Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Bureaucratic BS Burying Good Nbr Pship

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston


UDD Dir Kristin Retherford and Lt. Upkes 2/19/19
The Good Neighbor Partnership recommended by the Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force (DHSTF) is being buried by bureaucratic concerns that convening such a group would be "stepping further into the role of social service funder and provider", which is, or should be, the responsibility of Marion County.    

That is the upshot of the otherwise unedifying work session
held on February 19, to go over the staff Implementation Plan Recommendations issued in January.

Councilors Ausec, Leung and Nanke were absent from the one-hour session, most of which was spent listening to Urban Development Department Director Kristin Retherford go through each item, one by one, not that she said anything that wasn't in the Implementation Plan Recommendations.   

The acute need for "downtown homeless solutions" started in 2016, when various factors raised the pressure on the downtown homeless population and strained relationships with businesses and police.  Mayor Bennett took office in January of 2017, amidst frequent complaints and demands from downtown businesses that City Hall "do something."

Salem's new mayor never wanted a task force.  He wanted a housing program for the chronically homeless, a sobering center and a sit-lie ordinance.  He nailed the first two, but he didn't get his ordinance.  See "City Council Kills Sit-Lie After Public Hearing."  Instead, he got a task force.  Still, there was hope that the task force might resurrect something similar to a sit-lie ordinance.  It was not meant to be.  See "DHSTF Smothers Son of Sit-Lie."

The final DHSTF recommendations were issued August 1, 2018.  The fact that the City took six months to develop a plan to implement a set of strategies that were touted as being "SMART" (i.e. ready to implement) says that either they weren't "SMART", or they weren't a priority, or both.  That being the case, the prospects that the City will convene a Good Neighbor Partnership (GNP) do not look very good.

Bennett never liked the GNP idea, repeatedly referring to it as, "this kind of, 'can't we all get along' attitude of 'let’s have a good neighbor policy'.”  See "Mayor Mulls Dtown Hless Recs."  But, he did understand its intended purpose, at least initially, which was to have "people who know what they're doing in terms of working with the homeless" help downtown business owners learn "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."  Despite CANDO's advice that the Council "adopt and implement with all deliberate speed" the recommendation to create a GNP, Bennett just never seemed to see the value in it, because if he had, you'd better believe he'd have convened a GNP by now.

Another problem for the GNP is that staff made a complete hash of it in the Implementation Plan Recommendations, which means only those Council members who have followed the proceedings closely have any idea what the GNP is supposed to be. 

Draft "Behavior Expectation" Rec #1
When staff put together draft recommendations, they included "options" on how the recommendation might be implemented.

At the final meeting in August, staff asked the task force to discuss and vote on the recommendations, but not the "options." 

Draft "Behavior Expectation" Rec #2
Then, after the task force substantially rewrote the recommendation under "Behavior Expectations", staff did not chuck  the associated options, they just transferred them to the new recommendation.

Staff then developed implementation plans for those same options, even though they were unrelated to the GNP and had to be tortured in an effort to make them fit.  The result was a profound confusion of ideas.  

Example:  a card or flyer is not an appropriate strategy for implementing a Good Neighbor Partnership.

What staff should have done after the last meeting is develop new options to implement the new GNP recommendation.  But, that is not the only flaw in the Implementation Plan Recommendations

Final Rec (combining draft Rec #1 and #2)
The Implementation Plan Recommendations should have set out the task force's intent for the GNP, which was to have, as Mayor Bennett described it, "people who know what they're doing in terms of working with the homeless" help downtown business owners learn "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?"  It didn't. 

The Implementation Plan Recommendations refer in various places to "an ongoing partnership and meeting structure", "an ongoing organizational structure", an "ongoing committee or other structure", an "ongoing meeting structure" and "ongoing committee, board, or commission [that] would require a City staffing commitment in terms of participation and convening, or a more significant commitment if the structure is to stand up a board or commission", adding that, "If the City stands up a board or commission, further staffing resources will be required to comply with public meeting and public records law."

Anyone can see where that language is likely to take a Councilor who's unfamiliar with the GNP concept.  S/he's going to conclude that the City's being asked to "stand up" yet another formal board or commission.  However, that is only how staff have interpreted the GNP recommendation.  It's not what the task force had in mind.  See "DHSTF Calls for Ongoing Conversation."

Nevertheless, that's exactly what happened during the work session: Council began thinking terms of a large, formal gathering.  Mayor Bennett and Councilor Kaser in particular expressed interest in some sort of formal, advisory, sounding board type of group that that would meet quarterly for "ongoing dialogue."  The only question was, who should convene such a group.

