Saturday, June 24, 2017

News from the Continuum

There's apparently been a recent uptick in the number of livability complaints from downtown businesses, in response to which, the City is planning to remove "a couple" of benches from outside Liberty Plaza, and looking at a possible rewrite of its "sit-lie" ordinance.  See here.

We can't quite figure out which part of the Salem Revised Code constitutes the "sit-lie" ordinance, but we're surmising it's somewhere in Chapter 95 (Miscellaneous), possibly SRC 95.700 (Pedestrian Interference).

As Councilor Kaser explained it, one may stand, sit or lie on a sidewalk, as long as one is not impeding pedestrians.  One may also lean on or back up against a building, if one is handy, as long as the building isn't posted with No Trespassing signage, or the signage fails to include the correct code reference.  So, you'd think it'd be okay to sleep on a bench, as they're out of the way of pedestrians.  Presumably, that's why they're being removed from around Liberty Plaza, and, as we reported last week, from outside the Center Point office building on Cottage Street, (see below), not so much to prevent people from sleeping on them, perhaps, as to prevent them answering the call of nature on nearby properties.

The situation's apparently got some people really very upset and angry.  Like the tenants of property owners who came to CANDO last week, wanting the City to do something about the same sort of problem over on Church Street.  Only in that case, the owners don't want benches removed, they want HOAP removed.  The thinking is, one may suppose, that if whatever gives comfort is taken away, "they" will leave.  Where they go doesn't matter.  In the immigration context, it's called removing "the pull factor."

The U. S. District Court ruled Portland's "sit-lie" ordinance   unconstitutional, back in 2009, and the city's not tried to fix it, for reasons one may imagine.  Does Salem's decision to consider a rewrite of its ordinance signal a shift away from its oft-stated view that "we're not going to arrest our way out of this"?  Seems kinda like it, but we'll wait and see what Chief Moore has to say.  In related news, it seems that the Urban Development Department is reporting that City funds will be used to return two “arta potties”, removed last fall from their locations behind the Bishop Building and on Front Street, back to downtown, though it's not known when.  Seems like adding toilets makes more sense than removing benches, but there is the ongoing cost to consider.  

Speaking of cost, the board of Directors of the Council of Governments met last week, and voted unanimously to authorize their director, Sean O'Day, to negotiate an intergovernmental agreement between it and Salem, Keizer and Marion County, whereby the latter will pay for, and the former will "house a Program Manager who will oversee implementation of the Mid-Willamette Valley [sic] Homeless Initiative Strategic Plan."  The decision appeared to rest on O'Day's recommendation to proceed, and his assurance that COG would not be responsible for any of the costs.  COG budgeted $54,935.73 for the position, which is just a half FTE, perhaps because Salem has yet to approve the $65,000 it's expected to put up (Marion County is putting up $45,000, and Keizer $5,000).  Sixty-five thousand would maintain a couple of toilets for maybe, ten years?

Word has gone out to the provider community that Union Gospel Mission  director, Bruce Bailey, has resigned.  Bruce came to Salem and UGM in May of 2015 from Illinois and the Salvation Army to reinvigorate the capital campaign to build a new men's shelter on the property currently occupied by the UGM store and admin offices.  He replaced Mike Rideout, who  resigned in late 2014.  Among the challenges he faced were serving on the MWHI Task Force, and the decimation of his overflow capacity by the fire marshal during one of the coldest winters ever.  We found Bruce to be thoughtful, direct, and very hospitable (UGM hosts the Emergency Housing Network's monthly meetings that includes lunch).  Another recent shift that feels like a loss is Salem Health's decision to terminate the original joint management agreement that formed OHSU Partners and also joined Salem Health's and OHSU's financial "bottom line."  According to information given Salem Health's Community Sounding Board, "the structure was both innovative and complex and simply wasn't working in the way it was originally intended."  We speculate that the uncertainty at the federal level might have figured in the decision.     

Friday, June 23, 2017

6/20/17 Minutes

Residents: Deb Comini, Santiago Sorocco, Brian Hart 
Organizations: Simon Sandusky and Jeanine Knight, Union Gospel Mission; Jim O’Keefe, Oregon Center for Clinical Investigations, Carol Hendrix and Marty Vomund, Church Street Associates
City and County Representatives: Councilor Kaser; Julie Tichbourne, Engineering Program Mgr, Public Works Department  
Guests: none 

The regular meeting was called to order at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 20, 2017, at the First Christian Church at 685 Marion Street NE, Salem.  The Chair and Secretary-Treasurer were present.

The minutes of the May meeting were approved by unanimous consent.

