Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Mayor Mulls Dtown Hless Recs

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Tuesday, August 7, Willamette Wakeup spoke with Mayor Bennett about his impressions of the Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force's process, and what's to be done with its recommendations.  Here is some of what he had to say.

[Asked about his impressions of the last meeting of the DHSTF]  What I saw, I’ve been to two of them now, I thought the task force took on a very, very difficult problem.  Remember, this grew out of the discussion of having a sit-lie ordinance that had been proposed by the police department, which would have given them a little more leverage as they work with the homeless downtown, and was advocated, too often privately, by downtown business people who are reluctant to come out and publicly state their opinion.

This [the task force] brought together some of the more outspoken business folks, and some advocates, and some of the service providers, gave them a chance to really talk about this.  I thought there were some really interesting outcomes.

[Note: the "business folks" on the task force consisted of Al Tandy, Salem Summit; Angie Onyewuchi, Travel Salem; Christy Wood, Runaway Art Studio; Brad Compton, Pioneer Trust Bank; Dana Vugveteen, Salem Center; Evan Delgado, Governor's Cup; Gayle Doty, McGilchrist Building owner; Irene Bernards, Travel Salem; Sandy Powell, Olivia's; Tyler Jackson, Jackson Jewelers]

["Assess codes" recommendation] They really skipped the proposal that was brought about camping.  We do have, this isn't sit lie, this is like somebody pitches a tent in front of somebody’s business and lives there kind of full time.  I think there was some interest in that from what I could tell.

[Note: the Task Force was advised to focus on the draft recommendations, which were part of a 10-page document drafted by staff, and leave the "options" to be "vetted out later", presumably by City Council.  The proposed camping ban was an "option" under the "assess codes" recommendation.  The Mayor did not comment the fact that the task force combined the "assess codes" recommendation with a recommendation to form a "Downtown Good Neighbor Partnership."]

Options vs Recommendations

[After hours toilets recommendation] But it did bring kind of into sharper focus the real need for restrooms, public restrooms downtown, and in this case, when you talk 24/7 public restrooms, you’re talking about the needs of, in some cases, the homeless, uh, residents, you know, visitors, residents, whatever downtown, the need for a place.

[Note: in March 2014, Mayor Anna Peterson's "Safe Streets and Parks Task Force" discussed the need for after hours toilets (see the last document here).  In July 2015, City staff issued a report on the status of "After Hours Parks Restrooms Closures" in response to a proposal from businesses and non-profits to provide 24/7 chemical toilets.  On August 31, 2015, the City Council held a work session titled, "Public Restrooms and Regulating Conduct in the Right of Way" (public restrooms are covered between 00:27 to 00:57, and right of way conduct [aka "panhandling"] is covered between 00:57 to 01:24).]  

[Storage recommendation] And I really, I’ve been talking about this for a couple of years, and I just couldn’t quite get there with it, which is a place for people to take their stuff.  I noticed a real surge in concern about the homeless the day the Union Gospel Mission closed their lockers, which is where people would put their stuff. Now, there were good reasons for UGM to close the lockers, because of contraband coming into their facility, but the result was people are traveling our streets, carrying genuinely everything they own. And, they need to protect it. It’s their things, it’s their memories, their values, and we need a place to take their things that is secure, safe, and they can be guaranteed they can get at it.  I think that’s one of the best recommendations.

[Hygiene center recommendation] The other is, we’ll be supporting a number of programs already underway, that are in the process, that are in the pipeline, which is additional showers, uh, fixed restrooms, laundry facilities, those kind of things are already under way related to the ARCHES program, then the new project as Union Gospel Mission gets going in their new location.

["Point-of-contact" recommendation]  And then there was a discussion of developing, why this hasn’t been done over the years I don’t know but good it’s being said by everybody who looks at this, we need a really good list for people who are in contact with the homeless of services and who provides them and how to get hold of them, or how to get, you know, the various kinds of things that, uh, folks might need, so, I thought that was good.

["Good neighbor policy" recommendation]  And then there’s this kind of, “can't we all get along” attitude of “let’s have a good neighbor policy” where people who know what they're doing in terms of working with the homeless, because, remember, we’re talking about a complicated population. This isn’t just people who ran out of money. These are people that, often, often, with mental health, alcohol and drug issues, along with felony convictions and some other things going on in their lives, how to create a good neighbor policy with people, how to talk with people who are, look, you’re in front of my business, you’re making it impossible, or, you’re blocking the sidewalk, how can we talk this through? That kind of thing.

[Asked about street outreach.]  I think part of it is the coordinated effort of the social services, sorta who’s gonna -- and, for people who are running into these problems, knowing who to call.  Who do I call? If I’ve got someone out in front of my business who’s having a really violent or inappropriate psychotic episode, who do I call, who do I talk to? It doesn’t do any good to call a cop, apparently [laughs].  You know what I mean? These are very difficult questions, and I think ones that we will try to work through. I felt like they came up with a lot of really good ideas.

[Next steps]  It’ll come to me next, and I’ll be packaging it up along with the city manager to take to the City Council, those portions that require Council action.  A lot does not require the City to do anything. What it does is suggest the kinds of activities we ought to be supporting administratively. We just don’t need the Council to weigh in on. So, it’ll be, it’ll be interesting.

[Asked if he could be specific about which recommendations won’t require Council action]  I can’t, because I haven’t figured out how to develop, in talking with the manager, how we, how do we measure success, do we need, do we have existing policy direction, I think a lot of the Council action will come around this in their, uh, strategic planning, because some of these have real budget implications, so we’ll be bringing them forward as part of the budget. I think part of it is just getting sat down and really really think it through.  Uhm, you know, there aren’t a lot of budget implications here, uh, it’s just hard to tell. I think we’ll have to really sit down and kinda understand what they were thinking of at the time.

