Thursday, May 30, 2019

News from the Continuum

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Salvation Army Majors Dan and Kim Williams
The Salvation Army of Marion and Polk Counties is preparing for another leadership change.  TSA Majors Dan and Kim Wiliams are reportedly headed back to California in June.  By our recollection, the Williamses arrived in Salem in the spring or summer of 2016.  No word yet on who will succeed them.

During their time here in Oregon, the Williamses were "all about kids", to the point that they were willing to break from TSA's temperance movement roots last year to participate in an invitation-only, $100-a-plate fundraising event at Zenith Vineyards to benefit their youth programs.  See "News from the Continuum" (16 May 2018).

The Williamses also may be remembered for closing TSA's transitional housing program about a year after they arrived, turning the Lighthouse Shelter into emergency overnight shelter, and raising the bar to admission to what some have called a "saints only" standard.  See "News from the Continuum" (19 August 2017).

The Williamses also may be remembered for "ditching" the plan to put a family shelter on Water Street and the unfulfilled promise to build the "William Booth Family Housing" project adjacent to the Kroc Center.  See "News from the Continuum" (6 October 2018).

What happens now to the Salem Keizer Collaboration, "launched" last October, remains to be seen.  See "TSA Launches Salem Keizer Collaboration."  As the project does not appear to have the approval of the national office (no reference to SKC on the local TSA website, and no reference to TSA on SKC banners, flyers, etc.), it might need to find a new home.

TJ Putman with Family Promise
Tuesday night, the City Council approved this year's Annual Action Plan, accepting the funding allocations recommended by the Urban Development Department, despite some mild pleading from TJ Putman on behalf of Salem Interfaith Housing Network, dba Family Promise.  See "Urban Development's 2019 Award Recs."  (For many years, his program has received federal funding to staff a case manager position, but not this year.)  His program, however, did receive $473,354 in HOME funds for tenant-based rental assistance, which amount staff said is intended to last several years.

Family Promise was awarded several hundred thousand dollars in HUD Continuum of Care Program grants in 2017 and 2018 to serve  chronically homeless families, but the program got off to a slow start because there are just not that many chronically homeless families.  If you think about what it means to be chronically homeless and what takes to keep a family together, this seems kind of obvious.  The Lane County chart below illustrates the reality.  

Chronically homeless families counted in Lane County in 2014, courtesy Lane County

As the City's HOME Program funding was under-subscribed by a couple hundred thousand, the City Council directed staff to put out a request for proposals.  Expect these funds to be spent on some small rehab/repair project.

The City Manager's May 15 "update" recognized Code Enforcement Officer Megan Gorham for taking a harm-reduction approach to her work (albeit without referring to it as such).

Unfortunately, some area business owners would prefer that the City address the problem of "car-camping" in the 400 block of Division Street by time-restricting the parking.  See here.

Finally, the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department has hired a new Homeless Services Section Manager:

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

5/21/19 Minutes

May 21, 2019

Members: none
Organizations: Raleigh Kirschman, UGM; Dirk Moeller, Business Connections;  Jim Griggs, Saalfield Griggs, PC;  Richard McGinty, McGinty, Belcher and Hamilton Attorneys, PC; Richard Berger, Mountain West Investment Corporation; Lisa LaManna, The LaManna Company, LLC
City, County and State Representatives: Jessica Preis, Salem Community Development Dept.; Mark Becktel, Troy Thompson and Kyle Cochran, Salem Public Works Dept.;  Darrin Brightman and Brady Ricks, Oregon Department of Administrative Services
Guests: none

The regular meeting of the CANDO Board of Directors was called to order at 6:00 p.m., on Tuesday, May 21, 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 April meeting were not approved, as there was not a majority of the board present.   

In interested citizen comments, Richard Berger announced that Mountain West Investment Corp. (MWCI) had purchased the Wells Fargo site at 280 Liberty Street NE (the big hole at the corner of Chemeketa) and had contracted with CB2 Architects to design a mixed-use (residential and commercial) project.  Berger will provide more information at the July meeting, but construction could begin late this winter. MWIC also has purchased a portion of the former North Campus of the State Hospital for development, about which CANDO will be hearing more in future.

Troy Thompson and Kyle Cochran reported that the pedestrian bridge at Shelton Ditch and the east side of Church Street is finally going to be replaced.  The 1980s-constructed bridge was closed more than a year ago because of a detached railing due to wood rot. The City hired a structural engineer who determined that the footings were solid and would accommodate the new, metal bridge, which also will be 6 feet wide and 28 feet long, but will have a reduced slope (<8%).  Construction is scheduled to begin mid-July.

