Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Council Kills Sit-Lie after Public Hearing

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston
Updated.  Originally posted under the title, "Salem's Deceased "Sit-Lie" Ordinance."

Following a public hearing where comment opposed the ordinance bill 21:1, the City Council rejected the bill and authorized the Mayor to create a task force to "study homelessness."  AP/Seattle Times picked up the story of the bill's defeat from the Statesman Journal.  Find the podcast of Willamette Wake Up's report on the September 25 City Council meeting here.

Nick Williams
Nick Williams, Ward 8, CEO of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, was the only member of the public to speak in favor of Ordinance Bill 22-17.

Sam Klausen
Sam Klausen, Ward 5, who co-owns a downtown business with her husband,  daughter of a former city councilor, and someone who's lived her whole life in Salem-Keizer, was the first to comment, and first to comment on the ordinance bill.  She was against it. 

Clausen said, "to hear that my city is considering a proposal that targets and dehumanizes the most vulnerable part of our population is gut-wrenching.  I want to be proud of where I live, but for the first time in my life, I'm embarrassed by the reputation my city is building."

Dale Hendrick (sp)
A first-year law student, Clausen spoke of a case out of California involving prohibitions on car-camping that her classmates talked about "for weeks."  She said, "the case felt like an historic discriminatory event from the past, and only a few weeks after reading this case, the past became the present -- and in my community.  Please don't let this be my future."  

Clausen was followed by Dale Hendrick (sp), Ward 3, who said the ordinance did not make "moral or fiscal sense."  He wanted to know if the City had considered "other solutions", and characterized the ordinance bill as based on "discriminatory, anti-homeless, anti-veteran" policy, adding that the ordinance was, in general, "anti-human."

Caleb Hayes (sp)
"I want people to be welcome here, and this [ordinance bill] does not do that", Hendrick said, adding, "It's couched in the language of public safety, but in reality it's an attempt to sweep the serious issue of homelessness under the rug."  "This is a heartless waste of resources", he said.

The next to comment was Caleb Hayes (sp), Ward 2, who advised the Council that the proposal will waste resources and be challenged.  "This is the wrong approach", he said, offering arguments against the bill from the right, left, and civil libertarian viewpoints.  He argued also for the City to adopt a Housing First approach, and for efforts to create "real solutions to the problems of homelessness."

Britta Franz
Britta Franz also spoke against the ordinance bill.  "Stop it tonight.  Don't have a hearing.  You've heard enough."  She also advised the Council to involve the wider community in finding solutions:  "I invite you to truly take care of our people, [to be] our conscience.  We need your leadership.  Homelessness cannot be solved at City Hall.  The people are ready, ask us to get to work."

Linda Beir (sp)
Linda Bier (sp), Ward 7, spoke in opposition as well, characterizing the ordinance bill as inhumane and "a waste of our funds."

Micky Varney, Ward 8, expressed concern about the ordinance, saying she had recently heard MWVCAA's Jimmy Jones speak about the extent of the problem with homelessness in the local area.  She told the Council that the ordinance bill discriminates against homeless individuals, and attempts to "sweep the problem under the rug", which she said was "unacceptable.  We can do better."  She urged the Council not to support the bill.

Trevor Phillips
Trevor Phillips, Ward 3, ER physician, present to speak in favor of the "child-friendly city" motion, said he felt compelled also to speak against the ordinance bill.  "I feel like the Tale of Two Cities.  We're about to be the state leader in an amazing initiative to empower kids...but let's end this discussion [about the ordinance bill].  It's not the fault of the homeless that they're homeless.  I can't be more eloquent than the words of Councilor Chris Hoy.  Criminalizing the human condition won't make it better", he said.

Michael Slater
Michael Slater, Ward 7, asked the Council to vote against the ordinance bill, and said he wanted to echo what Dr. Phillips had said about Councilor Hoy's remarks, which he characterized as "a great act of leadership." 
Nancy Baker-Kroft

Nancy Baker-Kroft, Ward 1, spoke emotionally against the ordinance bill, and about her personal experiences with homelessness and the barriers people experiencing homelessness face.

Nick Williams (photo at top) said earlier that afternoon, he "took a little trip downtown, and talked to some folks in business" and asked them "about their experiences with our downtown homeless population...In every circumstance, there was compassion, and the overwhelming feeling that Salem can do a lot better...but to not do anything is not acceptable."  He said they all asked what they could do, and he told them, "Come to City Council tonight."  They wouldn't do that.  "Anything else?", they wanted to know.  The closest Mr. Williams came to endorsing the ordinance bill was to say, "Thank you for trying to do something.  To do nothing is not acceptable."

