By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston
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.]
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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 KMUZ.org, and on your tablet or smartphone through the free Tune-In radio app.