Tuesday, July 4, 2017

News from the Continuum

There was recently a serious discussion of "the homeless issue" over on A.P. Walther's public FB group, which is not something you often see there.  (Readers may recall that, back in January of 2016, A.P. told us to stop posting our homeless stuff, implication being he didn't think anyone was interested.)

The initial post lamented the decision(s) to remove downtown benches from the sidewalks outside Liberty Plaza and also the Center Point building, which adversely affects downtown livability, even though some might think it improved it.  The conversation then touched on the City's Homeless Rental Assistance Program (HRAP), which is intended to house 100 of Salem's most vulnerable residents over the next year, and the Yaquina Hall affordable housing project as being good, but not enough, whereupon it was pointed out that the the Affordable Housing, Social Services and Homelessness strategic plan work group hasn't finished its work, yet, and it went on from there.
Considering where things were one and two years ago, this conversation suggests the community's  knowledge and understanding of this very complex problem is getting deeper.  Instead of wishing the problems would just go away, like our former Mayor tended to do, the community is wanting the City to think and act strategically.  For instance, they're wanting to see data, set goals, and involve people with lived experience  actually involved in setting policy.  They realize the answer to homelessness isn't criminal penalties, or for everyone just to "get a job."

Are area social service providers ready for the public and donors to start caring about what they do?  We don't mean caring in the sense of, "Oh, that's nice, you're helping people."  We mean caring whether the programs are working. 

Increasingly, donors, especially business donors, and private donors with business experience, are concerned about the economic value of their  investment.  They expect results, not just numbers served.  Are social service providers prepared with answers?

For a lot of programs, their single largest source of funds is the City of Salem.  Consider that the City is intensifying its investment of General Fund dollars (e.g., toilet maintenance, HRAP).  What are they getting for that investment?  What is the public getting? 

The Affordable Housing &c. strategic plan work group indicated at its April 2017 meeting that it's interested in requiring recipients of City funds to collect and share data.  Obviously, they don't mean the data they've been getting, like how many were served, they mean meaningful data, like how many people remain stably housed after six months.

The public are not to be treated as one might a private donor, who, once a month or year are given a big thank-you and a humanizing success story meant to appeal to emotion.  The public want information. What's the expected return on investment? What are the shared goals and metrics?  How well or poorly were the funds used, and what is the strategy to improve performance?  Some providers already think this way, but not nearly enough, and perhaps not the most vocal.

Speaking of planning, MWVCAA did go through with the purchase of 615 Commercial Street NE for the ARCHES Project, which closed its Madison Street services on June 26th and moved into the building just north of Marion Square Park.  The building has no kitchen, laundry or shower facilities.  It's not known when services will reopen.    

Northwest Human Services is offering additional services through HOAP in 2 shifts to accommodate the loss of the ARCHES Project. Shift #1 8a-11:30a, lunch at 11 and Shift #2 12p-3:30p, lunch at 1. (Come for one or the other, not both.)

The Salvation Army is converting its Lighthouse Shelter from transitional to to an "overnight" shelter, no reason given.  Same number of beds, still serving breakfast and dinner, still "zero-tolerance" on any use of controlled substances, still supported by TSA's social service office, but no in-house case management.  The changes are expected to  be fully in effect by August 1, 2017.

Additional meetings of the Affordable Housing, Social Services and Homelessness strategic plan work group are scheduled for 4:30 at the Robert Lindsey Tower Community Room on Tuesday, July 18 and 25.  The focus at the first meeting will be on housing, and the second focus on social services and homelessness.

Oregon's Housing and Community Services Department (OHCS) has been slowly upgrading the information available on its webpage.  As of now, the HMIS stuff is the best.  The other links are pretty generic, and demonstrate how much need there is for local communities to have solid, credible actionable, local data.  Still it's an improvement, as long as it's on the way to something better, and not for show.  It's the rural communities that understand the least about homelessness in their areas, and who are, arguably, most in need of solid data.

MWVCAA finally put up something it refers to as the "2016 Homeless Count Totals."  It's not the full, multi-page report they used to put out before Amber Reeves left.  It's just the one page.  The total (1,537) does not match the total reported to HUD (857), but it does match what MWVCAA reported to the City of Salem, and what the City reported to HUD (incorrectly) in its Annual Action Plan back in April.  MWVCAA has not yet released a 2017 PIT Count report, but Jimmy Jones has promised one will be published in this month. 

[7/17/17 Update:  In an email transmitting a revised 2016 PITC report (separate reports for Marion and Polk Counties) to a group of providers, Jimmy Jones admitted "We previously put out a release of that 2016 information that was less than helpful. (Translation: We combined counts that shouldn’t have been combined and didn’t issue the kind of information that would be helpful in planning public policy.)" The email included a 2017 PITC report, also separated by county, also difficult to digest.  He said the reports were available at https://thechronic.org/, but we couldn't find them.]

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