Minutes 5/16/17

May 16, 2017
Minutes


Residents: Deb Comini, Valerie Freeman, Paul Gehlar
Organizations: Evan Osborne, Capitol [sic] City Cycleshare
City and County Representatives: Councilor Kaser; Sgt. Kevin Hill, SPD; Courtney Knox Busch, Mayor/City Manager’s Office  
Guests: none 

The regular meeting was called to order at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 16, 2017, at the First Christian Church at 685 Marion Street NE, Salem.  The Chair and Secretary-Treasurer were present.

The minutes of the April 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.  The hearing on the Planning Commission’s recommended code amendments affecting short-term “AirBnB” type rentals, now being offered contrary to existing regulations, was continued to the next regular meeting of the Council on May 22d.  The Citizens’ Budget Committee approved the staff recommendation to include the Mayor’s Homeless Rental Initiative Program (HRAP) in the recommended 2017-2018 budget, along with updates to the Comprehensive Plan, deferred infrastructure maintenance, and a fire marshall position.  
Sgt. Kevin Hill reported the City continues to expect a surge of visitors beginning around August 17 in anticipation of the total eclipse at 10:17 on Monday, August 21st, there will be a "Coffee with a Cop" on Thursday, May 25 from 9 to 11a at the new Starbuck's on Church Street, and that otherwise everything is pretty normal.    

The board heard presentations by Courtney Knox Busch about murals (“Mirror Maze” and “Waldo Stewards”) going in downtown, and by Evan Osborne about a bicycle sharing program similar to one starting up in Corvallis, that he expects to launch in Salem some time this summer through his non-profit, Osborne Adventures.   

There being no other business before the board, the meeting adjourned at 7:00 p.m.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

News from the Continuum

Staff Wish List Recommendations - Agenda at 41
HRAP has made it to the top of the staff recommendations for the Budget Committee's Wish List.

The sobering station came in at 9 and the Homeless Initiatives Coordinator position came in at 12, each with a "do not include" recommendation.

The main reason given for the "do not include" was those project proposals' lack of "specificity", leaving open the possibility they will be funded some time in the future. 

No surprises here.  A sobering station/center is a medical facility where people picked up for public intoxication that are too intoxicated to be housed
safely in jail can sober up under medical control/supervision, usually for 1 or 2 days.  Current practice is to take these individuals to the hospital.  Salem Health staff recently told us that, at any given time, 10 to 12 emergency room beds are occupied by intoxicated individuals.  Grants Pass, Portland, Eugene and Medford have sobering services of one sort or another.  It's not likely that the need for these services is any less in Salem.


Costs and administration tend to be ongoing issues.  Sobering stations are expensive propositions and require the right balance of partners to remain viable.  The Mayor's been very candid about the difficulties he's had in "getting to yes" on this project, but he also seems determined, so it's likely the City Council will be revisiting this request in the coming months. 

Spending $65,000 for a Homeless Initiatives Coordinator to implement the 40+ recommendations contained in the MWHITF "Strategic Plan" would be throwing good money after bad. The position is entirely unnecessary, of course, and not funding it will have no effect.   

Although there were vague references to a "successor" organization during the Task Force's eighth meeting in November, the proposal for a coordinator (then referred to as a "project manager") to be housed in the Council of Governments (COG) was cobbled together during the last 25 minutes of the eleventh and final meeting of the Task Force.  The case for implementing the plan was never actually made.  Rather, it was assumed.  The position was not agreed to, or even anticipated, in the Task Force Charters, and the City is certainly under no obligation to fund it by reason of some undefined, inchoate need for "intergovernmental cooperation", as suggested by remarks made in support of the motion to move the item to the Wish List at the last Budget Committee meeting (the only reason given for moving the item to the Wish List at that time or since).

1255 Broadway NE
In other news, the ARCHES Project will be moving from the leased space long held on Madison Street to 1255 Broadway NE, formerly occupied by the YWCA, which went belly-up, as they say, in 2013-14, and is now occupied by Family Building Blocks and the misnomered Center for Community Innovation.  The move, which up until recently appears to have been kept quiet, is due to be completed by June 30.  The presence of the ARCHES Project in the neighborhood, if not well-managed, is likely to pose a challenge to the Salem Alliance Church and the patrons of Broadway Commons.  Let's hope someone at MWVCAA is on top of that, ha, ha. [See update below.]


