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.] 

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