[Asked about fleshing out the recommendations to make them specific and time-bound]  Well, we’re going to have to. If we’re going to put up toilets, we’re going to have to have some measurements of what success looks like, and how that will operate.  “Honey Buckets” have not worked well in Salem with this population. There’s been the use of them for illegal activities, they get vandalized, a bunch of stuff. So, we’re going to be looking at a number of different things, uh, getting that done.

[Asked whether this will be different from Anna Peterson’s effort to open after hours toilets]  Well, yeah, it will be. But, I think part of it’s figuring what does different look like?  We need additional toilets at Riverfront Park. Not just “Honey Buckets.” We need some permanent toilets at the north end of Riverfront Park.  ARCHES is putting toilets into their facility, as well as the new police facility, along with UGM. And then we need to take a look at what else should we be doing.  And, I think one of the interim steps will be "Honey Buckets.” I mean, I think you have to have that kind of facility available right now, and we do have them in our parks right now.  At Riverfront Park I know, it seems like there’s always at least, uh, at least, uh [counting], four or five of them. Out on Minto Island, up by existing toilet facilities.

[Note: See here for the CCTV video of Council's 2015 work session on after hours toilets. All versions of the Riverfront Park Master Plan Update include permanent toilets at the north end (see sample drawing below), but the City historically has closed brick and mortar restrooms after hours, due to vandalism.  The toilets inside the ARCHES facility have been available to the public between 8:30 and 3 for roughly a year.  Toilets at the police facility and UGM won't be available until fall of 2020.  The portable toilets at Riverfront (one at the Pavillion year-round and one at the splash pad during the summer) and Minto have been available 24/7 for quite some time, and apparently have not satisfied the need downtown.]

[About United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley's mobile showers project, which was neither a recommendation or an option, but was mentioned in the draft staff report]  The other one, this one intrigues me,  there’s been a suggestion of like a traveling toilet in a bus or something like that, which I always thought was kind of interesting, sort of like, are you going to be where people need to use it when you’re traveling?  They’re also talking about a shower in the bus. Well, we’re, I think our work will be probably with ARCHES to get them their shower facilities going, things like that.

From the United Way Catalyst August Edition

[Asked about the CSHC’s obligations under SRC Chapter 20G.040 to identify the community's social service needs and develop recommendations and solutions to meet them]  I appreciate you bringing that up. That’s a really good example.  It’s something we’ve talked about before, both on the air and off the air, because I think it’s a really interesting problem. This opens up that discussion, I think, for understanding what the role of that commission is, besides assisting in distribution of some federal dollars and some City dollars, in terms of social services.

[Asked whether CSHC’s other duties aren’t more important than giving funding advice] I think that’s very fair to say.  I think that’s the kind of realignment that’s called for here. I don’t know how you can read this and not see that inside the realignment.  Now, that requires discussion with City staff, because it does involve a sort of allocation of energy or time.

[Asked about law enforcement and other actions that shift people from Cascade Gateway to downtown, and downtown to Wallace Marine, etc.]  How ever many hundreds of homeless people, in different circumstances, some of them are parked in front of people’s homes in neighborhoods, living in a camper, a lot of them are couch surfing, others are just laying in the street and in serious, serious trouble, and we need to realize that it is a shifting population.

[Expanding cleaning services recommendation (?)], and what we’re going to try to do, we hope, by creating jobs, is for people who lost their job, and need a new job, there will be something for them to do.  And I think with the low unemployment rate, if you want to get back on your feet, there’s a place to go, to go to work right now.
[Note: the Mayor did not comment on the remaining three draft recommendations, which the task force either rejected outright (food distribution limits) or through the prioritization exercise (anti-panhandling and building modifications).]
[Asked whether he would have more to say about the implementation of the recommendations when he returns to the show September 4]  I think so. I’ll let you know. I’m sure you’ll ask me in advance [laughs] because it is one of those things that I, I haven't received it yet.  As soon as I receive it, I’ll really start thinking about it, because I think the implementation of this is going to be real important, and the quality of implementation, that we take it as kind of a launch pad.
[Note: on August 2, the City issued a press release that included the DSHTF recommendations.]
* * * 

At the City Council meeting on August 13, Councilor Kaser asserted that her task force's  recommendations were, as promised, SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound), a debatable claim, based on the Mayor's comments, and the recommendations themselves.

The Mayor's interview gives us some idea as to whether the City is likely to take direct action to implement the recommendations, or will "take credit" for actions planned by others, and in what time frame.

In the immediate term, expect more talking and planning.  The Mayor spoke of additional chemical toilets, but not after hours staffing of restrooms, which SPD has indicated is needed to keep the brick and mortar facilities open overnight.  He also said that chemical toilets have not worked well downtown.  Together, those remarks suggest no immediate action will be taken.

The Mayor did not mention the Good Neighbor Partnership recommendation, which could be acted on quickly.  Whether it will be acted on at all depends on the City and downtown businesses (those who would prefer the City take a law enforcement approach), and how attached they are to their ideas versus reality.  Given the apparent lack of leadership, a functional GNP seems unlikely. 

It seems highly likely, however, that the City will rely on ARCHES and HOAP to provide hygiene facilities (HOAP is doing so now, and ARCHES hopes to have theirs within the next six months), on Northwest Human Services to make point-of-contact information available in the next month or so, and on UGM to provide storage facilities when it opens the new Men's Mission in the fall of 2020.  Northwest Human Services has also been working actively for the past six months or more to encourage their consumers to use backpacks and luggage instead of shopping carts, but there are still plenty of carts in use downtown.

The recommendation to expand cleaning services will take a lot of cooperation and planning, and we would not expect to see that implemented for some time, if ever.  Finally, given the task force voted the anti-panhandling and building modifications ideas off the island in the prioritization exercise, we wouldn't expect to see those implemented in the near term, if ever.   We will update this blog as developments unfold.

The Mayor will be back to speak with Willamette WakeUp on Tuesday, September 4, at 8 am.  Tune in to KMUZ in Salem and Keizer on 100.7 FM, streaming live on, and on your tablet or smartphone through the free Tune-In radio app. 

