Sunday, March 31, 2019

Refusal to Admit Error Delays Meal Permits

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston



SRC Chapter 104 to require meal distribution permits
The City proposes to amend Title IX of the City code -- vehicles and traffic -- to require permits to distribute meals and sundries to the homeless.  If that seems more than a little odd, consider the following.

Ten weeks ago, the City Manager told City Council that staff would be re-evaluating the City's meal distributions permit process over the next 30 days and that, "[t]he goal of the evaluation is to determine if there are better ways of managing the meal distributions...to help prevent unreasonable interference with public health, welfare, safety and recreation."  See "Meals Under Bridge on Shutdown."

A Food Task Force was formed and met three times before reaching a rough consensus on March 7 on a set of recommendations to send to City Council.  See "Under Bridge Off the Table (Final)."  Draft recommendations were sent to the task force on March 13, and a draft staff report went to the City Manager on March 27.  The draft report includes a statement that "amendments to SRC 104 Parades and Community Events will be forthcoming...better clarifying the need for reservations and permits [for food and sundry distributions]."

Food Task Force Meeting 1
Ever since the City instituted its meal distributions permit process back in January 2017, it has held to the position that current City code requires a permit to distribute meals in City parks and rights-of-way.

But, even when questioned on the point during the first Task Force meeting, staff were unable to cite to a specific code provision.  Instead of answering the question, staff directed the Task Force's attention to the general provisions of SRC 94 and to the City's general authority to regulate activities in parks and rights of way.    

At the second meeting, still unable to cite to any specific code provision, staff informed the Task Force that they might want to recommend amending the City code to "clarify" the need for a permit.

For an example of a specific code provision requiring a permit, see SRC Chapter 104, section 104.030, which provides, in pertinent part, that "a community event permit shall be obtained...for the following activities:

(a) An activity or event consisting of persons, animals, vehicles, or any combination thereof, which is to assemble or travel in unison on any public right-of-way...

(b) Any activity or event that the organizer expects or intends to involve 200 or more persons assembling on public property.

(c) Any activity or event on public property which requires the placement of a tent, canopy, or other temporary structure, if such placement requires a permit from the City's Fire Department or Building and Safety Division." (Emphasis added.) 

Subsection (b) above comes closer to requiring a permit for meal distributions than anything under SRC Chapter 94 (or anything else we could find in any other section of the code).  (SRC Chapter 94 is under Title VIII -- offenses.)  But meal organizers don't "expect or intend" to feed 200 people.  More like 100.  Perhaps the City plans to amend subsection (b) to require a permit for events involving, say 100, instead of 200 persons, so as to cover meal distributions?  Or maybe 75 or 50 or 25, so as to cover sundries distributions?  But, who would think to look under Title IX to see if a permit is required for such activities?

Photo courtesy Sarah Vick
The City Manager has indicated he wants to implement a City permit process regulating meal distributions asap, but the City's  refusal promptly to admit error and set about amending the code is likely to delay implementation by several months.  (Drafting, adopting, first reading, second reading, etc.)  Of course, he could still roll out a new permit process, but unless and until there's a valid and specific code provision that requires such a permit, the process would be purely voluntary.

In the meantime, meals continue to be served in the parking lot of 615 Commercial Street, reportedly under MWVCAA's site permit.  See Benevolent Meal Site Info Guide.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Steering Ctee Says Re-form the Local CoC

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston



Members Tom Pessemier, Scott McClure (not shown) Kathy Clark, Chuck Bennett, Steve Powers, Colm Willis 
The Mid Willamette Homeless Initiative Steering Committee -- Tom Pessemier (Independence), Scott McClure (Monmouth), Kathy Clark (Keizer), Steve Powers (Salem) and Colm Willis (Marion County) voted to recommend re-forming the Marion and Polk County Continuum of Care (CoC), possibly including Yamhill County, in 2020.  Re-forming the local CoC would mean leaving the 28-county the Rural Oregon Continuum of Care (ROCC).  See "ROCC: Leave or Remain?"

Draft Resolution of Support
The committee also approved the form of a resolution of support for use as a template (at right), and authorized the Mid Willamette Valley Council of Governments (MWVCOG) to enter into a personal services contract with Jan Calvin, who will work closely with retired Marion County Commissioner Janet Carlson, currently under contract with MWVCOG, to carry out next steps, which include April 22 and 23 presentations at work sessions of the Salem City Council and Yamhill County Board of Commissioners, respectively.

Because Polk and Marion Counties are expected to adopt resolutions of support fairly soon, with Salem following shortly thereafter (see "News from the Continuum", 29 July 2017), much of the discussion focused on Yamhill County, which also is a member of ROCC and MWVCOG.  Would they want to take part?  Mayor Clark said yes, definitely.  Others were not so sure.

Powers emphasized the need to ensure that the burdens and benefits of a broader partnership would be shared "equitably."  Pessemier was concerned not to do anything that might make Marion and Polk less competitive as a CoC.  Willis, noting that Marion and Polk had obvious shared interests, was concerned that Yamhill might have diverse interests that could cause it to pull in a different direction.  Despite these concerns, the consensus seemed to favor including Yamhill County in the CoC, assuming Yamhill County wants to be included.  For any number of reasons, it might not.  

HUD is well aware of recent developments.  In recent days there have been two consultations with HUD officials, one in-person and one conference call.  Per HUD advice, the committee plan to open informal negotiations with ROCC next month on a transition plan.  Outreach to government entities should be wrapped up by the end of May, and to the provider community by the end of October.   

