By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston
back on Willamette WakeUp recently, talking about the Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force recommendations. Asked what the next steps were, now that he'd received and read the report, he said he'd be meeting with the City Manager, UDD Director Kristin Retherford, and Councilor Kaser,
[T]o figure out what can we do today, what are other people doing, so we're not all stepping over each other, that's been one of the ongoing issues...in the non-profit sector is a lack of coordination, [and] figure out what the City's role in coordination of social services looks like.
|Salem's Housing First Program|
Remember, the City doesn't do social services. It does a little bit of funding, but it really doesn't have a social service bureaucracy. The County has that bureaucracy, really, and the State, so we need to kind of figure out how does the City interject itself, because that seemed to be one of the recommendations is that, for the non-profits to begin to work together to create a coordinated response to homelessness, the City needed to play a role.
Although the task force's recommendation was in fact much more narrow, ("[e]stablish a Downtown Good Neighbor Partnership for those who live, work, shop, and visit downtown Salem that supports appropriate behavior and ongoing dialogue with stakeholders"), the City has been asked, before, to help create a coordinated response to homelessness by reforming the local Salem, Marion and Polk CoC. See, e.g., here and here. That was in 2016 and 2017. And, social services coordination has long been a duty/function of the City's Community Services and Housing Commission (see SRC 20G.040) (not one it's fulfilling, however), and a strategic plan goal ("Maximize resources for and coordination of local social services and align Salem's existing social service funding with strategic initiatives").
the task force report: HRAP, police behavioral health detachments, the Mid Willamette Homeless Initiative Steering Committee, the sobering center, plus its neighborhood enhancement programs. So, we asked him again, budget considerations aside, isn't there a role for the City to play as a convenor? But he side-stepped:
It could be the City, it could be the [Mid-Willamette Valley] Council of Governments has a hired employee that has a kind of coordinator job description around homelessness that is funded by the City in large part [$45,000 plus staffing the Steering Committee], and Marion County [$45,000] and I think Keizer may have put a little money into it [$5,000, along with Monmouth, $5,000, and Independence, $5,000]. But, we sort of may be looking at that role, whether it's the individual, or the role...someone whose sole job is to focus on the issues associated with homelessness. This isn't something you can do as part of a larger portfolio.
|MW Homeless Initiative Steering Committee|
It's kind of making sure everybody's at least understanding what everyone else is doing, and that we don't have wasted resources, and I think we do now. Or, at least that's what I came away from the Downtown Task Force thinking, is that there are resources that could be better used in different ways.
Now, the Mayor's absolutely right to say that resources could be better used. And, the City's certainly in a position to ensure they are better used. But, that's historically been a "third rail" conversation. And it is a lack of political will, not information, that prevents the City from having that conversation.
For instance, there is no good reason for the City's HRAP program to be the City's only Housing First program. And the only non-ARCHES program that relies exclusively on the referral list maintained by The ARCHES Project that prioritizes according to vulnerability/need instead of sign-up order, which allows cherry-picking of clients, as the Mayor is well aware.
I think there is cherry picking, Michael, I do. I don't think it's purposeful, I think it's...what's the capacity of the group that's trying to provide the service. This [the homeless individuals downtown] is a high needs group that we're working with, and that's why we took it [started HRAP], because nobody else really would or could.
|The Salem Housing Authority's Sonya Ryland and Friends|
The City could require programs it funds to take only from the ARCHES list, and only the highest needs clients their programs can accommodate. When asked about that, he just said, "Let's hope that's what they're doing", chuckling.
In August, the Mayor told Willamette WakeUp he had worked to get some place for people to store personal belongings, but "couldn't quite get there." When asked in September what the impediments were, he just said, "Well, we don't have a building."
|Transitional Storage Center in San Diego|
The City has not made a decision that it's going to invest in a building for storage by the homeless. And that's understandable. We do water, sewer and water, water, and water right now, and sewer and cops and fire and streets and sidewalks. I mean, we have a pretty substantial list of things that are expected of the City, the property taxpayers expect the City to perform. This has not been on the list. Or, it's a very, very small item on the list. It has grown, and I think there's now an interest, but the capacity hasn't been built to deal with this level of problem. I think this is one that makes a real difference, and I continue to discuss it with the City Manager and the Urban Services [sic] Director that this is something we need to take very, very seriously. I've seen buildings go by that I was ready to try to talk them into buying, and discovered that really wasn't on the list, yet. Often we're talking about using urban renewal money, and whether or not urban renewal is served...by buying a building to house people's belonging is a different question.
|Storage Units in McMinnville|
So what we've been doing now, really, is working with the non-profits, ARCHES, Union Gospel Mission, encouraging them strongly to look at this need, and understand how important it is, not only to the homeless, but to the people who are bothered by, or concerned about, seeing people who are pushing shopping carts around full of stuff...all of their possessions...they have no place else to put them, and to argue, well, they shouldn't be putting them on the street, well, excuse me, they've got no place else to go. They're really stuck...I think you've got to help people deal with their possessions...it's just kind of rudimentary.
|Riverfront Park Master Plan includes new restrooms (circled in red)|
|Complaint on A.P.'s FB Page|
The other issue I think is rudimentary is just taking care of their bodily functions...We're increasingly doing a good job of 24/7 toilets in some parks, but it is very, very difficult, and it's very expensive.