Councilor Andersen 2/19/19
The question was not resolved, but a clear preference that it not be the City did emerge.

Councilor Andersen, echoing the concerns expressed in the Implementation Plan Recommendations that the City would be "stepping further into the role of social service funder and provider" if it were to take on the role of convenor, called on staff to involve Marion County.

Councilor Kaser expressed similar concerns, as she has all along.

No one, except perhaps Retherford, seemed to appreciate that downtown Salem is Salem's business, not Marion County's.  The same is true for The United Way of the Mid Willamette Valley, which serves all of Polk and Yamhill Counties, as well as Marion County.     

The work session gave staff no clear direction, so what happens next will depend on staff initiative, and what makes it into the City Manager's proposed budget.  Council probably will be asked whether it wants to create some sort of formal, advisory, sounding-board type of group that would meet quarterly for "ongoing dialogue", even though the task force did not recommend the creation of such a group, and even though it is too late, now, for an "ongoing dialogue" between members of a group that disbanded in August 2018.

Mayor Bennett wanted the task force to give him an "enforcement tool."  Instead they gave him something that had much greater potential for positive change in the downtown --  i.e., a commitment by "people who know what they're doing in terms of working with the homeless" to help downtown business owners learn "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?"  The cost of bringing together such a group could have been minimal.  The Mayor's failure to act promptly on the GNP recommendation is a huge missed opportunity for the City, but especially for CANDO.

See "DHSTF Recs Update" for a brief on what's likely to happen with the remaining recommendations.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

State Seeks Accountability from Hless Svces Providers

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Before 2016, the state allocation toward statewide homeless housing and services was a mere $5M per biennium.  Most of it was spent on motel vouchers.

Then, in 2016, the Oregon State Legislature allocated an additional $15M, for a total of $20M over the 2015-2017 biennium.

In 2017, they allocated another $20M, for a total of $40M over the 2017-2019 biennium.  They also established a program to provide homeless Oregonians replacement birth certificates without charge.

In 2018, after public outcry over the sheltering system during the winter of 2017-2018 left lawmakers wondering what the heck all those millions had been spent on, they directed the Housing Stability Council (HSC) to figure out how to prioritize the funding to ensure funds are spent "as efficiently and effectively as possible."  (Ensuring funds are spent "as efficiently and effectively as possible is the HSC's job per ORS 458.525.)  They also allocated another $5M, to go to specific areas.  See here at 31-32.

The lawmakers' directiive to OHCS to get the state's homeless assistance act together came in the form of what's known as a "Budget Note."

The Housing Stability Council, in alignment with preliminary findings from the Statewide Housing Plan, shall make recommendations to the Director of Oregon Housing and Community Services [OHCS] about how to prioritize funding for the Emergency Housing Account and the State Homeless Assistance Program to ensure that funds are being spent as efficiently and effectively as possible.
At a minimum, the Council shall consider how the use of funding incentivizes regionally and nationally recognized best practices, and outcome oriented strategies, to create a more effective system to prevent and reduce homelessness.
The Director shall present recommendations to the Legislature by February 28, 2019.

(Emphasis added.)  Clearly, the legislature doesn't think OHCS has been doing its job, and we agree.  However, as discussed in "Is Your State Hless Assist Plan Working?  How Can You Tell?", the problem lies not just with OHCS, but with Oregon's private community action agencies and their lobby/trade association, Community Action Partnership of Oregon (CAPO).  As the Governor's Housing Policy Advisor told us a year ago:

We know the system [in Oregon that disburses state and federal funds through community action agencies] is broken, but given a choice between fixing the system, and pushing the money out, now, through a broken system, Speaker Kotek and the [OHCS] Director [Margaret Salazar] felt very strongly that they needed to get the money out there now.  

See "State to Sink More Hless Assist $$ in MWVCAA Bldg."  In that context, the Budget Note can be seen to represent a legislative compromise that, in return for all those millions, OHCS would work to repair the broken system.  The problem is, the system's not "broken" so much as it's never been built.

And now, finally, after years of neglect, the legislature expects OHCS to do something about it? 
OHCS completed an 'historic' Statewide Housing Plan in January.  See "State Issues 'Historic' Housing Plan." In February, staff presented a memo on the Budget Note work, and an outline of the report to the Legislature, to the HSC at its February meeting.  See Memo re HB 5201 Budget Note (HCS Meeting Materials at page 27).   