Friday, August 24, 2018

Mental Health Consumer One

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Ken & Friends Accept City's 2017 Recovery Month Proclamation
It's nearing the end of August, and National Recovery Month is around the corner.  But, it just won't be the same without Ken Hetsel, who passed away in June.

Ken's was a story of faith, hope and love that will be remembered.  He gave of himself as easily as he shared stories about recovery and giving back on his FB page.  Stories like the one about Michelle Sheppard, and the one about Thomas Edison's mother.  It didn't matter if a story was not entirely factual, it was true enough for Ken if it touched the heart.

Typical Ken Hetsel Post
When a person dies, his virtues grow and his flaws diminish.  To hear Ken eulogized, you'd think he'd been just a kindly, community-minded grandfather.  But, in reality, Ken struggled, both personally and on behalf of others in recovery.  And, while it might be true he never said an unkind word about anyone, he was not uncritical, and he did not miss much.

For example, he didn't like it that the state hospital would accept "Angel Tree" gifts for patients, but wouldn't allow him to contact them, even by phone or a note, to let them know he cared.  He didn't like it that the Marion Soil and Water Conservation District gave a wealthy couple $6,000 to construct a rain catchment system in their back yard.  He didn't like it when a certain non-profit used homeless housing funds to build "a nonprofits base", and he believed "the state system is only to get federal funds[,] no matter what it costs the citizens."

It frustrated Ken that the City didn't do more to help people.  In a 2017 survey about the City's strategic plan, he wrote,  

The [C]ity of Salem is a machine. You only know how to make bricks.  [Y]ou want to help everyone by giving them more bricks. How many bricks do [sic] a homeless drowning woman need?
Everyone has a different need.  [A] homeless man needs a place to shit.  You close all the public restrooms and make it illegal to pee in public.  A car[-]less family needs to get their groceries home on Saturday night when the buses do not run and you make it illegal to use a shopping cart out of the store lot.  If someone is cold you give them shelter.  If someone is hungry you should feed them. If someone is in jail or prison you should visit them.  You should not sweep Cascade Gateway Park and ticket the poor mobile home society for being (trespassing) in the park after hours.  You should not require people to show up in court weeks later when you know they are unable to do it thereby making the[m] a criminal.

A Tennessee native, Ken cared a lot about preserving natural resources.  But, he was that rare person who thought about, and cared as much about, serving the unhoused living along streams and rivers as he did watershed conservation and sustaining natural areas.  He exhorted the Salem Homeless Coalition to bring pressure on the City to end systemic oppression of "motor homers" and others living in its parks.

I was at the SEM[C]A Neighborhood Association meeting at Paradise Island [Park] this morning and the police reported that they had raided the motor homers in Cascade Gateway Park and given them all tickets for trespassing after hours.  We (the housed) need to tell the city leaders that this is unacceptable. We need to tell the city leaders that locking restrooms is unacceptable.  We own this city and we need to run this city. WE NEED TO GO TO THIS STRA[TEG]Y MEETING AND CHANGE SALEM'S ATTITUDE AND VISION !!!

Ken's Last Public Comment to the Council (~1:52)
The last time Ken was at City Council was September 25, 2017.  A bunch of folks had shown up to speak in favor of the Age Friendly  Initiative, and against the proposed sit-lie ordinance, so it was pretty late in the evening when his turn came.  He wore the same tie-dyed shirt he'd worn the month before to receive the National Recovery Month Proclamation.  He removed his hat. He spoke without notes.

As always, he spoke softly.  "We had a beautiful time at Open Streets.  Thank you, Mayor and Chris Hoy for riding your bicycles", he began.  He said he'd attended the strategic planning open house, and thanked Assistant City Manager for letting him take the "excess" cookies to the Recovery Outreach Community Center, and for the National Recovery Month Proclamation.  He told them "Hands Across the Bridge was beautiful", that they'd had 500 to 600 people attend.  He paused briefly, and then continued, "Do not adopt the NESCA-Lansing Neighborhood Plan, because it doesn't address the storm water infrastructure", which he said was collapsing.  He paused again, and said, "Homeless", as if he'd reached that item on an agenda.  

"The damn bathroom out here's closed." 
Ken calmly told the Council his NAMI group had organized a lease on a four bedroom, two bathroom house which would become a shelter for homeless women.  He'd agreed to use $1,000 of his "teeth money, for new teeth" toward the security/utilities deposit.  "We can start housing people tomorrow, there's no reason to wait", he said.  He began speaking more quickly, as if bothered by the thought of people having to wait.  Or, perhaps he felt rushed by the blinking yellow light, signalling he had only a minute left to speak.  "The parkades", he asked rhetorically,

If I rent a parkade space, why can't I let somebody sleep in it at night, and be out of the rain?...Why can't we open the bathrooms?  The damn bathroom out here's closed at night...The SCAN neighborhood mans Fairmount Park, and keeps it open and supplied with toilet paper.  Why can't neighbors adopt a toilet, or put a porta-potty out, so people with dignity can go to the bathroom?  Why can't--

Ken looked down, saw his light was red, and with a quiet, "Sorry, thank you", he turned and left the podium.

Ken was acutely aware that social isolation is both a cause, and a consequence, of depression.  But he had the audacity to believe people could heal themselves and each other through something one  might call peer-supported social networking, but Ken would call parties and community meetings and taking care of each other.  It wasn't that he didn't believe in modern medicine, but he was often frustrated by its emphasis on uniform rules and standards over people's needs as human beings, the "Angel Tree" rule being an example.  He was also skeptical about the value of "evidence-based" practices over lived experience, which some call the "heart and soul of change."  As Ken put it,

The machine wants evidence based practices and there are not many evidence based peer practices because the machine wants to keep control. How we the peers do our own evidence based practices study? What NWSDS did was hired PSU to do the study and got someone to publish it in a monthly magazine. Wala EVIDENCE BASED. 