Julie Eaton
Julie Eaton, Ward 3, said she "strongly opposed" the ordinance, which she thought was unconstitutional and, "more importantly, cruel."  She said Councilor Hoy's Facebook post about "criminalizing the human condition" had motivated her to come down and speak out.  She said she was really  curious to know who "the staff is who brought this up...how do you get that job?", and that she "really hope[d] this ends tonight."   
Joyce Judy

Joyce Judy, Ward 5, speaking about the ordinance bill, said she was "really angry about it."  She did not understand how, given the strong support for the homeless reflected in the City's strategic planning process, that staff would take it upon themselves to develop a sit-lie ordinance without first "taking the pulse of the Council on this issue.  Clearly, this is a flawed ordinance, and one that the people of Salem are against.  Please drop this ordinance, and find a better solution that doesn't criminalize homelessness."

Pamela Lyons-Nelson
Pamela Lyons Nelson, Ward 1, said she'd lived in Salem over 40 years, and in the same house on 21st Street NE most of that time.  She spoke against the ordinance, which she considered both inhumane and ineffective.  She said there were many in the community who agreed with her view, and that she'd not heard anything about the ordinance, except a "hushed horror that this is even happening in our community."  She challenged the notion that residents feared those living on the streets, as opposed to being merely uncomfortable in their presence as a consequence of "their own preconceptions about who these people are."  She said Salem needed "a comprehensive, community-wide plan to deal with homelessness in every aspect."
Lorrie Walker

Lorrie Walker, Ward 2, said she thought the ordinance bill was "just plain wrong ...I just can't even believe it's something that would be considered."  She said Salem needed to do something that's really going to help people experiencing homelessness, and not put the problem where no one can see it.    

Carrie Elmore
Carrie Elmore, Ward 1, grew up in Salem, and is a law student at Willamette University who'd been working on the child-friendly city initiative, but wanted to speak about the ordinance bill.  She said if the Council advanced the ordinance bill, it would be only a matter of time before it was declared unconstitutional, so it would be a waste of time and resources.  It would also push people in need away from services.

Gordon Roth
Gordon Roth, Ward 5, also a WU law student, also there to support the child-friendly cities initiative, said he felt compelled to speak about the ordinance bill.  He said the bill was anti-homeless, and, as "the homeless are us", it was also anti-elderly, anti-child, anti-veteran, anti-disabled, anti-mentally ill, etc.  He pointed out the contrast between the one person who spoke tepidly in favor of the ordinance [Nick Williams], versus the passion of those speaking out against it.  He said the latter were all saying, in essence, that human dignity is more important than "aesthetics or profits."  And, the fact that the Council was trying and failing to help people get off the streets does not mean they have permission to enact laws that attack and target the most vulnerable among us.  He urged the Council to vote no on the ordinance bill. 

Rebecca Larson
Rebecca Larson, Ward 7, also a WU law student, also there to support the child-friendly cities initiative, urged the Council not to support the ordinance bill.  "It doesn't make sense", the homeless are vulnerable, just like the children, so if we believe in protecting the children, we should not criminalize homelessness.
Audrey Schackel

Audrey Schackel was ready to assume the Council was not going to enact the ordinance, and wanted to talk about the City doing more to improve toilet facilities for the homeless.

Ken Hetsel, Ward 3, likewise spoke about the need for toilet facilities for the homeless.
Ken Hetsel

James Cox
James Cox spoke about his desire to find practical ways to help meet the basic needs of his homeless neighbors.

Jamie Brasington

Jamie Brasington said she was there as a survivor of childhood homelessness, and said "the divide" between the City's child and homeless policies -- thinking of homelessness as an adult issue -- was just silly.  Homelessness is not a choice, she said, and the City should not criminalize it.

Pamella Watson
Pamella Watson, the last of the public to speak, echoed the sentiments of the previous speakers, and called on the City to take a leadership role in addressing the problems of homelessness in the City.

Finally, three hours in to the evening, the Council reached Ordinance Bill 22-17, and the Mayor called on Chief Moore to tell the Council "what this ordinance says." The Chief then spoke for several minutes, in an effort to reassure everyone the ordinance was not what everyone thought it was.

Chief Jerry Moore
The Chief said much thought had gone into drafting the ordinance, and that he'd heard nothing new in the evening's public comments.  He spoke in general terms of the complaints the Department had received over the years (making no mention of pedestrian safety), and how his officers have for years worked to connect people to resources and services.  He denied the ordinance criminalized homelessness, saying its purpose was to get people connected to services, while admitting, "of course, there is an enforcement equation in this, which is why a lot of people were talking tonight."

He spoke about having "empathy" for and responsibility to the members of the community who feel victimized.  He said ordinances similar to the one being proposed "work fairly well" in other "major cities", which he did not name.  About the notion that people's so-called fears of "the homeless" are based largely on misconceptions, he said, without irony, that "perception is reality", meaning, people act on their fears, whether or not they have any basis in reality, and that's why the ordinance is needed.    