The "best practices" recommendation is to take a Housing First approach, to maximize "coordinated entry" participation, to support access to low-barrier shelters, to incorporate lived experience in service delivery and to act intentionally to reduce racial disparities.  The "outcome oriented strategies" recommendation is to adopt the "EPIC Card approach" for prioritizing outcomes and tracking performance.

The recommendations are standard best practice across the U.S., Canada and U.K, but not in most of Oregon, including Salem, which continues to cling to Reaganesque, 1980s-era paradigms of homelessness and generally prefers to let religious institutions take care of "the indigent" while they focus on prevention.  But as far as OHCS being a change agent, heralding a new era of accountability in homeless services delivery?  One need go no farther than this sentence from the EPIC Card: "No action will be taken on the successes or challenges of these Outcomes and Performance Measures during this time [the 2019-2021 biennium]." 

One hardly need point out that OHCS is part of the problem.  Locally, OHCS colluded with the Mid Willamette Valley Community Action Agency (MWVCAA) to cover up OHCS's initial mismanagement of the Golden ARCHES Project, and, since then, OHSC has allowed MWVCAA to spend hundreds of thousands more homeless assistance funds on renovations and what amounts to debt service through a dubious accounting scheme.  See, "The Golden ARCHES Project", Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, "State to Sink More Hless Assist $$ in MWVCAA Bldg", "MWVCAA Bldg Sucks Up More Gov't $$", and "MWVCAA Pays Mortgage Debt with Hless Assist $$." 

Clearly, if the legislature is relying on OHCS to "ensure that funds are being spent as efficiently and effectively as possible", they are leaning on a weak reed.  OHCS can't even manage to follow its own rules and regulations.  (See the above links.)

If the legislature wanted to do one simple thing to promote Oregon's policy on homelessness, it would require OHCS to make public what funds are going to which community action agencies for which programs, how the money was spent and leveraged, what the return on investment was and what kind of outcomes resulted.  The relevant data is being collected and shared -- just not with the public.

Public officials are very fond of saying that homelessness is a community problem.  If that's true, then  they should treat the community as an equal partner by sharing all relevant and available information.

3/3/19 Update:  View the final HB 5201 Budget Note report here.
1/3/20 Update:  View a status report on the HB 5201 Budget Note here.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Food Task Force Mtg 1

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Food Task Force web page
The atmosphere was generally positive at first meeting of the Food and Sundries Distribution to the Homeless Community Task Force (FSDHCTF, or Food Task Force). The meeting started on time, there were sandwiches and only a couple of people missing (no SEMCA rep, Murray G. was absent, and Sheri Wahrgren sat in for Kristin Retherford).  Ashley Hamilton represented the Mid Willamette Valley Community Action Agency (MWVCAA).

The task force was formed in January after the City put the area under the Marion Street Bridge off limits to groups serving daily meals there.  See "Meals Under Bridge on Shutdown."

The task force's assignment is to answer three questions over three or four meetings:

Q1. What community needs are being addressed by the distributions (What are we trying to achieve?)

Q2. What are the negative impacts to the park property, park users and rights-of-way? (What are the impacts?)

Q3. What solutions are recommended to address these impacts? (What are the solutions?)

Its ultimate goal is to present a staff report with recommendations to the City Council at its March 25 meeting and, thereafter, to implement any decision without undue delay.

After introductions, Mark Becktel gave a brief overview of the legal terrain.  The main problem with the City's view is that, while the Public Works Director has authority under SRC 94.200(d) "to regulate the activities in park areas when necessary to prevent congestion and to procure the maximum use and safety for the convenience of all", there is no provision in the code that requires a City permit for benevolent meal distribution.

Although City staff have repeatedly cited to SRC 94.200(c) as requiring such a permit, that section provides only that a "park or a portion thereof, may be reserved for organized or group activities."  So, it doesn't apply to an individual or group intending to engage in a regulatable activity, but not wishing to reserve space.  Therefore, if the City wishes to impose a permitting process for food distributions that don't involve space reservations, the City code will need to be amended. 

Perhaps one reason that there is no provision in the code requiring a City permit for benevolent meal distributions that don't involve space reservations is that regulating food distributions is a county health department function.  Oregon Food Sanitation Rules (OAR 333-150-0000 Section 3-201.11 (L))  are administered by the  Marion County Environmental Health Department.  Those rules require anyone wishing to set up a benevolent meal site (e.g., serve a meal or meals to the homeless community) to obtain a temporary restaurant license.  There is a fee involved.