Ken had two gmail addresses which he seemed to use interchangeably.  One was "salemneighborshelpingneighbors", the other was "mentalhealthconsumer1."  He asked us once if we knew why he chose to go by "mentalhealthconsumer1", and of course we didn't.  He said wryly it was because in 10 years, his mental health had not cost the state one penny to maintain.  He'd done it himself, his own way.  As we got to know him, we learned more about "his way."  How he grounded himself by caring for others and for his community, whether that was by letting a homeless woman park her car in his driveway at night, or by making people smile to see Santa at a CANDO meeting, and how hard he still worked at recovery.

Thanks for your soft words of encouragement.  They help.  I have the disclaimer that I am a broken vessel. I had a mental health moment twenty years ago.  I quit taking meds ten years ago and I am trying to RECOVER what I have lost and what I never had. I make mistakes.  I am in my manic phase where I have excessive energy.  A time will come where I become DEPRESSED and have little or no energy.  I tell my friends that if they do not see me, "I am home in bed under the sheets."  My mind has been putting these plans [for the women's shelter] together for the past eight years.  I feel after leaning on the wall things are at the "Tipping Point" or things are starting to move in the way we think is correct.
Mania is a lot like skipping.  You skipped as a kid.  It was fun.  Try it in your mind's eye. Walk, jump, hop, skip, walk, repeat.  We covered a lot of ground.  Look back to where we were when we started.  Did you feel the wind in your hair?  I did.  We only touched the ground five steps in one hundred feet.  Wow!  It is good to miss a turn we can go around the block or Miss a meeting we can review the minutes or catch it next time.   It is OK to make mistakes as a mental health consumer and PEER.               [Ken Hetsel, 9/22/17]

Ken at the Marion County Board of Commissioners Meeting, November 29, 2017

This coming Monday, the Mayor will ask the City to join him in observing National Recovery Month 2018.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

8/21/18 Minutes

Members: Deb Comini, M. Bryant Baird, Paul Gehlar
Organizations: Denyc Boles, Salem Health; Raleigh Kirshman, Union Gospel Mission
City and County Representatives: Zack Merritt, Salem Police Department; Robert Chandler, Public Works
Guests: none

The regular meeting of the CANDO Board of Directors was called to order at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, August 21, 2018, at the First Christian Church at 685 Marion Street NE, Salem.  The Chair and Secretary-Treasurer were present. In the absence of a quorum, the Chair postponed approval of the minutes of the July meeting.

Officer Merritt, who’s been on the Salem Downtown Enforcement Team for nine months, reported that there had been a number of fights and drug dealing going on Marion Square Park, but no arrests due to witnesses being unwilling to cooperate.  He reiterated that cameras would be helpful. He said they continue to receive complaints of behavioral problems involving people with mental illness. He said there are fifteen individuals currently enrolled in the LEAD program, which, contrary to what Officer Mumey told us in July, still requires a person be criminally charged in order to participate.  However, it’s expected that the LEAD program oversight team will soon decide to allow “social referrals.” Participation would still be voluntary. LEAD would not, for instance, help Melissa Wagner, who was arrested for behavior problems outside Brown’s Towne Lounge, but deemed unable to aid and assist in her defense, and didn’t meet the threshold for any other “holds.”  Questions for Officer Merritt concerned whether the board might receive regular reports on complaints about behavior problems downtown.

The board heard a presentation by Robert Chandler on the City’s Stormwater Master Plan policy regarding floodplain mapping.  Member Bruce Hoffman recommended the board listen to "Flood Money."

The board also heard a presentation by Denyc Boles on Salem Hospital’s plans to accommodate the anticipated rise in hospitalization rates as baby boomers age.

In the absence of a quorum,the Chair postponed new business to the September meeting, and adjourned the meeting at 7:08 p.m.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

DHSTF Misled on Need to "Assess Codes"

Revised: January 2019

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Chapter 95 in the fall of 2017 (highlight=repealed)
Cara Kaser, Ward 1 Councilor:  "I think it's always good if we look at what codes and ordinances are on the books.  In general.  I don't want, you know, if we pass a law in 1897, I think we should probably look at that.  Or a law that we passed in 1987."

That was Councilor Kaser's explanation for wanting the DHSTF to recommend that the City "Assess Salem codes and ordinances to ensure that the City is appropriately balancing the rights of those who live, work, and shop in our downtown, and providing the Salem Police Department with the tools they need to address behaviors that negatively impact others."  She gave that advice at the DHSTF's last meeting on August 1.  She was, she said, concerned about ordinances the City doesn't enforce.

Cara:  "We have some ordinances that are just not enforced, and we just don't use them, so I'm looking more kind of broadly at having City staff look at those, what are those ordinances that we could examine and see if we...need to make some changes.  And that's what I think this recommendation is doing."

DHSTF Facilitator Kristin Retherford agreed.

Kristin Retherford, UDD Director:  "We do have some ordinances that are very out to date [sic].  They aren't necessarily enforceable anymore, so that certainly should be revisited." 
* * *
Sandy Powell, Olivia's:  "Some of the ordinances may be totally out of date, and need to be changed.  Well, I can say that there are ones that I think are totally out of date and need to be changed."  
* * * 
Christy Woods, Runaway Art Studio:  "We want the City to look at the codes...because if there's old ones, why not get rid of them?" 
* * *
Kristin:  "I would expect it [the code assessment] would look at codes like the one that I mentioned, we've got some old language about panhandling.  I think it's referred to as "begging" in the code, that is really out of date, that would apply to downtown.  So, this isn't going to be, I think, a universal look at parking code, and everything.  It would be limited in scope to codes impacting the downtown."    
A year ago, when the sit-lie ordinance was under consideration, the Salem Revised Code did indeed have a provision titled, "begging."  It was found in SRC Chapter 95 (see above left), which is found in Title VII, "Offenses." Chapter 95 covers "miscellaneous" offenses.

Summary of Changes to Chapters 95 & 96 of Title VIII
However, last December, the City Council repealed the "begging" provision, along with a number of other provisions (highlighted top left), like "vagrancy" (see below) that were found to be archaic or unconstitutional, according to the staff summary (see above).  