Councilor Kaser reported that the City is reworking its “sit-lie” ordinance in response to complaints from downtown businesses, and will be removing “a couple” of benches from the sidewalk around Liberty Plaza, 285 Liberty Street (southwest corner of Chemeketa and Liberty). The Urban Development Department has reported that City funds will be used to return two “arta potties”, removed last fall from their locations behind the Bishop Building and on Front Street, back to downtown.  It’s not known when, exactly, that will happen.  Following a dozen or so meetings with various focus groups, the City has initiated a project to develop a downtown streetscape design plan by issuing a request for proposal which will close July 14, 2017.  There will be an opportunity for public input in the fall.  It’s expected that the Salem Main Street Association will integrate the design plan with its revitalization strategies.  Beginning June 22, artist Damien Gilley will begin work on the “Mirror Maze” mural on the short, rounded wall in the alley between Commercial and Liberty Streets NE. The 560 square foot mural will be unveiled on July 5, 2017 as part of the First Wednesday event. Artist Blaine Fontana will begin his “Waldo Stewards” mural on the Chemeketa Parkade’s east stairwell on July 10. This 1,819 square foot mural will wrap the parkade stairwell and will be finished the week of July 24.  The City is working with the federal authorities to remove the concrete slab from the Commercial Street underpass and create a walkway on the north side of Pringle Creek
The board heard a presentation by Julie Titchbourne on the new signal construction at Union and Commercial Streets NE, which is expected to start July 1, 2017, and be completed in November (the poles are, however, on backorder). The construction includes water quality basins, ADA pedestrian barricades, and bulb outs on the eastern corners of the intersection, which will take a couple of parking spaces, a concern of residents at 601 Commercial Street.

In public comments, Brian Hart invited the board to enjoy music at 28 venues as part of Make Music Day, from 9am to 10pm, on June 21.  The board then heard from Carol Hendrix and Marty Vomund, who have owned 701 and 745 Church Street since about 1994.  Mr. Vomund also owns 575 D Street.  They re-raised the livability issues expressed by Ms. Hendrix in emails to Councilor Kaser and CANDO’s chair, discussed here, which they blamed on the Homeless Outreach Advocacy Project (HOAP), which since 1995 has provided services to the homeless at 703 Church Street NE.  Ms. Hendrix said she had been in communication with Northwest Human Services, which operates HOAP, and had had a good response.  Jeanine Knight and Simon Sandusky offered responsive comments on behalf of the Union Gospel Mission.  Asked what action they were asking the board to take, Ms. Hendrix indicated she wanted the City to improve the situation, and Mr. Vomund indicated he wanted CANDO to advocate to have HOAP provide its services somewhere else, perhaps in a light industrial district, and also to have the City provide a place for people to store their belongings.  They said they’d been collecting signatures from Church Street neighbors, and, on Councilor Kaser’s advice, were composing a letter to the City Council.  The board also heard comments from Jim O’Keefe, who alleged, among other things, that HOAP clients were selling their medications right outside HOAP’s entrance, and that the area around HOAP was a “major drug hub.”  He asserted he had made countless reports to the police and shared video footage of the “med-money exchanges”, but had not received a satisfactory response.  He said he had “given up on the drug issue.”  He also said that there had recently been a “huge fire” behind HOAP, and three buildings had been “hit” with graffiti.  Vice-Chair Michael Livingston suggested that Ms. Hendrix and Mr. Vomund contact SPD’s crime prevention unit to inspect the property and offer advice on how to discourage people from using it as a place to sleep, etc.  At seven o’clock, the chair closed the comment period and suggested the board, after reflection, would consider at its next meeting, July 18, whether and what action might be taken.

The meeting adjourned at 7:02 p.m.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

HBSS "Continues to Move Forward"

No More Benches
The benches in front of the office building on Cottage Street, across from the First Congregational Church, have been removed.  Want to guess why?  It wasn't so they could be  painted.  No, these were very substantial benches, that had to be, like, amputated from their concrete pads with a saw.  Someone really didn't like those benches being there any longer.
Notes on 5/3/16 SHC Mtg

It's been about a year since Home Base Shelters of Salem (HBSS) got its start as a committee of the Salem Homeless Coalition, and six months since they said they would be returning to City Council with a formal proposal for the City's first sanctioned camping program.  Now it looks like that's not going to happen.  To figure out why, you need to know  what's happened since that last visit to City Council, November 14, 2016. 

On November 21, two members of the HBSS board of directors, Delana Beaton and Susan Smith, were interviewed by Ken Adams on a Willamette Wakeup segment.  In that interview, which was not podcast, they said their goal was "not to become an uninvited project in a residential area."  The first camp would have a maximum of 20 tents with "matching tarps, so not unsightly at all" and serve a "totally unserved group" within the homeless population, of which there were "about 2,000 in Salem last January."  They said they anticipated expanding to four or five camps, eventually, and that they hadn't yet decided on the criteria for excluding an applicant based on criminal history.  They said "hopefully, the City is organizing itself around the Task Force" and that their camp was "the first step."  During the interview, they implied their program was consistent with the Housing First principles espoused by Tanya Tull.

"I think where we start having problems is where it starts being tents"
On December 1, the MWHITF considered a recommendation to "analyze the advisability of allowing, supporting or facilitating some form of temporary, support-coordinated camping", which Keizer Mayor Cathy Clark said would cause her to get "pushback" (even though the recommendation was merely to "analyze").  She said she needed to understand how such a program would be effective in moving people into stable housing, that she'd not seen it be effective in other "jurisdictions." She said, "I have a very difficult time saying yes, this is something we should spend some time exploring at this point."