Fee structure listed on Temporary Restaurant Permit Application
Back in 2003, when Dan Sheets and friends started serving meals to the homeless community inside the SonRise Church when it was located at the Marion Car Rental and Park, Marion County was inspecting the kitchen.  Their involvement ceased when the meals moved outside, sometime after 2011.  Oddly, it seems to us, the City has not asked the County to participate in the task force proceedings.  If uncorrected, this is a missed opportunity to expand existing opportunities for collaboration between the City and County (e.g., LEAD and CORT). 

Meal at SonRise Church in the Marion Car Rental & Park, 2011
Following the legal terrain overview, the task force was informed that staff had been unable to identify another city with a program that Salem might follow.  With that, they were then asked to answer Q1 and identify "what success factors will guide our discussions?"

As each person was asked to speak to Q1, themes emerged about the need for oversight, accountability, safety, accessibility and environmental controls.

Each person was then asked to add to the City's four "success factors":

SF1. Food distribution is allowed in Salem parks and rights-of-way.

SF2. Long-term, sustainable ways to significantly minimize the impacts are implemented.

SF3. The program is monitored and enforced.

SF4. Private property sites are considered.

Emerging themes included the need for clear, City-wide communication of expectations and all that goes along with that (e.g., web page, single POC) and a plan for short-medium-long term goals (e.g., plan to move meals back inside as soon as practicable).

Judging by some of the comments by members of the public at the end of the meeting (Dan Sheets, Kevin and Athena Gray, Kevin Spade, Randy Kelley, Michael Livingston), the next meeting should include a very clear and explicit statement by the City that, when the Public Works Director says, "It is not the intent of this task force to allow, or find ways to allow, distributions in areas posted for no trespassing", it means the area under the bridges is off limits for food distributions, period, not negotiable.  Otherwise, the issue is just going to keep coming up.

At its next meeting on February 28, the task force will identify the negative impacts on the parks and rights-of-way and begin the discussion on possible solutions (recommendations).  The third meeting on March 7 will finish the solutions discussion and attempt to prioritize them for incorporation into a draft policy outline.

Finally, from random comments during and after the meeting, we heard that since meal distribution moved from under the bridge over to the parking lot of 615 Commercial Street NE (aka, the ARCHES building), the frequency of meals had fallen from seven to two or three times a week, and that  youthful bicyclists and skaters had returned to the area.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

MWVCAA Pays Mortgage Debt with Hless Assist $$

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Funds intended for homeless housing and services continue to be used to pay for the Mid Willamette Community Action Agency (MWVCAA)'s new building at 615 Commercial Street NE (aka the ARCHES building).

The building was purchased in June 2017 using $487K in Emergency Housing Assistance (EHA) and State Homeless Assistance Program (SHAP) funds.  See "The Golden ARCHES Project", Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Renovations have used, or will use, another $500K of EHA and SHAP funds. 

Mortgage payments in 2018 included last year's quarter mil balloon payment.

A condition of using the EHA and SHAP funds for the down payment was that the building be used as a day shelter for the homeless, beginning in June 2017.  The day shelter was not opened until July 2018.  See "New Adult Day Shelter Finally Opens Downtown."  The shelter still doesn't provide showers, laundry or hot meals.  Consequently, HOAP continues to carry the burden of providing these services to all those living on CANDO's streets.

The Oregon Housing and Community Services Department, which is responsible for ensuring program compliance, approved MWVCAA's mortgage-related payments last March 2018, even though OHCS Director Salazar stated in September 2017 that OHCS doesn't permit the use of homeless housing funds for debt service.  See memorandum below and "MWVCAA Bldg Sucks Up More Gov't $$."

To get around the "no debt service" limitation, the ARCHES Project was allowed to "pay" MWVCAA up to $25K/mo "rent", and MWVCAA was allowed to use the proceeds to cover the monthly mortgage and reserve the balance to pay the balloon.

All perfectly legal?  Maybe.  Agencies may use state homeless housing funds to cover reasonable rent, or "space cost" as it's referred to when, as here, the agency is the property owner.  The question here is whether MWVCAA can reasonably charge The ARCHES Project up to $25K/mo "for the use of the building."

At its Madison Street location, The ARCHES Project paid between $6,400 and $6,800/mo for about 6,900SF, the same amount of space that the new day shelter and related offices require.  Its new location is almost three times the size of the old.  MWVCAA neither needed or especially wanted, and could ill afford to purchase, a 16,000SF building, but more or less was forced into it by its former CEO's incompetence and poor planning.  See "The Golden ARCHES Project", Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.   Charging The ARCHES Project for the additional space -- much of which is unusable until renovated -- hardly seems reasonable.  