The committee has much to accomplish before the CoC can be registered in March 2020.  Some of the details are mentioned in Carlson's March 28 report to the committee, which can be found on MWVCOG's documents page once it is posted.  See also the City staff report for the April 8, 2019 City Council meeting.   

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

City Mgr: Historical Records Not "Relevant"

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston



City Mgr 6 Feb 2019 Update
The City "turned off" its (our) old website on February 6, 2019.  Access to those documents is now by public records request only. 

That means, if you're not sure what you're looking for, it might cost more than you want to pay for research.

Some may recall being told -- back in 2015, when plans for a new website were being discussed -- that documents on the old site would be migrated gradually, as staff time permitted, over to the new website.  Unfortunately, this can't be confirmed, as the website is "turned off", and a search by the City Recorder would be cost-prohibitive.    

City Mrg 13 Mar 2019 Update
The current City Manager, Steve Powers, joined City staff in August 2015.  In February, he told the City Council the information on the old website was no longer relevant.  To anything.

Powers's view suggests a certain lack of imagination.  Or, what Salem Breakfast on Bikes calls "a bias for recency."  See "Church Street and SAIF, Winter-Maple Greenway, City Archiving - Bits":

"A great problem with this bias for recency is it then reinforces a kind of preferment for insider, special knowledge, in particular the kind of knowledge a professional lobbyist or staff person might have. This approach to public records supports regulatory capture, and in fact makes it more difficult for citizens to develop an equivalent depth of knowledge on local government and local issues.

Making it more difficult for citizens - or journalists - to get older information just kinda stinks."  

The one saving grace of the new arrangement described in the Manager's March 13 Update (above) was the ability to obtain archived material by contacting the City Recorder without requiring a public records request.  Too bad that arrangement lasted only a week. 

Per the Manager's March 20 Update, a public records request is required.  And it may cost.

City Mgr 20 Mar 2019 Update

It's unclear what "as accessible to the public as possible" might mean, short of turning the old website on again so that the public could perform our own searches.  If the City were to share the costs of keeping the old site turned on, or putting the documents somewhere else that was searchable (like the Marion County Law Library), the public might at least appreciate the need for trade-offs.  But our appreciation, as this business shows, is not a concern.  Powers directs his updates to the City Council (which includes the mayor, by the way), not the public.  His office sends them directly to Council members and makes the public check the City Manager's page.  The public aren't even offered a "subscribe" button.  Obviously, we must not be "relevant", either.     

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

News from the Continuum

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Revised 3 April 2019
MC Commissioner Colm Willis at State of County address 3/13/19
Marion County Commissioner Colm Willis, aka the new guy, led out his portion of the March 13 State of the County address talking about homelessness. 

"It's been hard for me to understand, how do we address homelessness, how do we help the people in our community who are living in our streets or in camps?", Willis said.  He knew the numbers.  He admitted they represent a lot of people.  He admitted there is a crisis.  He said he just doesn't buy the binary law enforcement vs. more resources arguments he's heard.  "They don't ring true", he said.
   
Willis spoke of his meeting with Marion County's LEAD Navigator, Josh Lair.  See "News from the Continuum." (14 November 2018.)
"We were walking in downtown Salem, and it was like I was walking with the Mayor of Salem.  Just about everybody on the street knew him, and they came up to us", he recalled.  "Josh has a very person-centered approach", Willis said.  As he counseled those who sought his advice, "He was tough when he needed to be, he was kind when he needed to be.  He was just very in touch with reality, for lack of another word, and I was just very impressed with that.  It really gave me a lot to think about."

Dick Hughes's version of Willis's remarks
Willis admits we doesn't have enough housing, especially "places for people to live if they do want to come off the streets."  He said one of the things the County is looking at is reconstituting the Marion and Polk Counties Continuum of Care, to allow for more effective planning and resource delivery at the local level.  See "ROCC: Leave or Remain" and "ROCC Fissures Continue to Grow." He said it was hard to focus on local needs in the current, 28-county continuum (which he did not name).  He said the County is also planning a housing initiative to look at increasing the County's supply of affordable housing.

The Mid Willamette Homeless Initiative Steering Committee has reportedly committed to issuing newsletters on a quarterly basis.  The Spring 2019 issue covers the "Community Homeless Connect 2019", the reformation effort, and an odd piece on finlit classes that admits they're not useful to people experiencing homelessness.

From "Financial Literacy Helps People Achieve Self Sufficiency"


Despite that admission, the steering committee remains attached to the belief that finlit education help people out of poverty.  This attachment is inconsistent with its supposed commitment to "proven strategies."  See Schneider, R. and Morduch, J. "Is Financial Unsteadiness the New Normal?" (25 July 2016, Shelterforce.) "The general evidence on financial literacy training bears out this observation—the most rigorous studies consistently fail to find much evidence that financial literacy training changes behavior, even when there is an effect on financial knowledge."

"Is Financial Unsteadiness the New Normal?"

World Financial Group (WFG), mentioned in the finlit piece, "is a network marketing company which sells financial products such as life insurance and mutual funds", according to this streetonomic review.  For the past year or so, WFG associate Hanna Morrell has been attending the Salem Keizer Collaborative and service integration team meetings, offering to teach basic financial concepts to low-level service providers at no charge.  Per Executive Director T. J. Putman, Family Promise recently hired Morrell as a full-time "financial case manager", paid for by a grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust.  Putman says the position involves some financial literacy training, but is devoted primarily to addressing "various behaviors, attitudes and habits."     