SRC 95.560, repealed as unconstitutional
Ordinance Bill 25-17, which made these changes, was the result of the City's having contracted with Municode, Inc. to "host" the Code and perform "codification services." As part of those services, Municode undertook a "comprehensive legal review of the Code, and proposed several changes to clarify existing code language, standardize formatting, and ensure that the Code is consistent with the requirements of Oregon and federal law."  (Emphasis added.)  Staff considered the changes to Chapters 95 and 96 to be too insignificant to mention in their report to Council, however.

Arguably, that makes it understandable that Councilor Kaser, who seconded the motion to enact Ordinance Bill 25-17, didn't realize the provisions relevant to the issues before her task force had recently been overhauled.  However, it's much more difficult to understand why the City Attorney, who was sitting in the back of the room during the meeting on August 1, and heard all that was said -- it's much more difficult to understand why he did not at intervene in the conversation, and inform the task force that they were under a misapprehension about the need to assess the code for provisions that were archaic or unenforceable, that the "begging" and "vagrancy" laws had been repealed, along with several others.

Persuading the task force there was a need to "assess codes" plainly allows those who secretly or otherwise prefer a law enforcement approach to the situation downtown to achieve indirectly that which they were unwilling or unable to do directly, namely, persuade the task force to recommend revising the code to ban camping.  The "assess codes" recommendation is, as we have noted previously, a Trojan horse built to carry a camping ban.

Whether the DHSTF was deliberately misled about the need to "assess codes" hardly matters at this point.  What does matter is that no more time be wasted on that particular nonsense.  The City Attorney is very well aware what's in the code and what's not, even if the citizenry doesn't.  As we have pointed out previously, his office "assessed codes" in the summer of 2017, and the Council enacted changes in accordance with that assessment, with the exception of the sit-lie ordinance, which the Council refused to enact.

If the Mayor or whomever wants to move enactment of a camping ban, let them have the political courage to do so, now, without further pretence or manipulation.  Only the movers should consider, if SRC 95.560 was facially unconstitutional, how legal is a camping ban going to be?  As Jimmy Jones, put it, "I generally do not understand how sit-lie is legal in any context in Oregon, if the vagrancy law is largely unconstitutional." Maybe the Council will ask Dan to explain when he presents the camping ban.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

DHSTF Calls for "Ongoing Conversation"

Revised: January 2019

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Dealing effectively with the situation downtown is going to require an ongoing conversation.

Although overlooked or downplayed by mainstream news outlets reporting on the final meeting of the Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force (see here and here), that was its strong message.

It's not hard to understand why Fox 12 focused on toilets and showers.  We've been talking about the need for toilets a very long time.  And, until we get them downtown, we're doubtless going to keep talking about them. 

The Statesman Journal emphasized law and order, running its the story under "Homeless Task Force stops short of sidewalk ban" (online) and "Stricter homeless rules weighed", subtitled, "Panel won't seek camping restrictions" (print), probably because they know the community was pretty upset about the City's reviving the debate over the role of law enforcement, and that seemed to them and to many to be the primary issue before the task force at its sixth and final meeting.   

However, we think the real story coming out of the task force was the recommendation to "Establish a Downtown Good Neighbor Partnership...that supports appropriate behavior and ongoing dialogue with stakeholders." Why?  Because there is ongoing conflict between the people living in the streets of downtown and downtown businesses that laws and rules alone cannot effectively address.  It's like, a neighbor thing.  If that seems hard to understand, consider what the task force said about the situation at their last meeting, when asked to discuss the recommendation to "Establish a Downtown Good Neighbor Policy...that sets expectations for appropriate behavior" (emphasis added):

Paul Logan (Northwest Human Services): One of the things that concerned me is that this all came up when I made the recommendation that there be an ongoing group of folks, businesses, social services and city representative, police force representative to sort of be a homeless action partnership or team that continues to meet about the situation, the environment downtown.  And I think if we are going to do something like this, it takes an ongoing discussion of those folks to come up with a behavior policy.  Lacking that, we just adopt some policy...or rule the police say they can't enforce, and this [policy] kind of becomes a moot point.

Cara Kaser (Ward 1 Councilor and DHSTF Chair):  So you're saying that...having a recommendation for expectations for behavior is fine, but we need to kind of investigate what those expectations might be with a group of people?
Paul:  Actually, the expectations are a by-product of a group of people continuing to meet over time.
Cara: Right.

Paul:  And the idea was, you're talking about the dignity of everybody.  You're talking about the whole environment of downtown, this being one of those issues.  This feeds into what are the situations in which I, as an owner, should get involved with something?  Or, should call the police directly?  Or, should feel comfortable interacting with a client?.  Or, help that client set expectations?  It gets rolled into the conversation about having teams downtown, UGM or Community Action meeting with clients on the street, sort of letting them know what services are available.  It grows into a larger conversation, this being one byproduct.  This, in and of itself, I don't think should stand alone.

Christy Wood (Runaway Art Studio): I agree with that.  I really agree with that. * * * I guess I'd like to suggest that we actually change the recommendation to mirror something else, rather than this at all, to be something about an ongoing group?

Paul: I would support that.