The SF/Mo rent at the Madison Street location was about $1.01SF/Mo.  At Commercial Street NE, it's about $1.56SF/Mo.  By way of comparison, the Morgan Building (formerly occupied by the Department of Energy) at 625 Marion Street, rents for about $1.15/SF/Mo.  It seems highly unlikely that $1.56SF/Mo is fair market rate for a 70 year-old warehouse that was converted to offices in the 1980s and still requires $1.5M in renovations before it can be used for its intended purpose.

OHCS obviously thinks it's perfectly legal for MWVCAA to charge The ARCHES Project up to $25K/Mo "for the use of the building."  But if that's true, then OHCS must consider it perfectly legal for any community action agency to use homeless housing funds to pay debt service on new offices and building upgrades, as long as they're tangentially related to homeless services (and they get OHCS to sign off on it). 

This can't be what the Oregon legislature had in mind for the $40 million allocated to statewide homeless housing and services in the 2017-2019 biennium.  The Madison Street location at least had a shower.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

2/19/19 Minutes

Members: Deb Comini, Jim Griggs
Organizations: Dan Clem, Union Gospel Mission;
City and County Representatives: Heidi Miller, Friendship Brigade, Center 50+
Guests: Jon Christianson

The regular meeting of the CANDO Board of Directors was called to order at 6:00 p.m., on Tuesday, February 19, 2019, at the First Christian Church at 685 Marion Street NE, Salem.  The Chair and Secretary-Treasurer were present.  

The agenda and minutes of the January meeting were approved by unanimous consent.

In interested citizen comments, Dan Clem shared revised plans for the new Men’s Mission following the purchase of Mike’s Electric and the BAM! Agency properties, and said UGM was requesting modification of the Conditional Use Permit.  The plan is to build “Hope Commons” on the Mike’s Electric lot.  Hope Commons is to include an outdoor plaza, 24hr restroom access, covered bike and other storage areas, and serve as an entrance to the mission.  Plans also call for the BAM! Agency house to be retained for administrative staff initially, and eventually become transitional housing. A variance of the parking requirements (lower) will be sought.

The board heard a presentation by Heidi Miller about the pilot Center 50+ community care and nursing home visiting program called “Friendship Brigade.”  The group’s goal is to train and connect over 100 caring volunteers with isolated seniors in 20 community care and nursing facilities throughout Salem and Keizer.  At the end of January, the program had 60 volunteers working in 8 facilities. Volunteers report having solid satisfaction with the work, which is not that old-fashioned nursing home visiting program you signed up for in high school.  Program Coordinator Heidi Miller may be contacted for more information at 503-588-6303.

In new business, Michael’s motion to submit a letter supporting construction of a restroom at the north end of Riverfront Park and Neal’s motion to appoint Sarah Owens to the Food and Sundries Distribution to the Homeless Community Task Force passed unanimously.  

There being no other business before the board, the Chair adjourned the meeting at 6:47  p.m.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

State Issues "Historic" Housing Plan

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

OHCS Dir Salazar and Gov Brown 2/11/19
On February 11, the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department (OHCS) issued the Statewide Housing Plan (Plan), which the Governor announced at a press conference.  The Plan aims to eliminate housing instability and homelessness in Oregon. 

Asked to explain what the plan would mean to the average person ("there have been so many plans"), Governor Brown said the plan was a "road map" for the legislature, and that  her focus for the session was getting families with children "off the streets", "building more permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless", and "making sure that we take care of our 1,400 veterans that are homeless."  Brown said her budget for permanent supportive housing is "more robust" than what the Plan calls for, and that the state had never before invested at this level ($400M) in affordable housing.

OHCS Director Margaret Salazar said the Plan was unlike previous plans because of its "historic engagement across state agencies and across sectors."  She said ending homelessness is really about "wrapping together all that the state has to provide."  "That's the real difference [in the plan]", she said, "it's not just what our agency can's about how [all] our [state] agencies can come together to support a common goal, and work in the same direction."  Salazar also said that OHCS had never produced a statewide housing plan at this level of engagement and data analysis.

Although Brown's priorities include the chronically homeless, the Plan's do not.  The Plan's priority populations are unsheltered veterans and families with children.  We asked Jimmy Jones, the Executive Director of the Mid Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, whether he agreed with prioritizing these populations.  (By statute, OHCS distributes state homeless assistance funds through local community action agencies.  MWVCAA received roughly $4.5M in homeless assistance from OHCS in FY 2017.)  His response (by email) was:

No I do not.  I appreciate that the state is willing to invest in Permanent Supportive Housing, which is part of the Statewide Housing Plan.  We desperately need to get 50 of those 500 units that the state intends to build in Marion County.  But generally families experiencing homelessness are lower needs individuals, who have other resources, and veterans as a whole already have a great number of federal resources that make their wait times far shorter than non-veterans.  Every local, state, and federal homeless resource needs to prioritize unsheltered chronic homelessness, especially frequent users of service engagements.