There will be an informational conference call between HUD and local government representatives this coming Friday.  No one has copped to initiating the call, but our bet is that it was the ROCC staff person who did so in reaction to last week's outreach report, despite speculation based on the rank of the HUD officials copied on the emails, that HUD actually cares whether Marion and Polk Counties might reform OR-504 CoC.  It's worth noting that ROCC staff apparently do not know enough about Polk County to identify the housing providers or elected officials that should be included in the call.  Either that, or they think Brent DeMoe really is in charge over there (this will be news to Brent).

[Update 5/16/17: the Budget Committee voted unanimously to adopt the staff recommendation to include HRAP and not to include the Coordinator position at COG in the 2017-2018 budget.]    
[Update 5/17/17: HUD sent an email yesterday with "Proposed topics for the call" that suggest the purpose of the call is not to provide "key information", but much more general.  But anyone who wants to call in should feel free to do so.]
 
[Update 6/1/17:  Turns out the ARCHES Project will not be moving to 1255 Broadway NE after all.  It seems the upstairs tenants did not care for the prospect of having a day center downstairs, and, more importantly, had the right to prevent that use.  So, ARCHES is again on the lookout for new digs.]
          

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Launching a Local CES

Diagram Courtesy Jimmy Jones/MWVCAA
A new series of meetings began this week, with the stated purpose of developing a local coordinated assessment and entry system (CES).  The monthly meetings will be led by MWVCAA's Jimmy Jones, Community Resources Program Director.

Dr. Jones says homeless housing and service providers need a CES because that's the only scientific way to ensure that  emergency housing resources are spent wisely on people who need it most.  He maintains our local programs are currently unable to do that.  Is he correct?      

Until recently, it was anyone's guess.

We've long known that, save about 20 beds, area housing programs are designed to serve medium-needs clients.  However, until recently, we did not understand much about the needs of the homeless in our area.

Now, thanks to MWVCAA and Dr. Jones, we have evidence that a very substantial segment of the homeless in our area are not medium-needs, but high needs.  Very high needs.  In fact, the proportion of high-needs homeless in this community turns out to be more than twice the national average.  Dr. Jones says that's in part because most local programs are not designed to serve those most in need, so the need has just continued to grow.

The diagram at above illustrates the level of need in Marion and Polk Counties.  It is based on vulnerability assessments of 700 homeless individuals by Dr. Jones and MWVCAA staff.  Each one receives a score on a scale of 0 to 20, with 20 being the most vulnerable.  The dark blue line is a graph of all the scores.  Read as a clock, those with the highest needs start at 12 o'clock, and continue along the line clockwise to the center, and the lowest score.  As you can see, it's not until 6 o'clock (yellow arrow) that the level of need in this community begins to match available, medium needs, services.  Medium needs clients score between the red (10) and green (6) circles.

Dr. Jones's research says that the "average" client in Marion and Polk Counties scores at the top of the "medium" range for vulnerability, and two points higher than the national average.  Based on that data, one would expect the average Marion/Polk client to have greater difficulty, and take more time, moving from the typical medium-needs, transitional housing program to a stable placement.  This conclusion is supported by anecdotal evidence of UGM and Salvation Army staff about their guests' higher-than-average needs and longer-than-average stays.

So, how did we get here?

Dr. Jones says, historically, local programs have tended to accept, first come, first served, those who fit the program's service and screening criteria.  According to Dr. Jones, this approach has allowed programs to select lower needs clients from among the many seeking services, and not infrequently amounts to "cherry-picking."  But, as there has not until recently been any standardized assessment method, they sometimes get it wrong.  He says that putting higher needs clients in medium needs programs doesn't work, either.  It's comparable to giving a bed on a maternity ward to someone who needs dialysis.  It's not going to help the kidney patient, and it's going to deny someone maternity services.