Christy:  I mean, that we would work as a team.
Jimmy Jones (MWVCAA):  It's easy to forget that the homeless population isn't a static population.  There are many people changing in the population over short periods of time sometimes, so, without a constant, ongoing conversation, this sort of recommendation has no real chance of success at all. 
* * *
Paul:  It's also to give us other levels of intervention.  Because we tend to jump from, "I either have to do it myself, as a business owner" or "I need to call the police."  And part of the thinking behind this was, if we had some other interventions, if we had outreach teams from at least three or four different agencies, is that an option?  When should we call them, instead of getting the police involved.?  We also talked about handouts.  If we do have a relationship, if Christy knows one of the homeless individuals who's suffering, is there something that she can to provide that person at that point, and is she willing to do that?  Part of it, too, is to help businesses understand, if you will, the mind of homelessness, what happens with people in terms of thinking, decision-making, to create more of a sensitivity around where folks are coming from.  It's also to let businesses know that social services are here and trying to support you...we're also business owners.  We also live in this community.  We're trying to find that balance with you.
* * *
Jimmy: I worry that any policy we create...we're talking about a chronically homeless population in the Salem Urban Growth Boundary of anywhere around 650 to 700 individuals, depending on the time of year.  You're looking at mental health rates in that population of at least 40%, probably a little closer to 45%, you know you're looking at people with very severe mental illnesses, pronounced schizophrenia, in particular.  It's going to make it very difficult for them to conform to any sort of good neighbor agreement we craft, so, I think, getting back to Paul's original point, that this has to be an ongoing conversation, and it has to continue, especially with these outreach teams, who are going to be the individuals primarily engaging with the chronically homeless population in the street, to kind of help them curb some of these behaviors.  Otherwise, if we just get back to...placards on the sides of walls, I struggle to see how this can be successful.

Christy:  I think that's the whole idea.  At least me, as a business owner, what I want is help to find a way that I can get that person in contact with the right group rather than just having to call the police. So that's what I'm seeing.  What I want. 

Interestingly, the Mayor didn't/doesn't seem to like the idea.  After the meeting, and again in a recent Willamette Wakeup interview, he derided it as more, "can't we all get along?"  Which is probably why it wasn't included in the initial draft recommendations developed by staff, and why, when the task force moved to included it anyway, they got push back.

Kristin Retherford (Urban Development Department Director and Faciliator): I want to speak before the Mayor decides to.  [Laughter]  One thing I do want to caution, not to say that I don't support this idea, because I think that there's a lot of value to this.  I want to ask the question about the organization and ownership of something like this, and whether it's -- because through this group, you know, we can't say we think we need another City body, committee, advisory board, what not, okay?  I think that there's a difference between the City sort of owning an organization or having it under the umbrella of the City, versus the City being a partner and at the table, okay?  So I just want to put that out there.  The recommendation is the recommendation, and the City Council can certainly decide one way or the other, but I just want to put that out for discussion that the City might not be the best umbrella for that -- or we might be.  [Emphasis added.]
Christy:  But it's still an option that I think many of us think, whether or not the City does it, or partners with it, it's still I think something many of us feel strongly would be beneficial. 
One wonders why the task force can't say "we think we need another City body."  Isn't Salem a city of volunteers?  Don't we love our work groups, task forces, commissions and advisory boards?  Did we not invest a year and all kinds of staff time on the Mid Willamette Homeless Initiative (MWHI) Task Force a couple of years ago, several months on the Affordable Housing, Homelessness and Social Services Work Group, and six months on the Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force?  Are we not supporting the MWHI Steering Committee and Program Coordinator position?  Do we not believe in the ability of our Downtown Advisory Board or Community Services and Housing Commission to convene an appropriate group?  Particularly given that the latter is under a duty to "Identify the social service needs of the community and develop recommendations and solutions to meet the identified social service needs." (SRC Chapter 20G.040(c))?  [repealed by Ordinance Bill 23-18, effectively dissolving the CSHC.  See Brynelson, T. "Salem moves to dismantle, replace commission overseeing federal dollars."  (11 December 2018, Salem Reporter.)]  

And what about CANDO?  Why is it no one from the City ever comes to CANDO to say that "City staff and elected officials are regularly contacted by downtown customers, residents, and business and property owners regarding littering, public urination and defecation, and inappropriate behavior", or asks us to work with them to develop some solutions?  (We had to ask to have a rep on the task force, it wasn't offered.)  How come CANDO wasn't part of the conversation last summer when Chief "we're-not-going-to-arrest-our-way-out-of-this" Moore and the city attorney decided what CANDO really needed was a "sit-lie" ordinance?  Hunh?  You can't even talk to the neighborhood you want to exclude people from?

Councilor Kaser tells us she supports the creation of a Good Neighbor Partnership (GNP), but it's not clear she supports the City taking a leadership role. 
Cara: If we adopt this recommendation, who are we directing establish this?  I think this gets back to Kristin's point...because I think that's something that's important to identify.  If the City of Salem should do this, or if this is some other organization...because I already know that the City Council's going to go, "Well who's supposed to establish this?"

Christy:  Okay, so can the city staff look at key players, and ask those key players if one of those will take the lead on this?  That's the way I would deal with that.

Kristin:  I would suggest that we handle this as we do with the other recommendations, that for each of these, there's more than one option and how it could be implemented, and that will be further vetted when City Council decides whether or not they want to move forward with this specific recommendation...
* * *
Paul:  We can have several options, I agree with that...but I really do think it is the City that needs to be the cheerleader and sort of champion for this.  It's a City issue.  My concern is, a lot of us meet behind the scenes, and we can do certain elements, but we become identified as part of the problem sometimes...because we're not linked with the, I really want the City in the middle of this, with us, not doing all the work, not carrying all the burden, but I really think they need to be there as a strategic partner and a champion of this issue. 

A champion of this issue.  What is it the Mayor likes to say?  Salem's situation is not as bad as Portland's?  All those camps.  At least we're not at the point, yet, where business owners just shoot their homeless neighbors when they feel like it.

But, let us not be too sanguine about the situation in Salem.  Downtown business owners are screaming obscenities and threatening to spray people outside their businesses with pepper and water, and the Mayor and Chief of Police continue to insist that the City is under pressure to find a law enforcement solution.  The broader community has a different idea.  Anybody with half a brain can see there needs to be an ongoing conversation. 

If the City doesn't step up as a strategic partner and champion in an ongoing dialogue aimed at solving specific problems downtown, it's either going to be Groundhog Day and another City task force, or the situation will continue to escalate, and what happens in Portland could start happening here.  The community has expectations about how problems like this should be dealt with, and those need to be worked out under City leadership, over time, beginning immediately, without further delay or temporizing.  Could we please have a little leadership, here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Crisis Looms as Quarry Pop Swells to 268

At last count, there were 268 people camping in the area of the K. D. Sand & Gravel Pit, just north of Wallace Marine Park, in Polk County.  That's roughly double the number camping there in the winter months.    