Read an executive summary of the Plan here.

Friday, February 8, 2019

News from the Continuum

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

"Homelessness", sighed the Mayor, midway through his recent State of the City address, "this is one of the most difficult issues faced by cities across the U.S. and around the world."

He was speaking before an audience consisting largely of City staff, officials, and Rotarians, who sponsored the annual luncheon event, which opened with prayer.

"The problem," he said, was that removing barriers to recovery from homelessness -- for example, addiction, health and mental health conditions -- "have not been part of the menu of services offered by city government."  But, faced with a "crisis in the streets", a situation that was "untenable" and "appalling", he felt he had to act.  He recounted how he'd asked the City to launch the Housing Rental Assistance Program (HRAP), and he explained why he chose to target the chronically homeless, which he prefers to call "the hardest to house."  He spoke of the 89 units being set aside for HRAP clients, defending the investment in permanent housing against the need for temporary shelters and referring to it as a "cure" that was "fiscally responsible", and not some "gimcrack idea."

Mayor Bennett at the Rotary-sponsored, 2019 State of the City event

This was the Mayor's third State of the City address.  In each of them, he has spoken of HRAP with pride.  The program has been successful by any measure and has housed more than a hundred people who would never have been housed otherwise.  So, why in 2019 did this part of his speech come off defensive, instead of triumphant?  Is it because, as a friend put it, "he's taking a lot of sh*t for targeting the chronically homeless."?  Sadly, we suspect so.

The truth is that there are a lot of important people in this City that just do not like the idea of helping addicts and broken old men and women with bad credit and criminal histories, as long as there are others whom they perceive as more deserving who also are in need of assistance.  They understand almost nothing about homelessness, but they think they do.  Nothing unusual about that.  Almost everyone thinks s/he understands homelessness.

"[J]ust in case anyone says the City of Salem isn't stepping up on these issues, we housed 3,474 low income residents [households] in a variety of programs, including homeless families", he said, suggesting that people are, indeed, saying the City isn't stepping up on these issues to the extent it should be.

And it's true, people are saying the City doesn't do enough.

In fairness, Mayor Bennett has demonstrated a  deeper understanding of homelessness than did his predecessor, Anna Peterson.  But, it's a problem he seems to have grown tired of talking about

In closing this section of his speech, the Mayor dutifully ran through the recommendations of the Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force, twice lapsing into anecdote, praised as "exhaustive" the "resource map" that cost the City $45,000 last year, and thanked a "whole range of religious private and non-profit organizations" without whose assistance "the significant progress we are making would not have been possible." Only, he didn't sound at all as if he really believed we are making "significant progress." 

Notable omissions from the speech included the faltering sobering center project and the City's plan to purchase 615 Commercial Street using Urban Renewal funds.  See Brynelson, T. "Salem considering buying ARCHES building, bankrolling more services for homeless."  6 February 2019, Salem Reporter.)

The City is accepting applications through March 14, 2019, for about $1,050,000 in City of Salem Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnership funds (the City's entitlement grant from HUD, less $425K set aside for Yaquina Hall and the Fisher Road project) and for $400,000 from the City’s General Funds.  See, Brynelson, T. "Salem to offer less federal money for social services, housing projects in 2019."  (31 January 2019, Salem Reporter.)  The Fisher Road project has been named "Redwood Crossing."

Volunteer labor has not proved sufficient to meet the demands of running even two cold-weather, emergency shelters using the lower activation criteria of 32 degrees.  So, the Mid Willamette Community Action Agency (MWVCAA) announced this month it's hiring 8-10 "Warming Representatives" to help out until the season closes at the end of March.  So far, the shelters have been activated an average of seven nights each month (November through January).

Cornerstone Apartments is no longer using SMI to manage the property.  They are using Avenue 5 Residential (as in the famed 5th Avenue in New York City?) instead.  The Cornerstone wait list reportedly has been or will be eliminated.  Efforts to obtain Avenue 5's eligibility criteria have not been successful.  Word on the street is that it is not less restrictive than SMI's eligibility criteria.

MWVCAA completed its first ever seven-day Point in Time homeless count last week, netting a record number of unsheltered homeless individuals.  See "Seven-day PIT Count Nets Record Unsheltered."  (6 February 2019.)