On March 28, the MWHI steering committee meets to give further consideration to re-forming the local CoC, and leaving the Rural Oregon Continuum of Care (the 28-county CoC that Willis referred to) (ROCC) in 2020.  In the mean time, as of March 26, ROCC has a new Project Coordinator.  

ROCC's new coordinator, Jessi Adams, at Weatherization Day at the Capitol in 2018 

Jessi Adams, who for the past seven years as been with Community Action of Oregon (CAO) in Washington County, replaces Jo Ann Zimmer, who's been ROCC's coordinator ever since ROCC and Salem and Marion and Polk Counties merged in 2011.  Adams will be supervised by CAPO.

Mayor Bennett might finally have some relief from the "water, water, and water" concerns that have been oppressing his administration over the past couple of years, if the Army Corps of Engineers can avoid emptying Detroit Lake.  See Urness, Z. and Poehler, B.  "Army Corps considering plan that wouldn't empty Detroit Lake in major fish project" (8 March 2019, Statesman Journal.)

Bennett could use a win, given the recent failure of the Salem River Crossing and sobering center projects.  He still has to two-way State Street and move UGM's Men's Mission four blocks north, out of downtown.  UGM could use some help as the board works to close a $2.9M gap in the capital campaign.  (There's a twofer deal on donations  through the end of May.)  UGM hopes to begin demolition at the new location at the end of September.  See Alexander, R. and Brynelson, T. "Union Gospel Mission hopeful for $1.5 million in donations for new building."  (8 March 2019, Salem Reporter.)

Local specialty courts remain under threat of closure from the Trump Administration, along with similar courts around the state.  See Associate Press story, "Veterans court may be collateral damage in immigration fight."  (17 March 2019, The Oregonian.)  Jimmy Jones, Community Action Agency Executive Director says the Veterans Treatment Court,  adult Drug Court, and Fostering Attachment Treatment Court are "particularly successful programs."

City Manager's Update 2-25-19
Finally, the City is no longer looking at Hillcrest as a possible shelter location, (see "Homeless Program Coordinator Calls it Quits", "News from the Continuum" (19 January 2019) and "News from the Continuum" (26 January 2019)).  Another bad idea discretely swept under the rug.

4/3/19 Update: added that Family Promise hired Hanna Morrell as a full time "financial case manager." 

Saturday, March 23, 2019

3/19/19 Minutes

PENDING APPROVAL


Members: Deb Comini, Rose Leonardi, Jim Griggs, M. Bryant Baird
Organizations: Ellie Benjamin, Ronald McDonald House Charities; Raleigh Kirshman, UGM; Steve Evans, Salem-Keizer Transit Board;
City and County Representatives: Cara Kaser, Ward 1 Councilor; Sheri Wahrgren, Urban Development Department; Brady Rogers, Public Works Department, Neighborhood Enhancement Division; Officers Hill, Merrit and Edmiston, Salem Police Department
Guests: Jon Christianson, Lynn Tokata, John Prohodsky

The regular meeting of the CANDO Board of Directors was called to order at 6:00 p.m., on Tuesday, March 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 February meeting were approved by unanimous consent.

Councilor Kaser offered to answer questions on the Council’s decision not to address the remand by the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals regarding the impacts of the Salem River Crossing project on Wallace Marine Park, effectively halting the Salem River Crossing project, but there were none.  She reported that the budget process was “in full swing”, and the budget was “looking grim” with “some [service] reductions possible.”

Officer Hill reported on the formation of the Problem Oriented Policing or “POP” team.  See Brynelson, T. "New Salem Police Team looks to curb repeat, low level crimes."  (22 February 2019, Salem Reporter.)  

In interested citizen comments:

Lynn Tokata asked CANDO to support the proposal to incorporate the Peace Mosaic into the Riverfront Park Carousel Stable addition.  

Ellie Benjamin asked for volunteers and participants for the 2019 Stronger Together Walk, Run and Roll event scheduled for May 4 at Riverfront Park.  

Jon Christianson, who had intended to address his comment to the scheduled presenter, Lamont Smith of Sturgeon Development, concerning the proposed hotel at Commercial and Ferry, said that the developer should document the fact Pietro Belluschi designed the Marion Car Park and Rental building that currently occupies the construction site, and erect “quality interpretive signage” at the site.
 
Sheri Wahrgren talked about the new Riverfront-Downtown Urban Renewal Area Strategic Project Grant Program that offers grants up to $50,000 for commercial projects designed for crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED).  

Steve Evans commented that Saturday/Sunday bus service would commence after Labor Day, with fare for students 12 to 18 or in high school reduced to $10/mo.  He also invited individual CANDO members to submit an application to be appointed to the Transit Board, as he was retiring.

Jon Prohodsky spoke about street art he had seen traveling in Mexico, and wanted to know what CANDO thought about doing something similar in downtown Salem.  The response was positive and he was referred to the Salem Main Street Association.   

Brady Rogers said that, for the next two months, staff, including himself, would be filling in for Neighborhood Services Coordinator Irma Dowd, who is on maternity leave.  He also said he would be retiring some time in the next fiscal year, so now would be the time to move forward on any special projects needing his assistance. He said he was considering running for City Council after he retires, and after Councilor Cook steps down.   