Marion County Commissioner Janet Carlson observed that "there's camping and then there's camping", and said that "this item is probably as close as we're going to get" to addressing homelessness in the short term.

Marion County Sheriff Myers said "we should at least explore it", and Salem Police Chief Moore concurred, saying, however, "it's not an endorsement."

Salem Mayor-elect Bennett in his remarks mentioned the HBSS proposal specifically, saying the City had been asked to find "unused land" of a certain type, and, so far, the City had not been able to find any, but that they would know "by January" for certain.  He indicated the City would next look at acquiring property suitable for "some kind of Opportunity Village" program, and that he did not object to the recommendation as long as it "doesn't say 'camping in tents', as long as it's 'camping in something" short of "formalized housing."  He said, "I think where we start having problems is where it starts being tents, and in almost anybody's neighborhood."

In the end, the Task Force recommendation was amended to replace the word "camping" with the word "shelter."

On December 20, HBSS members met with the City Manager.  Mr. Powers reportedly told them that the City did not have any property/parcels that would be suitable for their project, which the City was not all that keen on to begin with.
On December 31, the Statesman Journal reported on an interview with the incoming Salem Mayor, Chuck Bennett.  The section on "Tackling Homelessness", read:
By a Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency count in January 2016, there were more than 850 homeless people in Polk and Marion counties.
“We know what doesn’t work – all we have to do is look at Portland and Eugene and we can see examples of unsuccessful strategies,” Bennett said, citing “camp-where-you-want” spaces.
“I’m not sure tent camps work. My impression is they don’t,” he said. "I have yet to get a positive report on a tent camp."  * * *
“This is a complicated issue. This is not something that’s gonna be fixed by something simple,” he said. * * *
The County told HBSS much the same thing, according to Marion County Commissioner Janet Carlson's oral report at the February 15 meeting of the Marion County Board of Commissioners.  That same day, as we know, the Mayor announced an aggressive new homeless initiative, one designed to house the chronically homeless -- in something other than tents.

Flyer advertising a talk at the Salem Friends Mtg
So, according to a flyer advertising a talk by HBSS president Delana Beaton, by the end of February 2017, HBSS had begun "rebranding" as "a group dedicated to developing micro-housing."

According to the summary of the new plan published the first week in March on the HBSS website, they had identified "a prospective village site in Marion County outside high-density urban residential neighborhoods and retail commercial areas" and expected to have the ARCHES Project staff "identify highly vulnerable persons from the unsheltered population using a standard vulnerability assessment tool."  

However, when we asked Delana about the new plan, she said it had been published prematurely, and that the board was still considering its options.  Shortly thereafter (March 6 or 7), the website was taken down, has not since been put back up, and its admin, Susan Smith, who also was on the HBSS board, has said she is no longer working on homelessness.  HBSS was notably unrepresented at both the April meeting of the City's Affordable Housing, Social Services and Homelessness strategic planning committee, and the May work session on the City Strategic Plan.

At the June meeting of the Salem Homeless Coalition, it was reported (according to the minutes), that HBSS is "now looking for alternatives to a planned tent community" (no further detail provided).  On June 19, we asked Delana for an update.  She replied that the board was "meeting today.  Will respond to you following."  The next day, she wrote this brief message:

There are two reasons to stonewall in a situation like this.  The group is either doing something it fears others will disapprove, or, more likely, it's not doing anything at all, which signals failure, which is hard to admit.  However, failure isn't so bad.  It's much more honorable than not having tried.  It could be argued, even, that the prospect of a legalized camping program in Salem was a significant motivating factor in the development of the Mayor's Homeless Rental Assistance Program (HRAP), the broad outlines of which were announced in February.  HRAP targets those most in need, and provides services to those who want them.  It is a far more ambitious program than the one HBSS proposed, and we think HBSS deserves some credit for its adoption, whether or not they "continue to move forward."  So, thank you, HBSS, for giving it a go, and good luck with your future endeavors.

[6/26/17 Update: to learn more about what HBSS might have hoped to achieve, you can go to Community Supported Shelters of Eugene's website and read a recently-posted blog describing conditions in a mature legalized camping community.  10/9/17 Update: Delana Beaton recently reported to the Salem Homeless Coalition that she and Pamela Watson met on September 12, 2017 with Salem City Manager Steve Powers and Housing Authority Administrator Andy Wilch, who assured them that the city had no properties suitable for HBSS's proposed project.] 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Neighbor Complaint

CANDO has received a complaint from a property owner about long-standing conditions on Church Street, between Union Street and Mill Creek, that the owner believes are caused or exacerbated by the presence of the Homeless Outreach Advocacy Program (H.O.A.P.), run by Northwest Human Services (NWHS).  The complaint is as follows.