Mayor Bennett
Ultimately, the votes were not there.  The strategy to put Chief Moore's face on the ordinance bill was, in the end, just not enough of a selling point, and it didn't help that Chief Moore's not that good of an actor.

After much discussion, a motion by Councilor Andersen to reject the motion outright and authorize the Mayor to create a task force to "study homelessness" passed unanimously, with a caution from Councilor Kaser to narrow the scope of the task force to something  deliverable.  The Mayor asked to have a month to think about it, and report back with a proposal, which was agreed to.            

So, Salem's nascent sit-lie law is dead, and another task force is about to be born.  Let's hope this one delivers something real, however modest.  Developing a standards and methods for responding to so-called "quality of life" complaints involving people experiencing homelessness would be a good start.

In December, the City Council repealed SRC 95.560 (Vagrancy) by Ordinance 25-17, effective 1/1/18.  See "DHSTF misled on need to 'repeal codes'."

Sunday, September 24, 2017

News from the Continuum

Revised: January 2019

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Pamala Garrick (SHA) with Michael Kerrigone and Walter Lofton (UGM)
Change is coming to the Union Gospel Mission.  Walter Lofton (far right) will be replacing Food Services Manager Michael Kerrigone, who is leaving UGM for new opportunities.  Other new staff include: Linda Cook, Capital Campaign Manager; Mark Hunter, Director of Development; and Dan Clem, Interim CEO.

The Center for Hope and Safety got a lot of support from the Urban Renewal Agency (City Council) at its last meeting, in the form of forgiveness of three, no-interest loans of about $70,000 in federal funds, made between 1981 and 2003, secured by their property at 1590 Winter Street NE, which, until recently, the Center operated as a shelter.  The City's 2013 loan of $300,000 to assist with the acquisition of 650 and 657 Center Street remains outstanding, but is set to be forgiven in 2023, if at that time it appears that the Center has complied with all the terms and conditions of the loan agreement.

The ARCHES Project Day Shelter Still Not Open
After ten weeks, there's finally some signage in front of the Mid-Willamette Community Action Agency (MWVCAA)'s Commercial Street building to help consumers figure out where to find The ARCHES Project.   

Unfortunately, the sign is car-centric (oriented toward vehicular traffic, which is all headed south on one-way Commercial Street), when  most consumers are on foot.  Still, it's better than no sign at all.

MWVCAA purchased the 16,000 SF building on Commercial Street last June using $487K in state emergency housing funds as a down payment.  The state  authorized the purchase on assurances that building would house a day center (day centers are included in OHCS's definition of "shelter") and would be open for business on June 30th, 2017, which it wasn't.

"The building will house a large day center"

Even after eleven weeks in the new building, the day center is still not open, and renovations needed to get it open haven't begun.  Meanwhile, the Homeless Outreach Advocacy Project (HOAP), run by Northwest Human Services, is serving record numbers of people at its day center over on Church Street.      

PITC Planning Group at UGM on 9/21/17
This past Thursday, MWVCAA finally convened the long-awaited meeting to conduct a "complete overhaul" of the annual Point in Time Homeless Count methodology.  Attendees included staff from UGM (host), Northwest Human Services, Salem Housing Authority, Salem Leadership Foundation and Santiam Hospital -- that's in addition to Community Action and Shangri-La, who, as longtime CoC Program grant recipients, are responsible for organizing the counts.  Polk County was not represented at the meeting.

There was no description or analysis of the existing count methodology and no proposal for a new methodology.  There was not so much as a one-pager describing how the event is typically organized.  No wonder that Marion and Polk Counties are counting, by CRP Director Jimmy Jones's estimation, only 59-77% of its homeless population.

Judging by what was said during the meeting, here are some of the problems that need to be addressed in future counts:  no method to ensure appropriate adjustments are made to MWVCAA's  database following ServicePoint upgrades; consequent problems pulling reports; surveys not being entered into the database; inadequate training on data entry; insufficient number of volunteers; inexperienced and inadequately trained/supported volunteers; paper survey forms; the form itself; and visiting the camps during day shift, when most people are away.

"We have got to get this HMIS [ServicePoint] piece cleared up."
Some of the strategies the group suggested to counter the deficiencies:  plan to open warming centers around the day of the count, whatever the weather;  plan to hold "connects" at which the most sought-after items like sleeping bags and tarps are given away; publicize the events and the need for volunteers well in advance; expand volunteer training beyond how to fill out the survey form; close day centers like HOAP to allow staff to participate in the count; have social service agencies each lead a project work group; call on other agencies to participate in the count; call on local colleges and university students to participate in the count; conduct the unsheltered count using teams of experienced workers paired with volunteers (1:5); conduct surveys using a mobile app (available from HUD since 2015); and form a steering committee made up of representatives from Salem, Polk, North Marion, and up the canyon to oversee preparations.  No suggestions were made at this meeting regarding the ServicePoint problems (adjusting for updates and data entry error), probably because MWVCAA staff identified those strategies some months ago -- they just need to be implemented.  Jones indicated his intent to address the problems by saying, "We have got to get this HMIS [ServicePoint] piece cleared up."