We're dealing with folks who have a variety of issues...We can't have people living in Honey Pots [or] brick-and-mortar toilets. There is a lot of anti-social activity that goes on around these, whether it is drug use, alcohol use, sexual practices, other things that are just really difficult for us to have going on, and for the public to believe that that's how their tax dollars ought to be spent.
So, what the discussion was out of the committee [sic] was, we need to staff those, 24/7. Well, we do not hire toilet attendants in Salem. Now, that doesn't mean someday we won't. Or soon we won't. They do in Europe...at this point, we need to figure out how to do it...again, what we'll be doing is looking to existing public facilities, how do we handle non-profit facilities, how do we plan those, ARCHES, UGM, that they have 24/7 toilets, and I think at our new police facility we'll be looking at it. We also have toilets at City Hall...That then brings you to...showers and laundry facilities.
There are various strategies on laundry facilities...It's hard now to find a laundromat...Hopefully, in one of its phases...ARCHES...is looking at laundry facilities. And we've got similar facilities being looked at by churches and others...We don't have a shower system as a City program, but non-profits do.
"As I talk about this", he said, "I hope people begin to appreciate the need for -- the level of coordination that's really needed." Asked again who might take that on, again the Mayor hedged,
We do have a coordinator at the Council of Governments. How that job fits these needs I think is another discussion. Right now, the job description is more of a study...kind of assembling all the information, but what she's done is create a real inventory of what's out there...so I think it's something that needs to be continually worked on.Let's be clear. The Council of Governments coordinator could not coordinate the City's social services providers without a substantial rewrite of her job description and work plan, so the Mayor's continued reference to the position in the context of the task force recommendations is a distraction and wishful thinking, at best.
The thing that's really important is that we get this ready for our budget cycle, which comes up...in November...we have to determine what the City's responsibility's going to look like. There are some cost items...There are...timing pressures. As weather changes, the number of people moving into downtown, on the streets...will do exactly what it's done every year, which is explode. Right now, it looks quite manageable, it feels quite manageable, but I tell you, you give it a few wet, cold days, and it's going to look like a crowd again. We need to be prepared for that, and I don't think we are yet. I mean, we'll have the warming centers, we'll have other services, we'll have day services. What we won't have right now is additional shelter, rooms where people can go and spend the night. And that means people sleeping on the street again, and I'm real concerned about it.
For the City to get involved, really directly in...providing the kind of support that services may need...we really need to get...a handle on...the budget implications of...these proposals, and what's the funding source...We have some money that comes in from the federal government, and some from the state government...We've used traditionally a kind of a grant system...That may not be the right answer any more. We need to take a look at that.
This helps give us a framework. We've never done this level of look at, say, a specific social problem. We have now...And, I think the expectation of the public...is that the local government will figure out its role. Our direction has to come through our funding sources, to at least describe to the social service agencies...what we see as a big priority...make sure everything is...aligned.He is right about the grant system. It's definitely got problems. But, to "take a look at" it would be one of those "third rail" conversations. The Mayor talks a tough game in private, but is afraid to beard those social service lionesses in their den. See, "everyone" knows well enough what "everyone" is doing for the City to be able to say it's going to favor programs that use outcome-oriented strategies, prioritize according to vulnerability, participate in a coordinated entry system using a central referral list, follow the Housing First model, and use ServicePoint to collect and share data (as appropriate, of course). If programs don't want to change how they do things, they don't have to take the City's funds. It'd be good to get a few heads out of the trough, anyway.
|Conducting outreach off PDX Road, October 2016|
We're talking about giving the police the ability to help people. Actually, we've invested a great deal in police training, in mental health and other kinds of interventions and then given them no way to intervene at times...I'll tell you, I've seen the police in action. They're doing a fabulous job without any kind of coercive tool in place. And, we may just want to follow that model.
Yeah, we might, especially as recent court decisions hold camping bans like the one the City was talking about are unlawful precisely because they do tend to criminalize homelessness.
Urban Development Director Kristin Retherford, who represents the City on the MWHI Steering Committee and who facilitated the Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force, and whose Department staffs the CSHC and administers the CDBG, HOME and General Fund social services grants programs, says "the planned approach is to address the [task force] recommendations through the Council Policy Agenda process." According to the 2018 Council Policy Agenda, this fall (2018), the City "will issue an annual community report, seek input on priorities for 2019, and begin developing the 2019 City Council Policy Agenda."
[Update 10/1/18: The 2018 satisfaction survey results are in, and they say "a majority of residents remain less than satisfied with the City's coordination of social services" for the city's homeless (emphasis added).
The press release about the survey results says "Resident voiced concerns about homelessness and City infrastructure. While homelessness was a top concern in both 2017 (26%) and 2016 (17%), more residents (33%) list it as the most important issue for Salem to do something about in 2018."
Yesterday, the City put out a press release listing what the City is doing, and saying:
Homelessness is a critical problem affecting cities along the West Coast, including Salem. In 2018, the Salem City Council made reducing it a priority. The City of Salem and its partners are working to lessen the hardships that lead to homelessness of residents and families with children, and to increase access to affordable housing. Salem is taking a collaborative approach and adapting best practices to fit our community.
“We have built a strong foundation to address homelessness,” said Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett, “But we need more individuals in the community to step up and join the effort. We are thankful to everyone who is already chipping in.”]