In new business, Sarah Owens’s motion to sponsor Mid Valley Resources at the Silver level ($500/1 year), and Erma Hoffman’s motion to submit a letter supporting the proposal to incorporate the Peace Mosaic into the Riverfront Park Carousel Stable addition, passed unanimously.  

There being no other business before the board, the Chair adjourned the meeting at 6:58  p.m.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Polk County Commn OKs Local CoC Plan

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston


Polk Co Commn work session on CoC structural issues 3/19/19
Polk County Commissioners Ainsworth, Pope and Mordhorst have given "consensus agreement" to a plan to re-form a local CoC.  They made that decision following an hour-long presentation by Mid Willamette Valley Council of Governments Executive Director Sean O'Day and consultant Janet Carlson.  Carlson is a former Marion County Commissioner.

The presentation was given during a well-attended work session on March 19.

Polk County's agreement leads the way for Marion County and Salem, who have the matter under consideration, according to statements made by Marion County Commissioner Colm Willis at the recent State of the County address, and by Salem City Manager, Steve Powers.  (For background on this initiative, see "ROCC: Leave or Remain" and "ROCC Fissures Continue to Grow.")

City Manager's Update, 13 March 2019

The Marion County Commission held a work session on February 19.  It was received favorably, but no action was taken.  Yamhill County is scheduled to have the presentation on April 23.  The probable next step for communities that support re-forming the local CoC would be for their elected representatives to authorize the execution of a resolution to that effect -- with many more steps needed after that.  At a minimum, Salem and Marion County would need to join Polk County in order to move the plan forward. 

5/24/19 Update: On April 24, the Polk County Board of Commissioners passed resolution 19-05, in support of forming a regional CoC.  The Marion County BOC passed a similar resolution at its May 22 meeting, and the Salem City Council is expected to follow suit on June 10.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

ROCC Fissures Continue to Grow

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston


Advice given in 2017
Since 2017, when one of the City's strategic plan work groups advised the City Council to support the (re) formation of a local Continuum of Care (CoC), the problems within the 28-county Rural Oregon Continuum of Care (ROCC) have just continued to grow.

A CoC is the primary planning and coordinating body that's supposed to oversee the delivery of all area homeless housing and services.

For many years, Salem, Marion and Polk Counties had their own CoC.  But, in July 2011, a decision was made to merge with the ROCC.  See "The 2011 Decision to Merge."  Jimmy Jones, Executive Director of the Mid Willamette Valley Community Action Agency (MWVCAA) now says that decision was "a mistake."  See "News from the Continuum" (5 March 2019) and "ROCC: Leave or Remain?"

Typical ROCC video-conferenced board mtg
As Jones explained in a recent interview, he has known since 2016 that there were problems with ROCC governance.  That was the year he arrived in Salem from Clark County, Washington, to work for MWVCAA as a Coordinated Entry Specialist.

In that capacity, Jones spent many months traveling and training throughout the ROCC, trying to help the member agencies of ROCC "up their game."  He continued those efforts after March 2017, when he was promoted to run MWVCAA's Community Resources Program, which includes The ARCHES Project.  But, today, after nearly three years of trying, he is ready to throw in the towel.

The "proximate cause" of Jones's decision to give up on ROCC was losing funding for a long-running, successful, rapid rehousing (RRH) project.  He attributes the loss primarily to ROCC's poor governance.

ROCC is an unincorporated association.  It's governed by a board of directors that is advised by a paid "Project Coordinator" who supposedly is supervised by Community Action Partners of Oregon (CAPO).  Every year, HUD allocates about $3.2M to the ROCC.  Member agencies then compete for those funds  through a grant process that involves listing all projects in order of priority according to set criteria. 

ROCC's 2018 "Priority Listing"
In 2018, ROCC ranked MWVCAA's RRH project 32 out of 32, all but guaranteeing it would not be funded.  And, it wasn't.  MWVCAA's RRH project will end on June 30, 2019. 

In the interview, Jones acknowledges that the RRH project might have lost points due to HUD's preference for permanent supportive housing projects.  (In recent years, HUD has begun prioritizing permanent supportive housing over rapid rehousing.)  Even so, he says, our area has a demonstrable need for rapid rehousing, a fact that should have been weighed in mitigation.

The primary problem, Jones says, is that ROCC essentially has turned a blind eye when programs disregard HUD guidelines and cherry-pick lower-needs clients.  Programs like his, which serve higher needs clients per HUD guidelines, are disadvantaged when competing against those that cherry-pick.

Another big problem is that ROCC, he believes, has been ranking projects so that funds are  redistributed regionally, which is to say, evenly across its geographic area, contrary to HUD guidelines.  That practice disadvantages areas like Salem, where need is concentrated.    

The 2018 competition finally convinced Jones that ROCC's practice of regional redistribution and tolerance of cherry-picking are unlikely to change.  He firmly believes that, in order for Salem and Marion and Polk Counties to make substantial progress ending homelessness, it will be necessary to re-form the local CoC, so that, when HUD decides not to fund a project like his RRH, the money will go to another provider in the area -- like Northwest Human Services, or Family Promise.  It doesn't end up in, say, Lincoln or Baker County. 

2019 advice
Jones's support for re-formation of a local CoC is a huge problem for ROCC, given it's only been inertia, uncertainty, fear, avoidance, timing, politics and more politics that have kept Salem and Marion and Polk Counties in the ROCC in the first place.