How, then, can we as a community ensure that programs and services align with actual need? The answer is actually pretty simple.  First, we want to make sure there are programs designed to serve the full range of needs, but especially those with the highest needs.  Second, providers need to agree that everyone seeking housing and homeless services should be assessed for vulnerability and prioritized to receive services based on their score.  No more first come, first served.  Lower needs clients are diverted, medium-needs clients go into medium-needs programs, and likewise for high-needs clients, only there will actually be a program designed to stabilize them.  That's where the Mayor's Homeless Rental Assistance Program, or HRAP comes in.  That's why we need HRAP.

Now, obviously, the system of coordinated assessment and prioritization described in the preceding paragraph, in which everyone seeking housing and homeless services is assessed for vulnerability and prioritized to receive services based on their score, that system does not yet exist.  That's what this new series of meetings is intended to change.

How "on board" the provider community is with Dr. Jones's vision depends on who you ask, but it's probably safe to say they're skeptical.  Skeptical that there's a structural problem, even.  They're used to explaining failures in the system on a lack of resources.  They don't like anyone suggesting that they could be running their programs more effectively.  But, Dr. Jones was not shy about his message.  He told them their programs fell short on assessments, data collection and sharing, cooperation and coordination with other programs, outreach, permanent supportive housing, implementation of Housing First principles, shelter options, prioritization, efficiency, effectiveness and partnerships with government and businesses.  A system of coordinated assessment and entry, one participant said, would make their programs more effective, and their work work easier.

At the end of the hour and a half meeting (during which Dr. Jones did most of the talking), the participants were asked rhetorically if they were committed to return for the next meeting.  We think some will.  The group meets on the second Tuesday from 11 to 12:30, and will be covering these areas as they relate to the development of a local CES:

Jun 13 - Data Sharing
Jul 11 - Housing Placements
Aug 8 - HMIS
Sep 12 - Federal/State Funding Sources
Oct 10 - Shelter Policies
Nov 14 - Special Populations
Dec 12 - "Outstanding Issues, Final Determination"
      
Those interested in participating in the development of a local CES should contact Dr. Jones at The ARCHES Project.       

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Shangri-La: CoC Capacity Has Not Changed


Shangri-La admitted in a recent missive to local electeds that it and MWVCAA are still struggling to meet "HUD's changing requirements."

They don't, however, agree it would benefit "Marion and Polk Counties" to reform its CoC.  Why?  Because "resources" available through the ROCC are "greatly needed."

What are these resources?  "Knowledge of...HUD requirements and staff capacity."  Really?  There's no one outside ROCC with  knowledge or staff capacity?     

The letter goes on to note that funds currently going to Lincoln County would continue to go to Lincoln County in the event of a split.  (Eye-roll.)



Another concern the letter raises is the likely need for gap funding for HMIS licensing, maintenance  and training.
(Obvious, anticipated, and not impossible to overcome.)
    

Clearly, the individual who wrote this letter either hasn't a clue or doesn't care about the larger concerns that prompted the initial inquiries into whether Marion and Polk Counties should continue in the ROCC (aka OR 505 Balance of State), or re-form our own CoC.  It's only purpose is to squelch discussion.  No doubt that's why Shangri-La omitted to send their letter to us, even though it was our report that prompted it, and our mailing list they used to promote their protectionist viewpoint.  It's not the first time they've weighed in, though, and their case for staying in the ROCC just keeps getting weaker.  It's understandable that Shangri-La, having a substantial stake in maintaining the status quo, would want to squelch the discussion, but the discussion will continue, regardless.  It's to be hoped that Shangri-La will finally accept that, and join in. 

 [Update 5/13/17:  At the monthly meeting of the "Region 7 CoC Grantees" (which for the first time included a representative from Yamhill Community Action Partnership or YCAP, their not having previously been invited), the Shangri-La rep said she didn't object to the recommendation to proceed with planning, she objected to how the outreach was conducted.  She said there should have been "one meeting" (instead of the 50+ conversations), which was a pretty bizarre thing to say, considering we had spoken with her, early on, one-on-one, to get her views on the situation with ROCC, and told her we intended to conduct similar conversations will all the other area providers, and she did not object in any way.  Nor did she or anyone else say anything about wanting "one meeting" when our outreach efforts were discussed during subsequent "Region 7 CoC Grantees" meetings.  Nor did she attend the meetings of CANDO or the Salem Homeless Coalition where the matter was discussed, even though she was specifically invited.  Nor did she have a response when it was pointed out, during this most recent meeting (May 11), that she could have called together a meeting of area providers at any time she chose.]        