HUD announced recently that it will not be funding MWVCAA's rapid rehousing program in 2019-2020 (about $389K) through its Continuum of Care (CoC) Program.  Despite the program's being funded for many years, the 28-county Rural Oregon Continuum of Care (ROCC) (aka Balance of State CoC) gave it a low priority in last year's grant application to HUD, virtually guaranteeing it would not be funded.  MWVCAA Executive Director Jimmy Jones had this to say about the loss of funding:

Last fall, the agency learned that the ROCC review and ranking committee chose to push our rapid rehousing grant to the bottom of the Tier 1 rankings, straddling some of the dollars between Tier 1 and Tier 2.  We strongly disagreed with the placement at the time, and still believe that the decisions that led to that placement were fundamentally flawed.  

Oregon CoCs, circa 2010
Programs serving Marion and Polk County will still receive about 20% of ROCC's $3.2M grant, which will fund Family Promise (formerly Salem Interfaith Hospitality Network)'s permanent supportive housing program (~ $161K), Shangri-La's rapid rehousing and permanent housing programs (~ $311K), and a new rapid rehousing program for domestic violence survivors, to be run by the Center for Hope and Safety (~ $189K).  For more about the ROCC and for last year's awards.  See "News from the Continuum." (18 January 2018.)

Based on the 2018 Point-in-Time homeless count figures, Marion and Polk County programs receive only 2% of the HUD CoC funds going to Oregon, despite the area's being home to 8% of the state's homeless population. 

The Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative steering committee expects to receive a preliminary report on the costs and benefits of remaining in ROCC at its next meeting on February 28.  See "Homeless Coordinator Position Empty, Iffy."  (25 January 2019.)

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Seven-day PIT Count Nets Record Unsheltered

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

No one home at this Detroit area camp on "count day", 1/30/19
All those who thought this year's Point in Time Count (PITC) ended last week, the night of January 30, think again.

It didn't end until this past week -- the night of February 5.

The extra time all but guaranteed this year's count would exceed last year's.
We asked the Mid Willamette Community Action Agency (MWVCAA), which organizes the count, how come they publicized and trained for a one-day count, when they knew it was a seven-day count? 

Didn't get a satisfactory explanation.

It seems it was not until late December that they realized it was possible to extend the count.

Even though that was pretty late to be changing things up, they decided to go ahead, because Portland was planning an extended count, which focuses on the unsheltered population. 

What Portland had to do with the decision is that homeless assistance funding, whether state or federal, is a bit of a competition that's based in part (a smaller part than most people assume) on the annual PITC figures.  The assumption is, the more time a community has to complete the count, the more people experiencing homelessness can be counted.  MWVCAA figured if we wanted to compete with Portland for funding, and Portland's extending the count period, we needed to extend the count period, too.

So, in January, that's what MWVCAA asked the 28-county Rural Oregon Continuum of Care (ROCC) (which sadly includes Marion and Polk Counties) to do, and ROCC agreed.  (Yamhill County, also part of the ROCC, has reportedly been doing seven-day counts "for years.")

The 11th-hour change might still have been publicized, but, for some reason, MWVCAA didn't even tell the press.  See:  Powell, M. "Regional Homeless Count Surveys Begin Across Oregon."  (23 January 2019, OPB.)   Brynelson, T. "ARCHES says it needs more volunteers for annual count of region's homeless."  (25 January 2019, Salem Reporter.)  Alexander, R. "In East Salem, volunteers search for homeless people often overlooked."  (30 January 2019, Salem Reporter.)  Woodworth, W. "Volunteers ignore cold to reach hundreds of Salem area homeless for annual count."  (30 January 2019, Statesman Journal.) (All stating or assuming that it would be a one-day count.)  Update:  Salem Reporter tells us MWVCAA did say the count was being extended, but that fact was inadvertently omitted in the editing process.  Even so, it does not let MWVCAA off the hook for failing to get the word out about the change sooner than they did.

Successful PITCs are highly organized and nimbly coordinated affairs.  This year's count in the Santiam Canyon was not nearly as successful as 2018's, which Melissa Baurer coordinated, up until MWVCAA announced they would be taking over.  MWVCAA organized this year's count, but as a one-day event in which fewer than 25 people were surveyed, less than half the count in 2018 and 2017.  Some area  agencies and individuals were asked to continue counting.  

Extending the count increases the risk of duplication because the reference point -- was the person "Category 1" homeless the night of January 29 -- still applies.  That's one reason MWVCAA decided to leave the task of conducting the extended count to "pros", namely MWVCAA staff and staff of trusted partner agencies.

