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.]     

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