I met with Cara Kaser recently regarding the increasing problems in our neighborhood that are hurting businesses and landlords in the vicinity of the HOAP program. Cara shared with you a few of the problems we have had since the HOAP program entered what was once a pristine and desirable neighborhood. Problems have worsened this year beginning when the Union Gospel Mission reduced services due to fire code violation.  As a landlord, we have lost renters and prospective renters due to the visible nuisance centered around the HOAP building.  Other businesses have left.  During the past month our renter has twice called due to intoxicated men sleeping in our backyard and we have paid our handiman to rouse them and dispose of empty bottles, blankets, trash.  Attorney and psychologist offices and the sleep center all report problems. 

701 Church Street

Would it be possible for myself and Marty Vomund, the other owner of our apartments at 701 Church Street NE, to be on the agenda for your June 20 meeting?  While we appreciate that the HOAP program is working to reduce loitering and sleeping and storage of household goods/shopping carts along the front of the building, this effort is often accompanied by loud yelling and swearing and confrontations.  And there is no monitoring on weekends so the shopping carts and trash and sleeping homeless citizens return.  Our renters have expressed anxiety and been harrassed by these people.  The parking area behind the empty building next to HOAP is consistently used as a bathroom by HOAP homeless clients.  While we support the mission of services to homeless, the program is impacting every business on the street and our property values.  We believe it is inappropriate for this service - which now offers showers, meals and laundry services, coffee and socializing to anyone who shows up as well as medication to the mentally ill  - to be located in a mixed business/professional/residential neighborhood. The Salem Compliance Department has stated that they no longer work with homeless because they consider it dangerous work given they are unarmed.  This is what our unarmed renters, including single women who are regularly harassed and families with children, are dealing with. 

694 Church Street

We'd appreciate any help we can get from CANDO and the City of Salem regarding possible solutions to this increasing problem.  In talking with Cara I learned that the Union Gospel Mission has plans to break ground with an expansion of services.  In the meantime we are wondering what the city is willing to do.  There are vacant buildings in the downtown area that could possibly be staffed by Union Gospel staff and volunteers if the city is willing to rent such space. There is a need for weekend patrols to ensure safety of residents in this area and to break up loitering and camping that occurs.  Some businesses are incuring this expense for additional patrols on their own which we suggest should be the job of the city or the HOAP program.  HOAP is already doing what they can to minimize loitering, however it appears to be an uphill climb given the extensive services available to all comers. 
West Side Morgan Building on Church Street
When this issue first arose, the pastor of the Salem First Christian Church, where CANDO holds its regular monthly meetings, and who sits on the CANDO board, advised the board that the sidewalk on the west side of the Morgan Building, which the Church owns, has sometimes been blocked with shopping carts and other personal belongings.

Councilor Kaser has advised the board that she believes "The current situation at HOAP is creating a livability issue for the adjacent neighbors and businesses."  She reports that she's "talked with Brady Rogers with the City's Compliance Services about the issue, and Brady suggested that CANDO get involved and begin a conversation with HOAP and NWHS about how to improve the situation.  Brady suggested that perhaps HOAP could create a space behind HOAP for people to wait, rather than congregating outside and on the sidewalk, and perhaps create an outside space for people to temporar[il]y leave their belongings."

694 Church Street from alley
The board first heard about this situation on June 6, in an email from Councilor Kaser.  We immediately contacted Stephen Goins, HOAP Director and made several visits to this part of the neighborhood.  We communicated our preliminary findings to the board by email.  On Sunday evening, June 11, the board received the owner's complaint and request for time on the agenda of the June meeting.  The owner has been invited to use the public comment period to share her concerns and answer questions.  Sgt. Kevin Hill, who heads the Downtown Enforcement Team, Jeanine Knight, of UGM, Jimmy Jones, of The ARCHES Project (which might or might not be moving to 615 Commercial Street NE), and Stephen Goins of NWHS/HOAP have all be apprised of the situation.

Here is what we know about the situation.  HOAP has been in existence since 1986, and has been located in the building at 694 Church Street since 1995.  NWHS owns the building.

The Union Gospel Mission this past winter summer did close its day room and shut down its locker program, forcing many to carry their belongings with them wherever they go.

CANDO has not received complaints about HOAP, or from the businesses in the neighborhood around HOAP, nor has the Downtown Enforcement Team advised CANDO of complaints or problems with HOAP or in the area around HOAP. [Correction: CANDO did receive one complaint in 2016, as noted in the minutes here.]

We are informed and believe that having HOAP consumers (using HOAP's terminology) wait behind the building would be both inhumane and impractical, as it would require reconfiguring the check-in area in the building's interior, which is needed to maintain safety, and encourage undesirable after-hours activity in the alleyway.  The back of HOAP is presently off-limits to HOAP consumers because of the presence of staff vehicles and consequent low visibility.

We know that HOAP does have a "Good Neighbor Policy."  The "no carts" rule was added in response to the complaint at issue.  The day after it was implemented, the number of visits to the day center was halved.  The director, Stephen Goins, says he does not expect the drop to last.  But he also told us,

for some it will deter them from coming to the program.  These folks want to stay by their belongings in order to protect them from theft.  The other issues w/leaving carts elsewhere is conflict with business owners [where the carts are left]...[I]f these carts are stolen or taken away, service providers (like HOAP) are taxed on resources to help replace items needed to safely sleep outdoors, replace ID and SS debit cards, food stamp cards, etc. 