The meeting was like so many others called by Community Action (e.g., the Coordinated Entry Work Group [halted after four meetings] and the ROCC Region 7 Grantees [hasn't met since May 2017].  Often late starting, minimal (if any) agenda, no focus, no questions to be decided and little (if any) follow up.  In the beginning, they are well-attended, but, because they are unproductive, attendance quickly drops off.  The people with decision-making authority are the first to go, leaving only interns and case managers, and maybe those attending as a condition of a grant.  

Strategic Plan Open House on 9/21/17
There was a lower than expected turnout at the City of Salem's Strategic Plan Open House at Broadway Commons, probably owing to the availability of an online survey (there was no presentation or group Q&A) as to which strategies are important for the City to implement in the coming year.

Although we hung out most of the evening near the Affordable Housing and Social Services station (whose strategies received good support), we observed an overall friendly rapport with staff (about 13 blue vests) and those City Councilors in attendance (all except Nanke, Cook and the Mayor). 

Collective Impact 3.0 Community Workshop
Friday's breakfast meeting at the Kroc Center to hear Sylvia Cheuy of the Tamarack Institute of Vancouver, Canada, speak about the latest thinking on collective impact (you know, the approach everyone says they've been doing for years, but few actually have) was well attended, but it wasn't particularly informative (newsflash: it still takes money and influence to accomplish anything).

We (and we suspect others) attended because a flyer said we would "Hear the story of how a small city in Canada eliminated chronic homelessness", but someone must've forgotten to tell Ms. Chuey.  The talk (it was  billed as "a workshop", but it was just a talk, with no time for Q&A) was sponsored by Catholic Community Services, Marion County, Willamette Valley Community Health and The Early Learning Hub.

Following Ms. Chuey's talk was a bizarre encore by Keizer Mayor Kathy Clark about the Mid-Willamette Hopeless Initiative Task Force's Strategic Plan -- 30 minutes of the exact same PowerPoint slides she presented to the Keizer City Council in a work session last April, and Commissioner Carlson presented to the Marion County Board of Commissioners, and they both presented to the Salem City Council last spring.  We suffered through it on the promise that the Mayor would be providing an update on plan implementation, but that promise, like most of the promises coming out of the MWHITF, proved to be false, there having been no developments on that front since our last report in June.    

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

City Council to Consider Sit-Lie Bill

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston
Updated.  Originally published under "Salem's Aborted "Sit-Lie" Ordinance" (14 September 2017) and "Salem's Resuscitated "Sit-Lie" Ordinance" (20 September 2017).

The week after Labor Day, the City announced the Council would be considering a new "sit-lie" ordinance, Ordinance Bill 22-17, on September 25 (see here).  

It was news to most of us, including several City Councilors, who learned of it through social media.  Questions were asked.

Then, that part of the agenda, including the links to the ordinance bill, was removed.  More questions were asked.

Then, that part of the agenda was restored, with new links to the ordinance bill.  Now, several days later, the item does appear to be on the the agenda for the September 25 meeting with three options for the Council's consideration:  1) proceed to second reading for enactment at a future meeting, 2) direct that the ordinance bill be scheduled for a public hearing, or 3) refer the ordinance back to staff to draft changes.  

No Safety Threat                             Safety Threat
Proposed Ordinance Bill 22-17 amends SRC Chapter 95 (Miscellaneous), sections 720 (Violations)(to make it "Sitting or Lying Down on Public Sidewalks During Certain Hours"), 730 (Definitions)(to make it "Camping Prohibited on Public Property and Public Right of Way"), 740 (Civil Exclusion)(to make it "Unattended Personal Property on Public Sidewalks Prohibited"); amends and renumbers sections 735 (Downtown Crime Prevention District)(to become 810), 736 (North Salem Crime Prevention District)(to become 820), 750 (Variances from Exclusion)(to become 840) and 760 (Violation of Exclusion Notice)(to become 850); renumbers section 770 (Appeals)(to become 860); creates sections 800 (text of 730, Civil Exclusion Definitions), 830 (text of 740, Civil Exclusion) and 990 (text of 720, Violations).