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Working Together: Outreach, HRAP, and Strategic Plans

Lane County's CAHOOTS Van (Photo Courtesy KVAL.com)
After talking with folks at the Salem Housing Authority about their efforts to offer services to those least likely to access them (discussed previously here), we learned that Union Gospel Mission was doing something similar.  One thing quickly led to another, and we found ourselves last week in a wide-ranging  conversation with SHA and UGM staff at the Ike Box.

The conversation began with Sonya (SHA) telling Jeanine (UGM) about SHA's outreach efforts, and Jeanine telling Sonya about UGM's "Search and Rescue Team", which has been operating since early this year.  Turns out, there are indeed overlaps, but there are also differences.  For example, the SHA team does not have a van, and so cannot safely transport those in need.  The UGM team has a van, but does not have any females on the team, and so cannot safely transport females in need.  The SHA team are seasoned pros, while the UGM team is young and relatively inexperienced.  The thought occurred:  maybe they could team up somehow.

Sonya told Jeanine about how she and Nicole, the other half of SHA's team, went down to Eugene awhile back to ride along with the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets, or CAHOOTS, team.  How, after ten hours, they still weren't ready to go home, they wanted to see more.  Sonya suggested that Jonathan and Vince, the UGM team, might check out CAHOOTS as well.  And maybe let Sonya and Nicole ride along with them in the UGM van on one of their rounds.  

Jonathan and Vince go out to Polk County and "up the canyon" on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays they restock the van, and visit the camps and whatnot in the city.  They ask people what they need, provide what resources they can, and offer services through UGM's programs.  Jeanine said they're both over 6'4" and familiar with the needs and circumstances of the households they're wanting to help.

Won't blog the entire rest of the conversation, which got into individual cases and what we're pretty sure were trade secrets.  But, Sonya invited Jeanine, who happens to be UGM's Director of Programs, to speak at an upcoming meeting of the Emergency Housing Network, talk about UGM's current programs, and maybe dispel some of the more common myths about how they're run.  Sonya  promised to provide Jeanine a list of those myths, but she kept coming back to, "How can we work together?"  We talked about the Homeless Rental Assistance Program (HRAP) and the possibility of UGM participating in data collection and sharing through ServicePoint, Oregon's Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), and yesterday we learned that Jeanine and Bruce Bailey, UGM's CEO, plan to meet with SHA next week about those things.

Salem's May 6 Strategic Plan Worksession
Also last week, the Citizens Budget Committee moved HRAP to the "Wish List", to be discussed and, if all goes well, voted in to next year's budget at their meeting on May 15.

As it is now, the proposed program budget is for one year, which means HRAP as currently conceived is the nature of a pilot.  But, it's not as if there's a Plan B.

All the research points to permanent supportive housing as the most effective approach in dealing with a chronically homeless population.  Without PSH, that population is only going to grow.

The City can choose either to continue to try and maintain residents in the streets and wooded areas, which costs tens of thousands of dollars a year per individual, or it can spend about a third of that to leverage existing resources and provide these residents the housing and services they need.  Clearly HRAP is the only sensible and humane way forward.  With an estimated 500 chronically homeless residents living in Salem, it will take the City roughly five years, at a rate of 100 per year, to fully implement HRAP.  Accordingly, the HRAP should be budgeted for the next five years, not just the one, so that it is "fiscally sustainable", a value the Salem City Council is beginning to embrace as part of its strategic planning process

SS/HLness Goals & Recs at 3
HRAP is the nearly perfect expression of the goals of the Affordable Housing, Social Services and Homelessness Strategic Plan Workgroup (see left), but, unfortunately, it's too practical to be a strategic plan goal.

It is in the nature of strategic planning, it seems, to have to state goals in the abstract, even to the point of obscurity.  Accordingly, yesterday, the City Council, after hearing Councilor McCoid's presentation, came up with this "overarching" goal statement (combining the affordable housing goals with the social services and homelessness goals):

"Adequate housing supply and security of housing for those in need, regardless of economic situation or status, with maximized access, resources and services for the homeless."

