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.
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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?
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.]