The staff report, "signed" by our Chief of Police, Jerry Moore, summarized the issues the bill was intended to address as "extended sitting or lying down on sidewalks, leaving personal property unattended on sidewalks, and campsites on public property", and the bill itself this way:
With certain exceptions, Ordinance Bill No. 22-17 restricts sitting or lying on public sidewalks between the hours of 7:00 am and 9:00 pm.  It also prohibits camping and leaving personal property unattended on the sidewalk.  Prior to taking enforcement action, the ordinance bill requires City personnel to warn the individual that the conduct is in violation of the code, and give them an opportunity to correct it
No Safety Threat                     Safety Threat
Note that the problem was identified as "extended" sitting or lying down, and the bill prohibits any sitting or lying down, with these exceptions: sitting or lying down due to a medical emergency; using a wheelchair/walker, stroller, operating or patronizing a business conducted in conformance with the law, participating in or attending a parade, festival, performance, rally, demonstration, meeting or similar event conducted  "pursuant to" and in accordance with the law, sitting on a fixed chair or bench or bus stop ("while waiting for transport").

No Safety Threat                                     Safety Threat
As Michah Houghton put it over on AP's FB page, "Warned = 'hey you can't sit or lie here', Opportunity to correct it = 'Move Along please.'" 

Under the initial proposed ordinance, violations were infractions, which can get a person excluded from certain parts of the City, unless there's an appeal or a variance given.
Does Salem need a law like this?  Yes, said Chief Moore's initial report:  the "lack of existing law that effectively address[es] the harms created by people sitting, laying [sic] or leaving personal property on public sidewalks, and camping on public property" has been a "barrier" eliminating the behavior.    

No Safety Threat                      Double Safety Threat
So, what "harms" result from people sitting, lying or leaving personalty on sidewalks?  According to the bill's findings, when they do that, they "threaten the safety and welfare of all pedestrians, with the greatest impact on those pedestrians who are elderly, young children, or who have physical and mental disabilities."

Is there evidence that the safety and welfare of all pedestrians are threatened by people sitting, lying or leaving personalty on sidewalks?  According to Chief Moore's initial report, "The City has received complaints from residents, businesses and social service providers...[that] include people feeling unsafe to use public sidewalks, and businesses claiming their enterprises are suffering from this behavior."  Hmm.  "Feeling" unsafe?  "Claiming" business suffers"? 

What evidence the City might have to support the bill's findings that people sitting, lying and leaving personalty on sidewalks threatens pedestrian safety, and intimidates and deters people from using the sidewalk and public and private services (i.e., businesses)?  

As indicated in the photo above,  evidence supporting the pedestrian safety threat rationale will need to be reconciled with the bill's exceptions, which suggest that safety may be compromised if necessary to further the interests of certain types of business -- but not the jewelry-on-a-blanket or the street-corner-missionary type of business (unless the missionary is sitting on a bench, standing or in a wheelchair), and certainly not panhandling (likewise).

Maybe such distinctions are constitutionally defensible, but who's to say that sidewalks crowded with signs, chairs, tables and cigarette smoke aren't just as much of a threat to pedestrian safety?  And, who's to say such crowded sidewalks don't have a deterrent effect on shopping?  What's the rational basis for prohibiting one type of use and not the other, if safety is the paramount concern?

The ordinance bill finds that "[p]eople who sit or lie down on public sidewalks, or...leave personal property unattended...deter city residents and visitors from patronizing local shops, restaurants and businesses...and deter people from using the sidewalks in their neighborhoods."  Kinda reminds us of the bad old days, when, based on similar assumptions, the authorities tried to segregate "city residents and visitors" from "people" Sarah's grandmothers referred to as "darkies" and "nigras."   

"People who sit or lie down on public sidewalks, or...leave personal property unattended" is, as we all know, code for scruffy, unwashed, disabled people, people attending to voices in their heads, people busking and panhandling and preaching the gospel and selling cheap jewelry, whether they're sitting, lying, standing or walking by.

"Sorry, you can't sit here"?
The findings state that the purpose of warning-before-citing is to allow the person "the opportunity to obtain referrals to appropriate service entities."  This follows the common assumption that people who live in the streets are not receiving services, or they wouldn't look like they do, or act the way they act.  Regardless, it's fairly obvious that the ordinance is not concerned with whether services are needed.

Years ago, it was so much easier for local authorities to discriminate.  But now, after decades of litigation, it's getting harder and harder to find a "rational basis" that can withstand a legal challenge.  The "rational basis" of the proposed ordinance would appear to be that its prohibitions are needed to maintain public safety, and that they merely target certain kinds of behavior, not any particular group.  Whether that's defensible in court will depend on the case, which basically makes the proposed ordinance a bill for a lawsuit.  

About the finding that people sitting, lying or leaving personalty on sidewalks deters people from using the sidewalks in "their" neighborhoods, it's hard to know exactly what to say, except, really?  More than, say, the fact that so many neighborhood sidewalks need repair? 