The situation has providers worried.

Josh Lair, LEAD Navigator for the Marion County Public Health Department and stationed in The ARCHES Project's new building, says that the situation is "getting out of control."  He says he sees dozens of new faces every time he visits the area, which he does on a regular basis as a volunteer with Be Bold Street Ministry (BBSM), and the long-time residents -- four men who've lived in the area between 9 and 20 years -- are no longer able to maintain order.  Josh and others say they fear it is only a matter of time before someone is killed, resulting in a law enforcement sweep that will push campers into downtown -- both West Salem and CANDO -- in large numbers.  That, obviously, is likely to upset a lot of people.

There is not sufficient shelter capacity to absorb a sudden influx of that magnitude.  The Salvation Army's Lighthouse Shelter, which requires guests to submit to UAs and breathalyzer testing, currently has 60 to 69 guests each night, leaving only 7 beds for men and 5 for women.  The Union Gospel Mission -- that's the Men's Mission and Simonka Place -- was full the entire month of July.  Last night, the Men's Mission sheltered 145, leaving 5 beds for men, and Simonka Place sheltered 100, leaving no vacancies, turning away 19 single women and 3 women with children.  This means, even in the height of summer, there's basically no place for the campers to go, unless they happen to be domestic violence, sexual assault, or sex trafficking victims/survivors, which most probably are not.

Jimmy Jones, Director of The ARCHES Project and Interim Director of MWVCAA, likens the situation at the quarry to Portland's Springwater Corridor a couple of years ago.  Except, the Mayor's office in Salem isn't in control of the situation at the quarry, and doesn't appear to be doing anything in preparation for what many consider to be the inevitable crack down by law enforcement.  And, unlike Portland, the lack of inter-agency coordination here means the situation is likely to change without warning or time to prepare.  But, Josh says the community needs to "get ahead of this", before the situation becomes a crisis.

Josh and his BBSM associates have been doing their best to build trusting relationships with the folks out at the quarry, but they can't cover everyone, particularly not at the rate the population is growing.  Josh estimates it would take an additional ten qualified outreach workers to cover all the homeless in Polk and Marion Counties, just to begin to get people who need them connected to services, so that when camps are swept, the people are more likely to have some place they feel they can go. 

It's pretty clear something needs to be done, but who is going to lead the effort?  Can "the community" get ahead of this, or will we just wait for a fire, or for someone to be killed, for law enforcement to clear camps out, and react as best we can to the ensuing chaos?  Why, when it comes to the problem of homelessness, does Salem seem unable to get its act together?              

Saturday, August 4, 2018

MWHI Steering Committee Continues Oversight

Revised: January 2019

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

July Mtg of the MWHI Steering Committee at MWVCOG
The Mid Willamette Hopeless Initiative Steering Committee, who appear persuaded they are accomplishing something, perhaps due to all the meetings, mappings and reportage by the Hopeless Initiatives Program Coordinator, Ali Treichel, and the willingness to claim credit for all the outside projects listed in their strategic plan, continue to meet.

At the August meeting, held as usual at MWVCOG offices, the steering committee received a draft of a community survey intended to collect information about all the resources available to people experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of homelessness, a document comparing the Marion and Polk Counties Plan to End Homelessness and the Hopeless Initiative's strategic plan with the elements of a community plan as defined by the HEARTH Act (2009), a list of proposed metrics by which to judge the strategic plan's success or failure, and an updated listing of public funds dedicated to housing and homeless services in Marion and Polk Counties.    

The discussion was unedifying and lasted two and a half hours.  One hour was spent receiving a presentation on the 100-Day Youth Challenge, and the remainder  listening to Ali present her reports.  No action was taken.

The very last bit of business was a request to pitch a proposal for a micro-housing project at the steering committee's next meeting.  The proposal came from some folks working with Home Base Shelters of Salem.  Whereas HBSS's original proposal was to reproduce Eugene's Rest Stop program in Salem (which the City was not interested in), the new proposal for "Habitat & Hope Village" looks more like Eugene's Square One Villages.  The units would be 8x8 duplex construction of lumber/plywood (basically two wooden tents side by side), to be constructed as funds are made available, up to a maximum of 20.  The proposal did not identify a site, funding or managers.

The steering committee heard the proposal at its September meeting, but did not seem interested in supporting it. 

In October, Ali Treichel put in her notice to quit, effective at the end of the month, details here.  Treichel said she was leaving to take another position closer to home (PDX), but sources say the commute was not the primary reason for leaving, nor were the reasons "personal." 

MWVCOG Director Sean O'Day told the steering committee in October that he hoped to recruit and hire a new coordinator by January 2019.  The steering committee did not meet in November or December.

Friday, August 3, 2018

News from the Continuum

Revised: December 2018

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Three Senior Execs Departed since January
MWVCAA continues to bleed top-tier managers.

Next week, Jimmy Jones assumes the role of Interim Executive Director, following the resignation of Deputy Director/Interim Executive Director, Cyndi Leinassar.  Leinassar's departure closely follows that of her boss, Executive Director Jon Reeves, just months after he announced the resignation of CFO Carol Matteson, last January

The shake-up comes amidst difficulties two years in a row meeting deadlines for the annual agency audit, and the audits themselves revealing deficiencies relating directly to a lack of internal controls.  As a consequence,  40% of the federal funds MWVCAA receives over the next two budget cycles will have to be audited, which process may uncover additional problems.  Staff turnover and implementation of a new payroll system have been cited as factors.  The agency has a budget of around $28M, about 60% of which is federally funded.  An annual audit is required by both the state and federal governments.  This is not the first time the agency has had difficulty in this area.  Despite being a creature of statute that by law is funded almost entirely by government (state, federal and local), MWVCAA is considered a private entity and, with limited exceptions, is shielded from having to make its financial records, reports, or outcome data available to the public.            