Jones's support builds on support for re-formation that existed in 2017.  The Mid Willamette Homeless Initiative Task Force (MWHITF) identified it as a worthy pursuit in its Strategic Plan, and, as mentioned above, Salem's Affordable Housing, Social Services and Homelessness Task Force had also recommended pursuing it.  So did a significant number of community partners.  See "May 2017 Outreach Report."

Reeves in 2017
There were also countervailing forces.  Conflict between county electeds over MWHITF proceedings (see "MWHITF: Growing Conflict"), the refusal of MWVCAA's then-executive director, Jon Reeves, to take a stand (see "Reeves Letter re ROCC"), and ROCC's covert efforts in opposition (see "HUD Seeks to Ease Tensions Within the ROCC", among other factors and circumstances.  However, since then, Reeves has resigned from MWVCAA, there are new faces on the boards of county commissions, and ROCC has even bigger problems to deal with than trying to keep Salem and Marion and Polk Counties from leaving.   

In 2018, around the time that Reeves resigned, the Oregon legislature was putting pressure on the Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) Department to confront problems with how Oregon's community action agencies deliver homeless services.  See, "State Seeks Accountability from Homeless Services Providers."  That legislative mandate put CAPO's administration and ROCC's governance issues on OHCS's radar.

Zimmer in 2017
In recent months, CAPO has reportedly taken a more active role in ROCC administration.  ROCC's Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) "lead" and long-time Project Coordinator, Jo Ann Zimmer, both have retired, or otherwise been replaced.  These are positive developments, but substantial improvements in ROCC's governance and "check the box" culture will require considerable time, effort and resources.  If Salem and Marion and Polk Counties are serious about ending homelessness, they must not continue to wait and hope for something that may never happen.

On March 12,  the vice-chair of ROCC's Board of Directors notified select members that she, or someone, had registered ROCC with HUD, thereby locking Salem and Marion and Polk Counties into ROCC membership for yet another year.  Unless action is taken soon on the re-formation, this process will repeat itself in March 2020.

ROCC did not respond to a request to comment on Jimmy Jones's interview.

3/27/19 Update: In the mean time, ROCC scored well below the national median for 2018.

Clackamas County, Oregon, received a score of 190, the highest score of any CoC in the U.S.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

City Admits Sobering Ctr Might Be "Unattainable"

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Revised 20 April 2019
ARCHES Project's Ashley Hamilton at URA Mtg 3/11/19
Last night, the "we don't do social services" City Council, sitting as the Urban Renewal Agency (URA), approved increasing a $300K grant to build out the sobering center to $1.1M ("up to").

The center is to be located at 615 Commercial Street NE, which is owned by the Mid Willamette Valley Community Action Agency (MWVCAA).      

The URA grant replaces a $330K sobering center construction grant from the Oregon Health Authority, and adds another $470K to cover redesign and construction inflation costs incurred as a result of delay following an unanticipated determination last fall that the land beneath the building had archeological significance. 

By returning the OHA grant, the City frees itself from the obligation to operate the sobering center if, as it appears so far to be, "operating a sobering center is financially unattainable." See "Sobering Ctr Operating Gap Widens."  Should the City go through with purchasing the property (as is expected), $380K of the $1.1M will be in the nature of a down payment.  See "Urban Renewal to the Rescue." 

Salem Breakfast on Bikes
The City's refinancing arrangement is, therefore, less about building out the sobering center than it is about making sure MWVCAA's building renovations are completed.  This makes sense.  The  renovations --  sprinklers, showers, laundry facilities and commercial kitchen -- are how the City plans to implement the recommendations of the Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force (see "DHSTF Recs Update"), and they're a logical prerequisite to the City's acquiring the property, which is needed to free up homeless assistance funds, which is needed to extend hours of operations to evenings and weekends.  See "We Need Many More Resources" and "MWVCAA Pays Mortgage Debt with Hless Assist $$."

Should CANDO be concerned that the sobering center might be "financially unattainable"?  Maybe.  Certainly law enforcement will be concerned.  But, as for the rest of Salem, the case for the sobering center has never been made.  Operations were never RFPed, and there is no operating plan, identifiable ROI or success metrics.  There is also no evidence that sobering services generally lead to treatment.

No homeless services provider we've talked to believes what the City proposes to spend on sobering services is the best use of its limited resources.  Everyone asks, how is this supposed to help the homeless?  Intoxicated individuals are taken downtown for sobering, they wake up after a couple of hours and want to leave -- not discuss treatment options.  So they walk out.  How does this help downtown, exactly?  The City has no answer, only wishful thinking.  

What about sunk cost?  MWVCAA Executive Director Jimmy Jones guesses the sobering-only construction cost adds only around $100K to $150K to the total cost of Phase 2.  That might be a lot to some of us, but it's not much compared to the $1M annual operations price tag, of which the City's share is $200K/yr.  In other words, in the event the sobering center does not open, the sunk cost in the sobering center would be more than covered by the first year of non-operation.

City staff don't seem too concerned about the non-operation prospect.  The report says, "If operating a sobering center is financially unattainable for the City", then "the renovated space can be used for programs to assist the homeless."  Note that it doesn't say the renovated space can be used for other programs to assist the homeless.  Because -- let's be honest -- the sobering center was never going to "assist the homeless" -- it was only ever going to assist law enforcement's bottom line.  See "Sobering Center Sustainable?"