Under proposed SRC 95.740, the City may remove unattended personal property from the sidewalk if it poses an immediate threat to public health, safety, or welfare.  (Does the City not already have the authority it needs to remove dangerous material from the sidewalk?)

If the personalty's not an immediate threat, it has to be posted for 24 hours before it may be removed, and after it's removed, the City must hold it for 30 days before it can be destroyed (unless it's perishable, etc.).  During the 30-day retention period, the City must provide the owner reasonable access.  As others have pointed out, however, "an 800 number is of no use if you don't have a phone, a Web address is not helpful if you don't have access to the Internet, and a storage facility halfway across town doesn't help if you lack bus fare."  

City code (SRC 95.560, above) already effectively prohibits camping (including car camping) on public property or right of way.  Nevertheless, proposed SRC 95.730 prohibits setting up, or remaining in a campsite for the purpose of establishing or maintaining a place to live anywhere on public property or in the right of way.  Does the proposed "no camping" provision add anything not available under SRC 95.560?  Ask the City Attorney.  Presumably, it does.

And presumably, each part of Ordinance Bill 22-17, with its findings as to legislative intent and its three-pronged approach (no sitting/lying, no unattended personalty, no camping), is considered somehow necessary, consistent with City policies, and worded in such a way as to withstand the type of legal challenges that have been successful in other jurisdictions (see, e.g., here and here).  It will be important to hear the City Attorney and Chief Moore speak to these questions.  (They didn't.)

On September 21, 2017, the Statesman Journal reported that the City "takes its chances" passing an ordinance bill like 22-17, which the headline refers to as a "homeless crackdown." 
In an interview at City Hall, officials characterized the proposal as striking a balance between people's rights and concerns that have been raised about proper use of the sidewalks.
Police officers do all they can to find people with "chronic problems and issues" resources and put them in contact with places where they can get help, said Deputy Chief Skip Miller, with the Salem Police Department.
Deputy Chief Miller also said, according to the article, "Officers can't help when they ["people with chronic problems and issues"] refuse services, but police also can't solve others' business and safety concerns, he said."

The police "can't help", so the answer is to cite and exclude?  For sitting and lying on the sidewalk?  Hard facts make bad law, as the saying goes, and this is a classic example.

"We're in no way trying to make homelessness a crime", the article quotes Miller as saying, without irony, considering the same argument (lack of intent) was used to invalidate a similar Portland ordinance in 2009.

Where were Deputy Chief Miller and his ordinance bill three years ago, when Mayor Peterson was complaining about forever having to "step over homeless people" downtown?  We didn't think we could "arrest our way out of this" back then, so what's changed?  If Deputy Chief Miller's thinking is representative, it signals a policy shift at the Police Department and in the City Attorney's office.  And the shift, in our view, is from tough-minded, reality-based thinking to something much weaker, wishful, and short-sighted. 

On September 24, 2017, Councilor Hoy signaled his lack of support for the ordinance bill on Facebook, garnering much support, including 60 shares.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

News from the Continuum

Revised: January 2019

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Inaugural Mtg of the North Salem SIT
Better than expected turnout for the very first meeting of the North Salem Service Integration Team this past Wednesday at Center 50+.  We counted over 50 people (continuing arrivals) and 34 organizations (not counting the programs, just the orgs).  The teams are modeled on the long-lived Polk County program.  (Polk County Service Integration staff generously assisted in the development of the pilot program in Marion County.)

As we reported earlier this year, the North Salem SIT is a Salem Health pilot project.   

In addition to Center 50+, participants at the North Salem SIT meeting included Salem Heath, Shangri-La (fiscal agent), Easter Seals, Options Counseling, Catholic Community Services, Northwest Human Services (Clinics, HOAP and Info/Crisis Hotline), the Salvation Army, the Salem Police Department (Crisis Response Team), Marion County District Attorney's Office, Marion Polk Food Share, the Oregon Department of Human Services, West Valley Hospice, the Salem YMCA, PH Tech, Mano a Mano Family Center, Family Building Blocks, Cherriots, Northwest Seniors and People with Disabilities, New Horizons In-home Care, Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency (The ARCHES Project and Head Start), Salem Free Clinic, West Valley Community Health, Childhood Heath Associates of Salem, Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic/Lancaster Family Health Center at Beverly, Houck Middle School, CANDO, KMUZ Community Radio, Salem Leadership Foundation and Salem Alliance Church.

Yesterday, Saturday, the Salem City Council met in a work session to discuss the strategic plan goals and to "get to work and review all of the input we have received", most recently during the "Community Open House" on June 1st.

All the Council except Councilor McCoid attended the session, along with the City Manager, 12 staff, 2 consultants, and 11 members of the public.