Stephen does understand, however, that the number of carts and their contents are hard to control, can pose a safety risk, and tend to negatively affect perceptions of HOAP and its consumers.  We asked him to reconsider the "no cart" rule, but he has not responded to that request.

We asked Brady Rogers about the owner's assertion that "The Salem Compliance Department has stated that they no longer work with homeless because they consider it dangerous work given they are unarmed."  He told us,  

My Compliance staff no longer participates in clearing active transient camps with Salem Police, for a number of reasons.  Mostly because I want them doing higher priority work, but also I consider that police business.  They are better equipped for this work. We still deal with “homeless” people as necessary.  My staff carry pepper spray for defensive use, but are not otherwise armed.

Turning to the property at 701 Church Street.  Councilor Kaser reported that the owner "had homeless individuals sleeping intoxicated in her fenced backyard and under her bushes and porch.  There have also been issues with hypodermic needles left in her bushes."

We talked to a tenant of a building on the same side of the street (two doors south of 701).  He told us that, until recently, there had been issues with people sleeping in the thicket on the north side of the lot next door (left side of telephone pole in photo).  But after the owner followed SPD's advice and limbed up the tree trunks, no more problem.

701 Church St backyard on left

 701 Church Street is to the right of the photo.

The back yard fence (left side of sawed-off hedge in photo) is low and flimsy and easy to negotiate.  Access to the back yard from Church Street is easily had from the adjacent property to the south, and from parking lot at the rear of the property (photo shows alley on the adjacent property, looking east toward Church Street).  The south side of the property is sheltered from view by trees and thick foliage on the east and south sides, and the house on the north side.  (See photo below.)

The photo below reveals bushes around the porch offering cover from view from the house and street (at night, light from above would cast a shadow over anything under the bushes). 

701 Church Street, alley on south side

Regarding possible solutions, the owner suggests the City might operate a shelter/day center space downtown or provide weekend patrols of the area.  However, the more immediate solution would appear to be for the owners of 701 Church Street to install a new back yard fence and trim the foliage on the front and south side of the property, and take any other environmental measures that might be recommended by the Salem Police Department.

For 22 years, HOAP has been a considerate neighbor, providing valuable services to CANDO residents, from its location on Church Street.  During that time, the number of Salem residents living in the streets has steadily grown, and area services, never adequate to meet the need, have not kept pace.  HOAP did not cause the problem in CANDO, and the problem is not unique to CANDO.

CANDO has as one of its three annual goals to "Support initiatives offering practical solutions for neighbors living in the streets", and is very encouraged by the City's planned Homeless Rental Assistance Program, which has the goal of housing, over the next year, 100 of the City's hardest-to-house chronically homeless residents.  As is apparent from this CANDO Archive that we are actively educating ourselves about, and following the development of, best practices in the delivery of homeless housing and services, with a focus on Salem and Marion and Polk County.  We think that is where the long-term solutions are, and we hope all CANDO residents will join us in this work.

[6/24/17 Update:  see Minutes of CANDO's June 20 Meeting.  7/12/17 Update: we met with Sgt. Kevin Hill, who heads the Downtown Enforcement Team.  He reported that he'd "pulled a scan" and nothing's been reported to the police.  He said they were in the 700 block occasionally for trespass-type issues, and that he has "graveyard going down there all the time" on patrol.  He said there was the occasional arrest for trespass, after numerous warnings.  In answer to our question, he said things were not worse on Church Street than elsewhere in the City.  7/23/17 Update:  see CANDO's recommendation to the City Council to implement a locker program.]     

Sunday, June 11, 2017

News from the Continuum

20th Century Record Keeping
When the Trump administration announced recently its plan to spend billions to overhaul the Department of Veteran Affairs' electronic medical records system, no one questioned the need for  providers to be able to "trade information seamlessly and...seamlessly execute a shared plan of care with smooth handoffs."

So, one can't help but wonder why the value of sharing information and plans of care for the homeless seems to have been such a hard sell.  Is it because homelessness is somehow a different problem?  Well, yes and no.

It's different in that, historically, homeless services have not been much of a priority -- except perhaps when the homeless were veterans.

It's the same in that, to paraphrase Secretary Shulkin, technological innovation is not a core competency of the average homeless services provider.  

It's also the same in that technology, like everything else, is a resource issue.  When resources are limited, the tendency is to want to focus on "direct services", or what some might call the human side of the equation.  This was likely the situation with the VA, and would be still, but for a new administration deciding things needed to change.  

Sometimes, what appears from the inside to be working fairly well can look pretty ridiculous to someone outside the system.  That's why pressure to change tends to come from outside, or not at all.

Here in the valley, the pressure on homeless services to change has been very low indeed.  For the most part, the emergency shelter and homeless housing programs in Marion and Polk Counties, as in surrounding counties, are of 20th century vintage, meaning they were designed for single adult men with mental and substance abuse disorders, because,  in the 1990s, only 11 percent of the adult homeless population was aged 50 and over.  Providing basic needs for this younger population included treating the aforementioned disorders, traumatic injuries and infections.  The care was mostly short-term.