Jimmy Jones and Ashley Hamilton at ARCHES
Community Resources Director Jimmy Jones's elevation to the head of the agency perhaps could have come at a worse time (middle of winter, say), but it will be a challenge nonetheless, given that his new day shelter just opened and is still under construction, the City is expecting him to open their sobering center by November and his expertise lies elsewhere, not in the management of a large agency with financial issues, whose major program area is early childhood education.  Filling in for Jones while he's at the Center Street office will be ARCHES Project Program Manager, Ashley Hamilton.

There was quite a turnout for the official "soft opening" of The ARCHES Project's new day shelter on Tuesday, the unofficial "soft opening" having occurred the previous Tuesday, as reported here.

In addition to the people who were there just to have a place to go, there were a number of dignitaries, including Sen. Pete Courtney, Mayor Bennett, Councilors Andersen and Lewis, Municipal Judge Jane Aiken, City Manager Steve Powers, Housing Authority Administrator Andy Wilch, Evan Source (for Rep. Paul Evans) and MWVCAA Board Member Herm Boes.  Exec. Directors Dan Clem (UGM) and Chris Simpson (Recovery Outreach Community Center) were also present, along with Brent DeMoe, Director of Family and Community Outreach for Polk County.    
Mayor Bennett at The ARCHES Project Day Shelter "Soft Opening" Ceremony

There were several speeches (Courtney, Bennett, Boes), mostly urging the need for shelters and services (including the yet-to-be-constructed sobering center) delivered rather as if the room was not filled with supporters, providers, clients and consumers, about half of whom were waiting patiently for the other half to leave, and were spoken of rather as if they were not there.  "So," observed a friend, "it seems the homeless remain invisible, even when they're in the same room."

Thursday, August 2, 2018

DHSTF Wraps Up

Revised: January 2019

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force members chat with Mayor, public, following 6th and final meeting

The Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force was dissolved Wednesday evening, following their sixth and final meeting.  According to the City's press release,

They [the task force] are [sic] identified specific, measurable, and time-bound solutions that make the downtown inviting and welcoming to all Salem residents and visitors. They also ensured that solutions equitably address the rights of downtown customers, visitors, businesses, property owners, and individuals experiencing homelessness.

In fact, the task force did neither.  They were supposed to identify specific, measurable, and time-bound solutions, but the draft recommendations developed by staff for the task force's consideration were nowhere near that mark.  In fact, they're pretty darned vague, not to mention that they reprise recommendations made before, repeatedly, and never effectuated.   

According to the City's press release, the final recommendations were these (numbered for ease of reference):

  1. Provide public toilet facilities that are available 24/7.
  2. Provide a hygiene center with showers and laundry facilities to serve homeless individuals in the downtown.
  3. Endorse a simplified point of contact system individuals may call for support in dealing with issues related to homelessness and provide the community with easy to understand guidance on when to call 9-1-1 verses the non-emergency number, or the point of contact number.
  4. Establish a Downtown Good Neighbor Partnership for those who live, work, shop, and visit downtown Salem that supports appropriate behavior and ongoing dialogue with stakeholders. In conjunction with the establishment of a Downtown Good Neighbor Partnership, City staff will assess Salem codes and ordinances to ensure that the City is appropriately balancing the rights of those who live, work, and shop in our downtown, and providing the City of Salem with the tools needed to address behaviors that negatively impact others.  Support the development of additional storage for homeless individuals in need of a safe place to store their possessions during the day. 
  5. Support the development of additional storage for homeless individuals in need of a safe place to store their possessions during the day. 
  6. Support alternative ways of giving.
  7. Encourage property owners to make building and site modifications that implement Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design and provide Riverfront-Downtown Urban Renewal Area grants for improvements that meet grant criteria.
  8. Pursue options for expanding downtown cleaning services.

Wednesday night's meeting opened with a chastisement from the Chair to the purveyors of fake news:   
There are 22 draft recommendations in this document [precisely speaking, there were 10 recommendations, and 22 "options"], but I want to speak briefly and directly to one of them in particular because of the interest in social media and the news media.  That has to do with the draft recommendation ["option"] to "revise Salem’s ordinances to provide restrictions to camping or storing personal items on downtown sidewalks during business hours." 
This draft recommendation ["option"] has been interpreted by some in social media, and in the news media, to mean that the City will again consider a sit-lie ordinance, and that's unfortunate, because I don't agree with that interpretation of the intent of this draft recommendation (emphasis added)...I hope that tonight's conversation...will help people decide for themselves, when presented with the rest of the story, whether or not they support this recommendation.
(Link added.)  At no point during the meeting did Chair Kaser say how she interpreted the language she cited, or offer any assurances that the City would not reconsider a sit-lie ordinance.  She never said whom she spoke with or what she read that she thought was incorrect.

Most of the community conversation about staff's Trojan horse, "assess codes" recommendation, and the subsequent "revise ordinances" "option", took place on social media in posts/shares of either our blogs, or the Statesman Journal article published July 30, which interpreted the presence of the "option" language in the staff recommendations as meaning that "A controversial proposal to ban camping or storing personal items on Salem sidewalks during daytime hours is back on the table."  It also referred to "sidewalk camping ban" being "resurrected." 

Whatever Councilor Kaser may think, there is reason for concern about the "assess codes' option.  As Paul Logan said at the meeting, the task force members basically agreed about the safety concerns.  Where they disagreed was the approach.  Contrary to all knowledge and experience about what works, the City and some downtown businesses remain stubbornly focused on law enforcement.  That's why the Task Force was careful to put constraints on the City's ability to exercise the "assess codes" option.  See "DHSTF Smothers Son of Sit-Lie."

The Task Force recommendations go to the Mayor, then through the Council Policy Agenda process.

1/18/19 Update: staff report on implementing the Downtown Homeless Initiative Task Force recommendations.