Of most interest to us were the goals and strategies to address affordable housing, social services and homelessness issues.  According to the staff report, "There is greater community need for social services, specifically for homeless shelters and food assistance, than there are currently services and funding to address [it].  There is also a lack of service coordination, strategic funding and accurate, comprehensive data."  Linked to the staff report are two long lists of affordable housing and social services strategy ideas, color-coded to indicate which strategies the work group was most interested in pursuing.  The goals to be implemented are pretty simple:

The staff summary of the work group's strategic plan recommendations:

The last paragraph about engaging the Urban Development, Community Services and Housing Commission was not discussed.

During the work session, Councilor Kaser had this to say about the "maximize resources for and coordination of local social services" strategy:

This is actually something I've been asked about a lot, at least in Ward 1, at my neighborhood groups, and just people contacting me.  They always want the City -- "What is the City doing about homelessness?  What is the City doing about...whatever.  And I -- this is just personally -- I feel that we need to make sure that people understand that it's not just the City's responsibility to take care of people, that it's a community-wide effort. 

I think there's a misconception...in the community that the City's responsible for housing people who are homeless, or the City needs to provide that money or that funding and those staff and all of that stuff -- those buildings.  There's a saying..."Do what you do best, and network the rest."  I don't necessarily think the City's a great -- there's things the City does very very well, and there's things the City doesn't do well. 

So, I think making sure we have those connections and can empower those organizations and resources already out there to continue doing that kind of work is really good.  I think it's important that we highlight that as a City when we're talking to folks.  The City can provide funding and support and all of that stuff, but it's really these places, these entities that are providing the actual work on the ground.  There's a big misconception that there's absolutely nothing out there.  And all they see is homeless and people who don't have access to all these services, and they think, "Well, what is the City doing about that?"  So, I'm glad that[the recommendation]'s in there.    
We've heard those "What's the City doing" questions, too, but have a little different perspective on the message, and how to respond.

In our experience, residents mostly know about UGM, The Salvation Army, the Center for Hope and Safety, MWVCAA, etc.  When they ask about "the homeless", they're asking about the visibly homeless, meaning the chronically homeless.  Here in Salem, the percent of homeless that are chronically homeless is at least twice the national average -- so they really stand out.  The appropriate housing program for chronically homeless individuals is permanent supportive housing, of which Salem has almost none, which is one reason for the higher-than-average population of chronically homeless.  There is federal money for permanent supportive housing, but that money has not come to the Salem area, for reasons we've discussed at length elsewhere.    

So, we suspect that people aren't asking Councilor Kaser what the City is doing because they think no one's doing anything, but because they can see very plainly that, whatever area providers are doing, it isn't working very well for the people they are coming in contact with.

Who else should they complain to, after all, than the City?  It's not like there's a functioning coalition of service providers they can go to.  There's only the ROCC -- a 28-county Continuum of Care -- and the City's "lead agency", MWVCAA -- a private non-profit that is accountable only to its board of directors. 

In sum, people probably don't need to be told that homelessness is a community effort.  What they need/want to know is that it's a City effort, because City leadership, to a very large extent, is what's been missing for many years now, and the City has a crucial role to play (funding, support, etc.), as Councilor Kaser acknowledged in her remarks.  Thus, when a constituent asks, "What's the City doing about homelessness", they should be told about the City's Strategic Plan goals and strategies, including HRAP, prioritization according to need, and, hopefully, the effort to reform the local CoC with ongoing City support and oversight.  These are the sorts of things that the City does very well, and the providers simply have not.

Below, Councilor Andersen finishes up the "dot exercise", whereby counselors were asked to use dots to  indicate what strategies they thought should be implemented in the coming year.  Strategies under the "Housing Stability" goal received eight dots and those under "Health & Social Services" received ten (the latter all target the chronically homeless).  The sobering center, redoing the budget process and comprehensive plan and a climate action plan were identified (gold dots) as "most urgent."  Councilors will go through a slightly different prioritization exercise after the Open House on September 19th.  The Council is set to vote on the final strategic plan at their regular meeting on October 23. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

MWVCAA's Community Resource Program

Revised: January 2019

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

The news from the continuum this week is about "the best", the "all", the "every" and the "enormous" "monumental" and "never before possible" that is the Mid Willamette Valley (MWVCAA)'s Community Resources Program (CRP).  At least that's how it's described in the August report of the MWVCAA's Community Resources Program (CRP), which the website describes as a "two-pronged program consisting of rural resource centers and housing services (RENT, ARCHES, Tenant-Based Assistance, Housing Stabilization Program and Housing Collaborative."