So, it makes perfect sense for the City to replace the OHA grant with urban renewal funds and eventually acquire MWVCAA's building.  It relieves the pressure to complete a poorly planned and "financially unattainable" sobering center project, while allowing MWVCAA to complete a costly building rehab.  "The [rehab] design gives us enormous flexibility", Jones told us.  "While we wait on a potential sobering partnership, the space can be used for expanded warming, nighttime bathroom services and many of the other key service recommendations of the Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force”, he said, following Monday night's URA vote.

3/15/19 Update:  "Jones said construction is expected to complete Aug[ust] 1."  See Brynelson, T.  "Salem buys time to find funding for sobering center as construction starts."  (14 March 2019, Salem Reporter.)

3/18/19 Update:  a March 13 email from City Manager Steve Powers to the agency reps working on the sobering center project advises them about the refinancing arrangements, states, "There seems to be an unwillingness to cover the current estimated $738,000 operating expense in an equitable manner", and ends, “I hope in the future we have the opportunity and willingness to try again on a sobering center.”

It appears, then, that unless and until Marion County or Salem Health express a willingness to contribute more to the annual operating costs, or other funds somehow become available, the City does not intend to pursue the sobering center project further.

4/20/19 Update: the City Manager proposed eliminating the sobering center commitment from the 2020 budget.   (The 2019 budget committed only $200K -- see here at page 4.)

Page 2 of City Manager's Proposed Budget
The City "should" reconsider "If an equitable allocation of costs can be achieved."  Does that mean that the City is working the problem?  Probably not, even though the project's weirdly still in the Strategic Plan/2019 Council Policy Agenda.   

If the dream is well and truly as dead as it seems to be, it'd be foolish to include sobering equipment and facilities in the build out of 615 Commercial Street.  But, that doesn't mean it won't happen.  Jimmy Jones says that until such time as the City is able to obtain the necessary operating cost commitments, the space will be used "as a day center within the day center, for the very highest needs clients that struggle with general day center population."       

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Under Bridge Off the Table (Final)

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston


Mark Becktel opens 3d/final Food Task Force Meeting
The City Manager and "Key Department Directors" have nixed the idea that the area under the Marion Street Bridge might be made available for meal distribution, much to the disappointment of some members of The Food and Sundries Distribution to the Homeless Community Task Force (Food Task Force), who learned of the decision Thursday evening, at the opening of the task force's third and likely final meeting.

Public Works Operations Manager Mark Becktel had said a week earlier, in answer to questions, that the area might be used, if it were secured with a vandalism-proof fence and gate.  When he asked upper management if they would support a recommendation along these lines, the answer was, basically, no.  There was, therefore, no point in the task force giving the matter further consideration.   

Management concerns included the inconsistency of allowing meals in an area posted "No Trespassing", poor optics, construction cost (~$100K), maintenance costs, the fence being used to secure tents and tarps and proximity to the Union Gospel Mission and The ARCHES Project, both of which serve daily meals.  Pretty predictable.  See "News from the Continuum" (5 March 2019).

The announcement that the bridge(s) solution was again "off the table" should not have come as a surprise, given the Task Force Work Plan Outline stated specifically that "It is not the intent of this process to allow -- or find ways to allow -- distribution in areas posted for no trespassing."  Nonetheless, at least one task force member said she felt "blind-sided" by the decision. 

Saying that the City and County "are not getting along very well because of some recent decisions" (see Brynelson, T.  "Salem votes down third bridge."  (11 February 2019, Salem Reporter.)), Becktel let the task force know the City would not be asking Marion County to "exempt or reduce" the statutory license fees for "restaurants operated by benevolent organizations", but individuals and their organizations could certainly do so.  (State law requires anyone providing meals to the public to obtain a restaurant license.)  See "Under Bridge Back On Table."  

The renewed prospect of having to pay $29/day or $118/mo in order to comply with state laws and rules regarding food distributions further upset several members of the task force, and heated cross-talk ensued.  Wresting the floor back with assurances that the task force was looking for a "win-win" result that "fairly balanced everyone's needs", the facilitator outlined the remaining options and split the task force members into two groups to fine-tune the new City permitting process.

While it's up to the City, ultimately, to determine the terms and conditions of the new Benevolent Meal and Sundries Distribution Permit, this is what came out of the small-group discussion:

  1. City should have discretion to waive a reasonable permit/application fee.
  2. Applicants must request a specific park/facility or right-of-way for the distribution, as well as specific dates/times. 
  3. For the first few months at least, permits will be short term (one day, week, month, quarter), depending on location and other demand.
  4. City has discretion to limit the number of permits issued for a particular location over a given period, to dis-incentivize camping and prevent over use.  
  5. Permittees must obtain required County permits and comply with state laws and rules regarding food distributions.
  6. "Park Rules" signage will be required in distribution areas (City to provide).
  7. Litter must be picked up and all trash packed out.
  8. Permittees must report violations to City-designated POC.

The above outline for new permit process satisfies the first part of the task force's charge "to develop a policy and procedure that permits distributions [of food and sundries] to the homeless community in Salem Parks while significantly minimizing its impacts."

The second part of the charge, to "identify alternatives to the use of Parks for these programs", is just a matter of listing existing programs and plans for expansion.  The final recommendations going to City Council on March 25 might look something like this:


If there is anything remarkable about the task force recommendations, it's that the City needed a task force to develop them and that the City waited so long to undertake addressing the situation in Marion Square Park.  It's obvious why.  As one City staffer put it, City leadership "doesn't want to appear to lack compassion."