Today, however, half the adult single homeless population in the US is aged 50 and over.  (Jimmy Jones says the median age single adults in in Marion and Polk Counties is 46.5.)  They have chronic diseases like diabetes and heart and lung disease.  They need to make repeated visits to health care providers and adhere to complicated medication regimens, specific diets and physical routines, which is all but impossible to do while homeless.  Add to that "high rates of cognitive impairment (problems with memory, information processing and following directions), functional impairment (the ability to manage daily tasks such as dressing, bathing, toileting), mobility impairment (the ability to walk), and deteriorating hearing and vision", and the value if not necessity of being able to track and trade information seamlessly among housing and service providers becomes obvious, but only if you're looking at the data.

The most effective homeless housing and services providers collect and share data through a homeless management information system (HMIS).  In Oregon, and in other states across the US, the HMIS application is ServicePoint. 
from the MSI ServicePoint Handbook
Without ServicePoint, providers must rely solely on whatever information their clients are able to provide, and their staff are able to collect.  They work in relative isolation with limited information, and get predictably limited results, which is acceptable, right? 

Well, don't look for any announcements from the Rose Garden, but the winds of change are blowing across Marion and Polk Counties.

We got Marion County and Keizer pivoting homeless initiatives to COG, we got MWVCAA sp'dattin' people up and down the Canyon, we got the Rotary, City Club and Rental Housing Association talkin' about homelessness, we got SHA partnering with social care agencies to create something called supportive housing, we got a City Council strategically planning for housing and  homelessness long term, we got Judge Aiken trying to create a Community Court, we got WestCare's new veterans shelter partnering with The ARCHES Project, we got Catholic Community Services helping St. Joseph Shelter to reopen, we got the Salvation Army and maybe even UGM looking at ServicePoint, and we're slowly building a client-centric service delivery system of coordinated assessment and entry.  And that's just some of what's been going on.

Over to the left is a list of area housing providers that indicates the programs and beds that are yet to be covered by ServicePoint, Oregon's HMIS system.  As you can see, until UGM's beds are "covered" in the system, we won't be able to collect enough data to give us an accurate picture of how well our programs are working, or have a true coordinated entry system.  For more on this, see here and here.

It's hard to underestimate how  significant it is to the community for providers to share access to this kind of information.  Nevertheless, up until recently, we've managed to give it almost no value whatsoever.  This error and omission is one of the many side effects of our having thrown in with the ROCC, aka the "Oregon BOS CoC", back in 2012.  When we did that, we lost much of our incentive and ability to track local data on homeless housing and services.  Now, it's only with a good deal of extra effort that we're able to pull maybe one or two annual reports.  It's nothing like it should be, or could be, if we were to reform OR-504, the Salem, Marion and Polk CoC, which would make our data readily available to anyone who was interested, through the HUD Data Exchange, which would, in turn, give greater incentive to providers to participate in the HMIS, aka ServicePoint.

Incidentally, ROCC summonsed us to a meeting last week (June 7, to be precise).   

The very next day, Jo Zimmer shows up at the "Region 7 CoC Grantees" meeting over at MWVCAA, and gets all flustered when she's asked to give an "update" on ROCC (in social service agency land, this is comparable to asking "Hi, how are you?").  She did manage to share that she was "working on the agenda" for ROCC's annual meeting (a mere three weeks away), and that the VA, HUD, and OHCS would be attending, and there would be HMIS training.  The meeting's to be at the Salem Convention Center, if anyone's interested in going.

The ARCHES Project is Moving
Other tidbits shared at the meeting included Polk County adding another Oxford House, and Polk CDC "getting involved on the shelter side."  Jimmy Jones said MWCAA had referred the first six individuals on the Centralized Wait List to the SHA, even though HRAP won't "launch" until July 10, because SHA staff wanted to have some time to develop relationships.  MWCAA is getting ready to dole out a bunch of State Homeless Assistance Program (SHAP) funds (they didn't say how much) through some obscure process no one is allowed to know about, and is looking for tenants for the 8,000 SF upper level of their new building at 615 Commercial Street NE.

We reviewed a data quality report on one of the SHAP subgrantees (grade: F), and there was  some discussion of who was responsible for data quality (MWVCAA) and what might be done (know that when the October update creates a new field, you have to enter data in that field for all pre-existing clients and a designated person could visit sub-grantees quarterly to review their reports and help them clean up their data, until they get the hang of it).  But, despite these very practical realizations, nothing.was.decided.

This is the third meeting in which we've witnessed this sort of discussion of data quality, and observed that no one takes notes, and nothing is decided.  It's like no one is in charge, so no one can decide anything.  It's quite the exercise in helplessness, and things have really got to change if we are going to have a functional and effective CoC, especially within the ROCC.  We really can't afford to have a "lead" agency that can't or won't lead.   