Frmr Fairview Training Center, site of 4 surveys in 2019
The other reason was a fear that untrained volunteers showing up unannounced and unaccompanied at campsites could be perceived as threatening, and trigger a violent response.  (There is widespread feeling that campers are now actively avoiding the annual survey.)  The pros are not only trained, they are familiar to many in the camps.  The danger to the pros in the field is not nil, but it's less than the danger to an untrained volunteer.

HUD requires a count of the unsheltered population only in odd years.  MWVCAA has, historically, conducted an unsheltered count in even years, as well.  But, given the increasingly complex organizational challenges involved, the better course might be for MWVCAA to use its resources to prepare for a well-organized unsheltered count every other year, as HUD and the State of Oregon contemplate.  The State doesn't even recognize the even-year counts.

Surveys are still coming in and must be vetted, but early returns indicate the unsheltered count for Marion County alone will exceed 619.  That's the 2018 unsheltered count for both Marion and Polk Counties. 
early returns chart, courtesy Jimmy Jones

For a report on the unofficial results, see Whitworth, W. "Homeless PIT Count shows 20 percent increase in Marion, Polk Counties, with big caveat."  (15 February 2019, Statesman Journal.) (Still stating that the count took place over the course of one day.)

Monday, February 4, 2019

Bridge to Business Blowback

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Revised: 25 February 2019

Out-of-towner Brian Hines recently announced his upset at seeing people sleeping on benches downtown and belongings parked in doorways, and his concern that Salem's "homeless problem" is hurting downtown businesses.  Hines suggests the answer is compassion, both for the homeless, and the businesses, a sentiment oft expressed by our Chief of Police, Jerry Moore.      

To explain what that would look like, Hines published an opinion piece by downtown resident Carole Smith that she wrote for the Statesman Journal, but the Statesman declined to publish. 

The would-be op-ed refers to the recent camp clean up under the Marion Street Bridge and asks rhetorically, "Does the City of Salem realize that when they clean out a homeless camp they drive them right onto downtown property?"

It seems Smith would have preferred that the camp not be cleaned up, even though most others seemed to feel the City waited too long.

As far as Smith is concerned, the entire situation is something that "the Mayor and City Council are doing to [downtown] Salem businesses -- every day."

For Smith, compassion for the homeless looks like the City building "a covered tennis court (or two) at Riverfront Park with a heated concrete slab. During the summer it can be a tennis court, in winter, a heated pad for homeless to camp on the warm cement. When it gets dirty, move them and power wash the cement and let them come back." 

Once the tennis court/slab is built, Smith  says, "Then, [the City should] build 'tiny home villages' to house them permanently and provide mental health and addiction treatments."

Smith's compassion for downtown businesses carries a similar theme: the police should remove people who are reported to be behaving in an offensive manner, rather than expect business owners to respond humanely.  She claims that "store owners have been assaulted and injured by violent homeless people" when they've asked the people politely to move from entrance ways.  She doesn't claim to have witnessed this, and provides no names, dates or other substantiating information. 

"Compassion for downtown businesses" thus translates to an enforcement approach to the problems of homelessness and mental illness downtown.  Call it code, if you like, but that's all this is about.

The Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force (DHSTF) wrestled with this question for six months last year, and ultimately rejected the enforcement approach, in part because downtown business and property owners like Smith wouldn't support it publicly. 

Smith did not, as far as we know, participate in those proceedings.  Nor has she come to CANDO with her concerns, or she would have been made aware that the efforts of community partners from the LEAD program, Northwest Human Services, The ARCHES Project and others to create a program of coordinated outreach, and also heard about the proposed Good Neighbor Partnership between downtown businesses, residents, service providers and people experiencing homelessness, the purpose of which is to provide a resource other than law enforcement when problems arise.

We've said it before.  The law enforcement approach to problems of homelessness and mental illness does not work, and no one knows that better than law enforcement.

Smith and Hines are or were part of the core of people that constitute Salem Community Vision.  They are both very well off and consider themselves "progressives", but their views in this area are quite outdated, authoritarian and regressive.  If they truly cared about downtown, they would work with CANDO and the City to support initiatives offering practical solutions for neighbors living in the streets.  (Smith's neighbors, not Hines's, because he lives out of town).

One such initiative is the City's Homeless Rental Assistance Program (HRAP), which is permanently housing dozens of Salem's most vulnerable downtown residents.  There's a donate button at the link.

2/25/19 Update: Salem Community Vision (SCV) member Susann Kaltwasser wants readers to understand that Carole Smith left SCV "at least a year ago", and that "the opinions expressed by Mr Hines and Ms Smith are solely their own."  The post was revised accordingly.