It's doubtful that the folks who were serving meals under the bridge feel the task force achieved a "win-win" result that "fairly balanced everyone's needs."  The fact is, Meals Under the Bridge has been completely disrupted and will not be allowed to resume, ever.  The City should just admit that, rather than pretend that nothing's been lost.  This is not to say the City's intervention wasn't necessary or appropriate, only that we should be honest about what has happened.
  
Aside from ending Meals Under the Bridge, it's unclear how the new rules will affect food and sundries distributions to the homeless in Salem.  That's mostly because it's unclear whether, or to what extent, the City intends to enforce them, once the code is amended and the new rules are in place.  It's also unclear whether, or to what extent, the County intends to enforce state laws and rules regarding food distributions.  Currently, unlicensed groups not following the rules are serving meals in the parking lot of the ARCHES building at 615 Commercial Street NE.  Other unlicensed groups not following the rules also are serving meals at Cascade Gateway Park, Wallace Marine Park and various private and publicly-owned locations throughout the City.

Groups wishing to follow the rules are likely to have difficulty with the cost of complying with the statutory restaurant license requirement and with the rules regarding food distributions.  Based on what was said at the last task force meeting, the City does not intend to require permittees to demonstrate that they have the requisite license(s) but will let the County know when permits are issued.  Using that information to conduct random inspections of meal sites probably would be sufficient to ensure compliance by groups wishing to follow the rules.  As a practical matter, this means that unless they're exempted from restaurant licensing fees, most groups wishing to follow the rules will either move indoors, or cease regular distributions.  From a policy standpoint, that would not be a bad outcome.

As for groups and individuals not interested in following the rules and not engaged in distributions on any consistent basis, not much can be done.  However, these groups have not had as big an impact on City parks and rights-of-way as, say, Meals Under the Bridge had on Marion Square Park. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

News from the Continuum

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston


Prep begins for Phase 2 construction at ARCHES 2/23/19
Long anticipated Phase II construction to install a sprinkler system, showers, laundry facilities and a commercial kitchen to support the day shelter at 615 Commercial Street NE (aka the ARCHES building) got the go ahead from HUD last week.  Construction is projected to take three months.

The State of Oregon required the day shelter to be open prior to July 1, 2017, as a condition of using state homeless assistance funds for a down payment on the building, but that condition was not enforced.  The shelter did not open until July 2018, after Phase 1 construction was complete.  See "New Adult Day Shelter Finally Opens Downtown."  At that time, the Mid Willamette Valley Community Action Agency (MWVCAA), which owns the building, anticipated Phase 2 construction would be completed by October 2018.  However, construction was delayed by a number of factors, the most recent being the need to develop an excavation plan with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde.  The City has also blamed the federal government shutdown as a factor.  See "City to Build Despite Ops Funding Gap." 

The City Council held a ho hum work session on the Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force (DHSTF) recommendations on February 19.  No action was taken.  The Council expect to take up the recommendations during deliberations on the budget.  It's unclear how exactly that happens, especially if some, or all, of the recommendations don't make it into the City Manager's budget.  See "Bureaucratic BS Burying Good Neighbor Partnership" and "DHSTF Recs Update." 

Photo enhanced to illustrate how area might look fenced
The first two meetings of the Food and Sundries Distribution to the Homeless Community Task Force (Food Task Force) took place on February 21 and February 28.  See City press release here.  The task force is facilitated by a contractor who hasn't followed the list of discussion topics listed in the initial Work Plan Outline published on January 23.  See "Food Task Force Meeting 1."

At the second meeting, Public Works Operations Manager Mark Becktel indicated the City might again be willing to allow meals to be served in the area under the bridge -- but only if it could be properly secured by vandalism-proof fencing and a 12-14' gate.  See "Under Bridge Back On Table."  The City would have to install the fencing and presumably provide some level of maintenance (e.g., trash removal). 

While this seems to some to be a solution, it doesn't make a lot of sense, given MWVCAA has signaled its willingness to allow the use of the ARCHES building in a few months, once renovations are complete.  Under-the-bridge advocates argue that it's necessary to serve meals outside because some people cannot tolerate being indoors, but they don't know or haven't said how many of the 100 to 150 being served have that problem.  Nor is it obvious that those who do would be comfortable under the bridge once the fencing goes up, especially if there is only one way in/out. 

Marion Square Park as park, 3/2/19
When barriers went up under the bridge, meal distribution moved a block north, to the parking lot at the ARCHES building.  The move has been a disruption for The ARCHES Project consumers and staff and generated additional garbage, which the City has picked up the tab for removing.

But, the move has benefited Marion Square Park, more than one might have thought possible in such a short time, as several people who work in the area noted during the first Food Task Force meeting.  Those benefits would be at risk if the City were again to permit daily meal distribution under the bridge.

Daily meals in a single area act as an incentive to remain and/or camp in the area.  Securing the area under the bridge would not prevent camping outside the secured area, or the ills associated with camping, e.g., drug and human trafficking.  At the same time, it seems doubtful the City would consider it worth the trouble and expense to install a costly fence and gate(s) if the area's only going to be used a few hours each week.  

Under-the-bridge advocates insist that daily evening meals at a single covered location are needed to avoid people going hungry.  Yet comments made during Food Task Force meetings indicate the effect of moving meals to the uncovered parking lot of the ARCHES building has been to cut the number of meals served in half.  Union Gospel Mission (UGM) Director Dan Clem says people go to UGM when there's no meal in the parking lot.  If they don't want or are not allowed to go inside, they are given a meal bag.  Under-the-bridge advocates say the meal bags create extra garbage, but the point is that people don't have to go hungry.