Saturday, June 3, 2017

MWHI Transition Team Mulls Next Steps

The MWHI Transition Team met last week at COG's High Street offices to go over the draft description of the Homeless Initiatives Coordinator position (as it's described in a City of Salem staff report), and try one more time to determine what steps to take toward implementing the Task Force's strategic plan

Readers will recall that, at the Task Force's last and final meeting in February, co-chairs Cathy Clark and Janet Carlson, having tried unsuccessfully to persuade anyone in the non-profit community to take on the role of a "backbone" organization for purposes of implementing the Task Force's strategic plan, proposed "housing" a strategic plan "project manager" in the MWVCOG or "COG", courtesy of you, the taxpayer.    It being the last meeting, and there being no other ideas to choose from, it was agreed to, with details to be worked out later, by a transition team.

Marion County Budget Officer's Message at 4
The transition team met for the first time in April.  They discussed mainly costs and potential funding sources.  Now, more than one month later, funding is still not in place, but the City of Keizer reportedly has committed $5,000, Marion County has "set aside" (but not yet voted on) $45,000, and the City of Salem appears to be considering a commitment of $65,000 (up from the $40,000 mentioned at the February Task Force meeting).

What, exactly, will those funds be purchasing?  Here are the position's "distinguishing characteristics", according to the draft position description discussed at Tuesday's meeting:
The position will be "responsible for the overall management of specialized efforts to develop a cohesive, collaborative and coordinated system of care that extends the reach of resources available to the homeless population.  Such efforts may include working closely with a network of local non-profit service providers, governmental agencies, and local businesses to provide case management, emergency housing, transitional housing, permanent supportive housing, mental health and substance abuse counseling, and domestic violence interventions.  Efforts may also include system development, organizational evaluation and other projects to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the program.  The focus of this position is on initial program development and evaluation rather than ongoing managerial responsibility."
"Initial program development" sounds pretty vague.  On the one hand, the position doesn't sound like it has much, if anything, to do with the the Task Force's strategic plan, on the other, it sounds an awful lot like what the MWVCAA is supposed to be doing as the lead agency in our local continuum of care, and, to some extent is doing, except for the "cohesive, collaborative and coordinated" part.

The reluctance to invest in something so vague is understandable.  As we reported earlier, the Keizer and Salem budget advisory committees declined to recommend funding during their regular budget processes, but, Salem City Manager and Transition Team member Steve Powers said at the meeting last Tuesday that "Keizer is supporting the position", and he will be "going back to Council" to recommend that Salem also support the position.  When we heard that, we were a bit surprised.  What had changed, we wondered?     

Recall that City of Salem staff recommended against including the position in the budget because they thought there should be "further organizational development before considering this expense", which they characterized as "ongoing."  Yet, as of the meeting on Tuesday, that "further organizational development" had not occurred.  "We still have work to do for other jurisdictions who might be interested", said one participant in the meeting, "we need a clear work plan for what the money will be buying", and "certainty from partners on their commitments."   

Mr. Powers told the group he expected that, when he returned to Council, he would be asked about other means and types of collaborations -- business, for example.  Would COG facilitate those collaborations, he wanted to know?  Or should the team consider, for example, United Way as a more suitable "home"?  (In case readers haven't heard, United Way has recently hired Ron Hays to replace outgoing ED Randy Franke.)  Might the team want to talk to other potential partners?   

"Phase One", Commissioner Carlson was quick to explain, "would be general agreement" between Salem, Keizer, Marion County and COG, with a "policy team giving guidance to the position."  The decision to house the position in COG had been made, she seemed to be saying, because COG is "Switzerland", and anyway, she didn't trust MWV United Way because it brings in so few funds ($2M) relative to Eugene's United Way ($6M), and it also allowed her Volunteer and Mentor Center to die.  In the 10-minute filibuster that immediately followed, she touched on a wide range of topics, including how a money map would show most homeless monies come from government, the conference call with HUD HQ about the ROCC, the problems with the Youth Homeless Demonstration Project planning grant application, and the possibility of adding a CoC administrator or HMIS lead to the project manager to be housed in COG.

When at last she yielded back, Mr. Powers asked COG's new ED, Sean O'Day, for his thoughts on the "expanded vision" for COG.  (COG currently has no programs coordinating housing or homeless services.)  O'Day said he would of course have to take it to the board, "who have been waiting for it to gel."  He said the proposal was "in the budget", but they still needed an IGA between COG and "the jurisdictions" that was "discrete to the position."  As for other potential partners, he thought MWVCAA "might explore housing the position." 

MWVCAA Director Jon Reeves opined somnambulantly that the problem with housing the position in a non-profit was conflicting priorities, which he characterized as "community vs. program."  He said the United Way option might be more viable to him if it wasn't at the very beginning of a new administration.  He said he "struggles with [the] COG [option] because of the governments involved and the potential for non-participation."  About the conference call with HUD HQ he said that, "when HUD said you can't do this [separate from ROCC], it won't work, it really made me want to do it."  It was, as usual, not clear if he was joking.

