By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston
all federal antipoverty and state housing/homeless assistance funds (e.g. Emergency Housing Assistance (EHA) and State Homeless Assistance Program (SHAP)) are delivered through Community Action Agencies (CAAs).
Of the 17 CAAs that serve Oregon's 36 counties, only 3 are public (Lane, Multnomah, Clackamas). The rest are private non-profit agencies, perhaps more appropriately described as "quasi-public" agencies (a quasi-public agency is a publicly chartered body that provides a public service and is overseen by an appointed board, commission, or committee).
Although it's through the local CAAs that these programs are delivered (on the theory that these things are best left in local control), it's the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department (OHCS) that's charged with program administration. This relationship -- the one between CAAs and OHCS -- is not especially well understood. Consider, for example a recent discussion at a meeting of the AOC Housing subcommittee where, according to the staff summary, members wanted to know:
- What is the link to the non-profit organizations that utilize EHA/SHAP?
- How is the impact of these state funds reported to the state?
- What outcome measures are used to measure statewide impact of EHA/SHAP?
- The community action network includes 18 [sic] community action agencies (sometimes referred to as CAAs) that serve all 36 counties in Oregon. While the majority of community action agencies are non-profits, three are public and housed in county government. The ‘public CAAs are in Multnomah, Clackamas and Lane county. Because community action believes the greatest impact occurs at the local level, many CAAs, including the public CAAs subcontract with community based organizations, culturally based organizations and faith based groups to deliver services that meet local needs. It is this relationship that brings in a host of non-profit organizations, especially among the public CAAs.
- OHCS distributes EHA/SHAP dollars to CAAs throughout the state by formula. Some of those dollars may be passed through to other non-profits doing homelessness prevention/service work in the community. Those non-profits are required to report back to their local CAA on how the funds were spent, how many people were served and the outcomes achieved. Community Action Agencies then do a similar type of reporting to Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) that includes the data they received from the non-profit partners in their communities.
- OHCS compiles this data. One of the purposes for this collection is to report to the legislature on Key Performance Measures related to their work. [Bold emphasis added above.]
|OHCS KPM #1|
There's another report produced by OHCS that does contain local data. It's produced biennially, and is supposed to report on the efforts of state agencies, OHCS included, to reduce the incidence of poverty in Oregon. See ORS 458.505(6)(d) and the 2015 Poverty Report (dubiously titled, "Moving from Poverty to Prosperity in Oregon").
|OHCS duties under ORS 458.505(6)(d)|
It's to be hoped that the 2017 Poverty Report will have something meaningful to say about the state's efforts to implement the state policy regarding homelessness (and will also change the title of the report to something more on point, like "How Oregon is Addressing Poverty and Homelessness in 2017.") It is also to be hoped that, given OHCS has chosen CAAs to deliver its homeless/housing programs, it will begin to organize the Poverty Report around CAAs, or even CoCs, instead of counties. (Oregon's 2016 CAPER seems to suggest the latter might make the most sense.)
|2015 Poverty Report|
Now, maybe OHCS thinks CAAs are just naturally going to report relevant local data (e.g., the reports they're required to make to OHCS). Maybe some do, but more don't, as indicated by the questions from the AOC Housing subcommittee referred to above. Consider the fact that OHCS and the Community Action Partnership of Oregon (CAPO) are putting together a "Community Action Agency 101" course for OHCS's Housing Stability Council. See here, beginning at page 15. If CAAs were consistently sharing data and coordinating homeless/housing systems, a "101" for people with knowledge/experience in low-income housing would hardly be necessary.
|MWVCAA FY2015 Annual Report|
Early this past summer, MWVCAA began posting Board of Directors meeting materials on its website, but only because new Head Start performance standards required it. Those materials contain some information about homeless/housing programs, but they hardly provide a complete picture. So, it's a start, but more is needed.
|2016 State Agencies Expenditure Report|
Oregon gets good marks for spending transparency. For example, we can know to the penny what the state paid the Director of OHCS in 2016 for mileage, for meals, or for attending conferences. But the only information on what the state paid our local CAA is a total: $3,467,543. We have no idea which state program the funds came out of, or who was supposed to deliver services, or what the services were. We don't even know if the funds were spent, or returned to the state.
ORS 458.528 to share relevant information about homeless/housing program administration with local communities, and to encourage, or require, CAAs to share relevant homeless/housing program delivery information with their local communities, because, in all likelihood, other CAAs across the state are not any better about sharing information than ours is. It's not a requirement, so they probably just don't think about it. But they absolutely need to be thinking about it, and OHCS should help them do that.
In 2015, the legislature abolished the Interagency Council on Hunger and Homelessness, and moved responsibility for ensuring that homelessness relief efforts operate efficiently and effectively to the Housing Stability Council. To carry out that responsibility, the HSC needs information. Local communities have just as much need for the same kind of information at the community level. Moreover, such information sharing is the only way the Oregon's policy on homelessness will ever be carried out. Communities simply must be told what homeless assistance programs the state is funding in their community, how many dollars are involved, how the money's being spent and leveraged, what the return on investment is and what kind of outcomes they're getting. It is not too much to ask, given the likelihood the reports exist, and are just not being published. OHCS and the Housing Stability Council can and should ensure that local communities have access to the information they need to ensure that local homelessness relief effort operate efficiently and effectively.