Marion St Bridge camp reported Sat 2/23, gone by Sat 3/2
Salem Reporter says the Salem Police Department "POP" (“Problem-Oriented Policing”) team has begun working with the city’s code enforcers to reduce the number of derelict buildings, drug houses and illegal homeless camps in the city.  See Brynelson, T. "New Salem Police Team looks to curb repeat, low level crimes."  (22 February 2019, Salem Reporter.)

That such a partnership is quite obviously beneficial should in no way detract from our appreciation of the time (about two years) and effort that was required to forge this union.  Neighborhood associations could make a habit of asking their police reps about POP team activities in their areas.      

Retired Marion County Commissioner Janet Carlson, acting as a paid consultant to the Mid Willamette Valley Council of Governments (MWVCOG), and Jimmy Jones, MWVCAA Executive Director, advised the Mid Willamette Homeless Initiative Steering Committee last week that, despite best efforts over the last two years to support and collaborate with the 26 other counties that make up the Rural Oregon Continuum of Care (ROCC), the ROCC continued to struggle with administrative and performance issues.  They were, therefore, recommending that Salem, Marion and Polk Counties look at re-forming the local CoC, so that efforts could be concentrated locally.

Mid Willamette Homeless Initiative Steering Committee 2/28/19
Salem, Marion and Polk Counties' CoC (OR-504) merged with ROCC in 2011.  Re-forming the local CoC  would mean that Salem, Marion and Polk Counties would cease to be members of ROCC (OR-505) (aka the Balance of State CoC).  See "ROCC: Leave or Remain."

The next step is for the steering committee members (Kristin Retherford for Salem, Cathy Clark for Keizer, Tom Pessemier for Monmouth, and David Clyne for Independence) to present the recommendation to their city councils.  The Marion County Board of Commission (BOC) and Polk County Commissioner Craig Pope heard the presentation at a February 21 work session, and the full Polk County BOC is scheduled to have a work session on the question in mid-March.  "This was a mistake", said Jones, referring to the 2011 merger, but he cautioned that re-forming the local CoC would be a "generational change" -- meaning the benefits would not be immediate, but would require time and diligence to achieve.   He expressed concern about the ROCC's ability to maintain without the support of Marion and Polk Counties, but "we have to do what's best for the local homeless community", he said. 

Sunday, March 3, 2019

DHSTF Recs Update

by Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston


Revised: 4 May 2019

As we reported earlier (see "Bureaucratic BS Burying Good Neighbor Partnership"), the City Council conducted a work session on February 19, to go over the staff Implementation Plan Recommendations (Plan) issued in January.

That Plan attempts to spell out how the Council might implement the recommendations of the Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force (DHSTF) issued last August.

Our earlier post detailed some of the problems with the Plan as regards the Good Neighbor Partnership recommendation.  This post is a brief on where things appear to stand with the remaining recommendations.

24/7 Public Toilets:  Council might consider a "Portland Loo" type project during the budget process, but 24/7 toilet access (Rec #1) is most likely going to come from Union Gospel Mission (it is one of the conditional use permit conditions) and the Salem Police Department upon the completion of their new facilities, and from the Mid Willamette Valley Community Action Agency (MWVCAA) (as a condition of the City acquiring the property at 615 Commercial Street NE).  See Brynelson, T. "Salem Considering buying ARCHES building, bankrolling more services for homeless."  (6 February 2019, Salem Reporter."  Timing wise, the downtown is probably looking at mid June for ARCHES and 2021 for everything else.

Single POC and Good Neighbor Partnership:  (Recs #2 and #3) See "Bureaucratic BS Burying Good Neighbor Partnership."

Expand Downtown Cleaning Services:  (Rec #4) Probably going nowhere, as is proper.

Storage Facilities: (Rec #5) Likely going to come from Union Gospel Mission (it is one of the conditional use permit conditions) and possibly from MWVCAA, as a condition of the City acquiring the property at 615 Commercial Street NE.

Expanded Access to Hygiene Facilities:  (Rec #6) Likely to come from MWVCAA as a condition of the City acquiring the property at 615 Commercial Street NE.

Anti-panhandling Measures:  (Rec #7a) Probably going nowhere, as is proper.

Anti-crime Building/Site Mods: (Rec #7b) The new Riverfront-Downtown Urban Renewal Area Strategic Project Grant Program offers grants up to $50,000 for commercial projects designed for crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED).

Any future action on the recommendations will likely occur in Urban Renewal Agency meetings, or as part of the Budget Process.

2019 Council Policy Agenda
5/4/19 Update:  although the 2019 Council Policy Agenda promised that "Recommended policy changes and projects from the Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force will be considered in the FY 2020 Proposed Budget", they were not mentioned, either in the "Welcoming and Livable Neighborhoods" section (pp 151-168), or during the budget committee meeting on April 24 that covered that section (see summary here).  Councilor Kaser noted at the meeting on May 1 that the Urban Renewal Agency budget (Book 2 of Proposed Budget) included a total of $2.5 million "to implement  URA  eligible  projects  and  programs  that  align  with  the Homeless Solutions Task Force recommendations", but there was no discussion. 

The public and Council's attention instead focused on proposed "cuts" to the Homeless Rental Assistance Program (HRAP), youth development and DARE programs.