Since March, the CRP has been headed by Jimmy Jones, who succeeded Carmen Hilke, who held the post for less than a year.  Hilke's predecessor was Amber Reeves, who ran the program for several years before stepping down in May 2016 to accommodate her husband, Jon Reeves.  Reeves became Executive Director in May 2015.  Before Amber Reeves, CRP was headed by Carla Cary, who worked on the Marion and Polk County 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, and is married Jon Weiner.  Weiner is the vice chair of the MWVCAA Board of Directors.   

In 2016, CRP's budget was around $2M.  It more than doubled in 2017, thanks in part to the Oregon legislature's decision to push out more funds for housing and homeless assistance.

To get a feel for what the CRP does with all those resources, we took a look at its monthly report to the MWVCAA Board of Directors.      

CRP claims to be helping Municipal Judge Jane Aiken (sister of United States District Court Judge Ann Akiken) is make progress on her project to create a homeless diversion program.

CRP claims their staff have agreed to enter clients from area shelters into ServicePoint, Oregon's Homeless Management Information System software application.

Just how CRP staff will accomplish this task isn't clear.  Will shelter staff have access to their clients' information in ServicePoint?  Will HUD recognize the arrangement with the shelter as "participation in HMIS" for purposes of the Housing Inventory Count?    
CRP makes strong claims about the benefits of what CRP calls its "Coordinated Entry Program", which has been funded with CoC Program dollars.  The year-old program, which is apparently not "signature" enough to be listed on the CRP webpage, consists entirely of consultation (across the other 26 counties of ROCC) and data collection services (here in Marion & Polk)(referred to in the report as "the research project").  The claims (for instance, the claims that the program has demonstrated "the social utility of a data-driven, research based approach to homeless services" and "had enormous impact on homeless services around the state") are not supported by any data in the report.        

A functional coordinated assessment and entry system (CES) is required for certain HUD programs, and for the effective delivery of homeless assistance.

However, here in Marion and Polk Counties, homeless housing providers as a whole have yet to agree to, or implement, a CES, in part because implementation essentially requires participating providers to use ServicePoint, which, for various reasons, has been a sticking point.  CRP's alleged workaround, whereby CRP staff will enter enter non-participating providers' data themselves, would seem to be both impractical and unsustainable.

In addition to the Community Court project mentioned above, the ServicePoint participation workaround, the Rapid Rehousing, Coordinated Entry, and Veterans Rental Assistance Programs, the Westcare Veterans Home, HRAP and Dallas Resource Center support, the planning/development of the Commercial Street project, RENT tenant education and tenant-based rental assistance to the rural areas (not discussed above), CRP is a "partner" in delivering reentry services in Marion County, and, perhaps more importantly, is supposed to deliver nine different state homeless/housing programs (Emergency Housing Assistance (EHA), EHA-Document Recording Fee, EHA Vet-DRF, Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) (federal pass-through), Housing Stabilization and Fresh Start Housing Programs (delivered in partnership with DHS), Low Income Rental Housing Fund (LIRHF), State Homeless Assistance Program (SHAP) and Elderly Rental Assistance (ERA)) worth over $2M annually (a rough estimate based on incomplete information), and see to it that MWCAA fulfills its "lead agency" responsibilities to the City of Salem and ROCC Region 7 CoC grantees by ensuring compliance with HUD CoC and ESG program regulations, including homeless outreach efforts (e.g., visiting known homeless encampments and participating in Community Connect, Veterans Stand Down and extreme weather shelter events), expanding ServicePoint participation, establishing a local coordinated assessment and entry system, conducting and reporting on the annual Point in Time Homeless Count and Housing Inventory Count, and making regular program reports to HUD and OHCS.  In addition to all that, CRP staff are expected to lead or participate in community meetings (e.g., Coordinated Entry Work Group, Health and Housing Committee, Salem Homeless Coalition, Emergency Housing Network, as well as meetings like Silverton Together out in the rural areas) and fundraising activities (car washes, golf tournaments, fun runs, etc.), maintain contact with the media (CRP report cites Salem Weekly and The Guardian), and manage an internship program.  All this with a full-time staff of 29, according to the CRP Report.

Should we be impressed?  Well, certainly, CRP is trying to do a very great deal.  But, what everyone really wants to know is whether all this effort and activity is having any effect.  Unfortunately, that question cannot be answered, because, for all its claims about the enormous impact of its programs,  the August CRP report did not include any year-end program information or analysis, but only the last quarter's raw data on individuals served by the state programs, which is just not very informative.  Here's the kind of report you'd expect to see:

Here's a sample of the raw data in the report:

If CRP truly believed in "the social utility of a data-driven, research based approach to homeless services", it would be reflected in their current reporting and analysis.  The community doesn't need more hype.  Neither does MWVCAA's Board of Directors.  The August CRP report is mostly hype.  It doesn't begin to provide the information or analysis needed to make a serious assessment.