Saturday, July 8, 2017

News from the Continuum

The plan to remove benches from outside Liberty Plaza has been executed.  Still have no information on the process used to make the  decision, or who at the City made it, or, for that matter, where the benches might have ended up.  On the up side, the alley just east of the photo to the left now sports a mural and three toilets.

On the City Council's agenda for Monday night is an information report ("paper") on the sobering center the City hopes one day to have, likely, but not necessarily, somewhere in CANDO, modeled on the one in Grant's Pass.  Interestingly, the City projects that the center's annual operating costs will be more than twice ($600-$700K) what Grant's Pass says its annual operating costs are ($250K-$300K).  The centers look to be about the same size, so its not clear what, other than location, makes the Salem center cost so much more.

There was talk that the sobering center might co-locate with The ARCHES Project at 615 Commercial Street NE, just north of Marion Square Park, in the building that MWVCAA  purchased just recently.  Even assuming that the co-location of sobering and day centers somehow makes sense (which we would not have thought), it's still probably not going to happen.  For one thing, the building requires extensive renovations to the first floor (SWAG $1 to $1.5M), for which there were two weeks ago no money or plans.  Then there's the problem of having to partner with MWVCAA.

Despite the fact that Oregon law established community action agencies as the delivery system for all federal anti-poverty funds, making MWVCAA the "lead agency" for our local continuum of care, they've not got a good track record.  For one thing, they don't plan, or they don't plan effectively, which means they tend to make decisions in crisis mode, like when the lease is up,  the money is gone, a deadline looms, or freezing temperatures are forecast.  As the public's partner, they lack transparency and accountability.  That's somewhat the fault of the City, the larger community, and, of course, the MWVCAA board, for not expecting more from our "lead agency" than we do.  But, is it really that hard to publish the occasional program management report?

For a long time, we didn't even know such reports existed.  However, federal regulations effective last fall required the meetings of Head Start governing bodies (e.g., the MWVCAA board), to be made public, including access to meeting materials.  Before, the only way we were likely to hear about a program involving MWVCAA was a casual oral "update" at some meeting, or through one of its partners, e.g., this report from the Salem Housing Authority on the Veterans' Rental Assistance Program or VRAP.  Now, however, we know we can go to MWVCAA board meetings and ask for their reports.  We can learn, for instance, that VRAP fell short of the goal to house 42 veterans with serious mental illness by June 30, by about half.  (We'd like to link to that report, so readers could see for themselves what's going on with VRAP and MWVCAA's many other programs, but MWVCAA hasn't posted it.)  It's not that they don't want to, it's that they somehow can't manage it. 

So, as there are, presently, no partners and no business plan for 615 Commercial Street NE, let's talk about what people are hoping for.  ARCHES staff are hoping for more showers and laundry facilities than they had at the Madison Street location, and for renovations to be completed by the end of summer.  Dan Sheets is hoping to move Meals Under the Bridge indoors, at least during the winter.  CANDO is hoping for a locker or other secured storage program.  Let's guess that the SPD are hoping for a medically controlled space where the dangerously intoxicated can be monitored until they come to their senses.  Probably everyone is hoping for a one-stop homeless resources center modeled on the Dallas Community Resource Center in Polk County.    

As if we needed reminding how challenging any of that will be, last Sunday night, a compressor on top of the Academy building, home to the Dallas Community Resource Center, decided to malfunction, and flood the sprinkler system on the third floor.  The water, being water, eventually reached the lower floors, soaking walls, carpets, floors/sub-floors and anything absorbent in its way.

That's the sort of thing people don't plan for, and yet they must.  The point is that hosting a resource center is major, major undertaking, even when it's well-planned, and contingencies are backed up by other county departments and a good property insurance policy.  Put another way, the new toilets, mural and bench-free sidewalks might be as good as it's going to get downtown, at least any time soon.

In other (good) news:

The Housing Stability Council on Friday approved a "grant reservation in an amount up to $4,000,000.00 to Salem Housing Authority" to acquire and rehabilitate Yaquina Hall (and SouthFair Apartments, details at right.)  Now that took some planning.

Speaking of which, the grass-roots effort to bring Polk County's Service Integration model to Marion County, has, thanks in large measure to the leadership of Sharon Heuer and Salem Health, succeeded in attracting strong applications for the pilot program from providers in the high school catchment areas of North Marion, Woodburn and North Salem high schools, as well as Santiam Hospital's commitment to a leadership/funding role in creating one or more teams in the canyon area, which Melissa Baurer will coordinate.

The Oregon legislature has sine died without passing HB 2004, which would have put limits on no-cause terminations, and made it even harder to find private rental housing for HRAP clients.
The Urban Development Department has hired Shelly Ehenger as Federal Programs Manager.  Shelly has extensive experience running HUD/housing programs for Little Rock, Arkansas and Marion County.  It's expected that, among her other duties, she will be working to implement the goals and recommendations of the City's Affordable Housing, Social Services and Homelessness strategic plan work group, as they relate to the City's Urban Development, Community Services and Housing Commission (CSHC) (see here at 3 or below).  Based on the goals and recommendations they developed last April, which are expected to be adopted by the City Council, it seems the City is, finally, understanding the need for, and beginning to develop and implement a strategic approach to the problems of homelessness in this community, and this is a very positive development that we will be watching closely.
AHSSH Council Work Group Recommendations at 3
[Update 7/10/17: Anaheim removes benches from bus stops from its main tourist thoroughfare, abutting Disneyland.  "The benches are slowly being replaced with concrete “stools” designed for people to sit on while they wait for the bus."]      

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