Mr. Powers, looking right at Commissioner Carlson, said there was no question about "the City's commitment to making this plan actionable", but would it be helpful, he wondered to the group, to have a discussion with the "policy team", and determine what the level of interest was among non-profits and other private companies in affordable housing and homelessness?  The response to his question, to the extent there was any, suggested the others either didn't understand what he was asking, or, more likely, wished to avoid the question. 

In summing up, Powers noted that there was general agreement on the minor changes needed to position description, but that they were still considering the pros and cons of the COG plan, and whether it "could expand outside government."  Someone asked about the next meeting, which had the unintended consequence of re-raising his question of whether or not they should meet with NGO  "policy team" members, and also who would be on the policy team.  Commissioner Carlson began talking about her suggestions (she was the only one to have turned in a list of names).  Mr. Reeves wondered if the Coordinated Entry Workgroup wasn't "a place to talk about this", and someone asked about including Yamhill County.  Mr. Powers finally let everyone off the hook and concluded there was "no need to have a meeting with sectors of the policy committee." 

Someone announced that the next meeting of the COG board of directors was June 20.  Mr. O'Day said he would have a "placeholder" for an information report on the proposal, and would be "gauging their interest" in it.  He said he would ask for authority to negotiate an IGA, because he didn't have "enough to draft one" at present.  Commissioner Carlson asked if this might be the last meeting of the transition team, then?  No, said O'Day, "if the board says okay [to his negotiating an IGA], then this group would iron out the details."  Mr. Powers suggested that "the three funders meet" by themselves for that purpose, which was agreed to.  No date was set.      

What now?  The Salem City Council will be approving its budget on June 12.  With so much left to be decided, it seems unlikely Mr. Powers will be reporting to Council that the "further organizational development" they were advised to wait for has occurred, and they should now consider including $65,000 for a  Homeless Initiatives Coordinator in the City budget.  So, if not June 12, when might Mr. Powers be "going back to Council" with a "do support" recommendation?  It's hard to say, but everyone sure seems to be waiting for something to happen that will miraculously cause the proposal to "gel."  The question is, what?  Or, maybe, who?    

Beside Commissioner Carlson and Mayor Clark (and maybe Karen Ray), there is one other person who seems fired up about the COG plan going forward, and that's Ashley Marshall, a former "Housing Supervisor" with Pacific Clinics in Pasadena, who happens at the moment to be working on her Master of Social Work.

Commissioner Carlson told the Transition Team on Tuesday that when the funding for the project manager position didn't come through by May 1 as originally planned, she hired Ms. Marshall as an intern, 18 hours/week, through December.  Ms. Marshall is currently working on a "money map" that would show where all our local homeless dollars come from, collecting sample MOUs for developing affordable housing, and preparing to write "articles" about her work.  She is also attending meetings like the Marion County Housing Authority and the Coordinated Entry Workgroup.  Clearly, Commissioner Carlson envisions Ms. Marshall assuming the Homeless Initiatives Coordinator position as soon as that can be arranged. 

One question we have is, if the Transition Team is having this much trouble getting their proposal to house a project manager at COG to "gel", how likely is it that the project manager will, within a reasonable time (or ever), be able to develop the "program" contemplated by the position description?  Especially if the project manager is a relative unknown, relatively lacking in expertise, and for all practical purposes, under the direction and control of Commissioner Carlson?  Can anyone claim COG is "Switzerland" under such an arrangement? 

It's no secret we believe the Task Force's strategic plan is just a hodgepodge of ideas and projects, most of which are self-executing and not in need of additional management.  As there is no real plan or program to implement, there is no need for a project manager at COG, or anywhere else.  While there is, certainly, a need in this community to develop a "cohesive, collaborative and coordinated system of care", that cause is more likely to be advanced by cooperating on a program like the Homeless Rental Assistance Program (HRAP) than by a project manager trying to implement a hodgepodge of ideas and projects.  Therefore, we should put all available resources toward HRAP, and not fund the project manager position.

In other news, turns out the ARCHES Project will not be moving to 1255 Broadway NE after all.  The building formerly occupied by Family Building Blocks and the Center for Community Innovation also had upstairs tenants who, it seems, did not care for the prospect of having a day center downstairs, and, more importantly, had the right to prevent that use.  So, the ARCHES is again on the lookout for new digs. [6/11/17 Update:  ARCHES has reportedly purchased the 16,000 SF building at 615 Commercial Street NE and will be moving there at the end of the month. 6/13/17 Update: Jimmy Jones indicated at the second meeting of the Coordinated Entry Workgroup that the purchase has not been completed and the moving date is uncertain.  This news comes amid swirling rumors that MWVCAA is closing the doors of its administrative offices on Center Street after today in connection with the alleged financial troubles of its Head Start program. 6/16/17 Update:  “Some of (the staffing cut) is also related to cost reduction,” Director Jon Reeves told the Statesman Journal.  (The admin offices did not close.) 7/16/17 Update: ARCHES closed its day center and moved on or around 6/27/17.  The next day, the number of visitors to HOAP doubled to 140.  ARCHES had not warned HOAP it would be closing its day center.]