Ugh.  Why not just say, "End homelessness", and be done with it?  If a workgroup's specific goal statements are too numerous, they should be sent back to the workgroup, not mangled into something meaningless by the entire Council on a beautiful spring morning.   

SHA Staff at the May 6 Worksession
If the process was hard for us to watch, how much more so must it have been for the City staff who were present, though you'd never hear them say so.  (Photo at left: SHA's Nicole Utz, Kellie Battaglia, Andy Wilch and Pamala Garrick.)  They'll have to "fix it", of course, as best they can, try to "wordsmith" it into something less horrible, but we'd much rather have them focused on fleshing out the group's specific goals and recommendations -- which, please note, Councilor Andersen, do not include supporting the implementation of the MWHI Task Force's strategic plan.  (Citing the need for "intergovernmental cooperation" at the budget committee meeting last week, Councilor Andersen moved onto the "Wish List" the $65,000 Homeless Initiatives Coordinator position, which the Task Force envisioned would be housed at the Council of Governments.)  Councilor Hoy asked staff for additional information about the item, listed in the proposed budget as an "enhancement", but Councilor Andersen is the one who is going to need to make the case for its inclusion in the budget, and his reasons should be substantive, something more than an inchoate need for "intergovernmental cooperation", which is code for "playing politics."  More about this later.  
Moved onto the Council "Wish List" by Councilor Andersen May 3, 2017
[Update 6/1/17:  The Salem budget committee accepted the staff recommendation not to include the the Homeless Initiatives Coordinator position in the budget, but await "further organizational development of the MWHI before considering."  The Keizer budget committee declined to include in the budget Mayor Clark's request for $5,000 to go toward funding the coordinator position, but the City is reportedly planning to fund it anyway.]

The Keizer Times

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Community Action Makes Collective Agenda Clear

The Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency (MWVCAA), which receives the bulk of  CoC Program funds going to Marion and Polk Counties, was recently stirred to opine that "true collaboration must precede a discussion on planning" to reform our local CoC (short for  "continuum of care"), that there is no "evidence that any community partner has the capacity to...operate a CoC", and that local  governments should build a "neutral infrastructure" to "create capacity" to carry out necessary changes in the local homeless services delivery system.  

The letter was prompted by our report the day before to the Boards of Commission of Marion and Polk Counties, and the Mayors and City Councils of Salem And Keizer, that, after four months and more than 50 conversations with various local groups and individuals in some way serving or caring about the local homeless population, we had concluded that there is in the community a consensus favoring a decision to begin planning how we might reform our local CoC, which we gave up in 2011 to merge with the 26-county Rural Oregon Continuum of Care (ROCC or OR-505 BOS CoC).

MWVCAA's reaction (and the letter does appear to be a reaction, as MWVCAA's not before bothered to share its "collective agenda") that "true collaboration" must precede any "discussion of planning" is just bizarre, given MWVCAA's historical and admitted failure to facilitate "true collaboration" between area housing and homeless service providers, despite its being the City of Salem's "lead agency" for that purpose.  (Not to mention the irony that the City reports to HUD every year how wonderfully well MWVCAA is doing in that regard, with not the slightest demur from MWVCAA.)

The letter doesn't say why "true collaboration" must precede any discussion of planning.  Perhaps the reason is that MWVCAA wants to control the discussion?  It would seem so, because the letter then proceeds to "discuss planning" by laying out their view of the current circumstances, and the preconditions they believe are necessary to CoC formation.  Specifically, after pronouncing that there is currently no local entity capable of operating a CoC (which is laughable, considering what is operating the ROCC now), the letter "advise[s]" local governments first to build a "neutral infrastructure" to "create capacity."  

If government were to take MWVCAA's advice, it would first set about to build something ("infrastructure"), and and leave the planning discussion for later.  Perhaps this is how MWVCAA does things, but government's not likely to go for it.

It was also rather bad advice-giving form for MWVCAA, as the recipient of the bulk of local CoC dollars, to fail to declare its self-interest in continuing the status quo.