Richard McGinty (again) shared concerns about the impacts of homelessness around his business at 694 High Street, saying his property seemed to be a conduit between the parks and HOAP.  He was concerned about people parking “overnight many nights in a row” on Division Street where there are no time limits. He would like to have time-limited parking on Division Street.

McGinty and Dirk Moeller reported that Sunday night/Monday morning of May 13, about 12:30 a.m., someone threw large rocks through the windows of 13 different area businesses, causing around $500 damage to each, including Marco’s Place, Inkspot and Sam’s Transmission, in addition to Business Connections.  Moeller said an employee had heard glass breaking and confronted the perpetrator, who threatened to kill the employee.  Moeller said the man was “deranged”, living “at ARCHES” and had been arrested 60 times previously. McGinty said he wanted to make sure CANDO was aware.  

Moeller said “insurance doesn’t cover” damage of the sort they were reporting.  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), McGinty said it was “not conducive to businesses to look like fortified structures” or to have no camping or no trespassing signs in the windows.

Jim Griggs, whose business is in the Park Place Building at 250 Church Street SE, reported that one of his employees was “chased to her car” recently.  His security service had locked up per usual about 6 p.m., and the employee had left about 30 minutes later. She said she was followed by a man who was yelling at her and banged on her window after she got in her car.  He left when she pulled out her cell phone. Griggs agreed with McGinty and Moeller that the situation in downtown was much worse than in previous years.

The CANDO board heard a presentation by Darrin Brightman on the “Heritage Houses” on the North Capitol Mall (see image below).  The houses are small (ranging from 1700 SF to 3000 SF), more or less maintain their original residential interior layout, and have limited parking (a total of 24 spaces, six ADA).  Because, despite efforts, the properties have been under-leased in recent years, the state is looking for ideas from the community as to other possible uses besides office/daycare and residential.  The state would also like ideas about parking.

Some of the suggestions included uses that would serve the residential community to the north, like boutique retail, a coffee shop or a bakery.  Another suggestion was to see if Parrish Middle School to the east needed space for a project or program. CANDO agreed to ask for suggestions from members through the City’s CANDO listserve and CANDO’s Facebook page. 

The CANDO board also heard a presentation by Mark Becktel on the circumstances that gave rise to the Food and Sundries Distributions to the Homeless Task Force and what has happened since since the Task Force issued its recommendations.  He said the City has not received any permit applications from the meal providers and that the issue appeared to be resolving itself. He said that, although some people “who would never get permits” continued to drop off food and sundries in the parks from time to time, he was hoping the City would not have to amend the code or institute the benevolent distributions permit program.  As time was running short, Becktel agreed to return to CANDO to discuss the program when, and if, the City received a benevolent meal permit application.
As there was still not a majority of the board present, the Chair postponed all business until the June meeting, and adjourned the meeting at 7:04 p.m.

Yamhill County to Remain in ROCC

Yamhill County Commissioners Kulla, Olson and Starrett at May 21 work session

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

The Yamhill County Board of Commissioners held a second work session yesterday to consider joining Marion and Polk counties in a regional Continuum of Care (see Yamhill Poised to Vote "Leave").  The session was scheduled for 1:30, but we arrived at 1:15 to find Commissioner Starrett explaining to Commissioner Kulla why leaving ROCC "isn't going to fix the problem."  She said,

It's going to cost $261,000 a year [gap funding until the HUD planning grant comes through], and that's somehow going to translate into all these social problems going away?  I don't see that money and staff [are] going to do that.

I think we need to look at the root causes of these problems, and that is not to say we enable the sub-populations that are creating perhaps the biggest concern in our community.  Take for example...the population that everyone seems to be talking about, which is the people who are taking up city streets and setting up residence there...If you throw more money at this, it's not necessarily going to fix the problem.  It's got to come from an initiative whereby the person says, I want to get clean, I don't want to live in the streets and I want to find a job.  Well, we don't even see that.  We have Stephen W[inaudible] from Express Professionals going around offering people jobs, transportation to those jobs, nobody's interested.    

There's one person on Dustin Court who wanted to get clean and sober.  HHS...sprang into action to get this person away from that environment so he could stay clean.  The majority of people are not interested, so more money is not going to fix that problem.     

Kulla asked Starrett what she considered the "root causes" of homelessness and the lack of affordable housing.  Starrett replied,

Let's just take the people who are camped on City streets.  Root causes are addiction -- the prevailing issue is addiction, and mental health issues, and a lot of it is drug-induced psychosis.  A lot of it is just ongoing addiction problems.  A lot of it is a lifestyle choice.

Starrett believes the problem is that you can't "force someone to seek sobriety."  Commissioner Olson weighed in at this point, saying,

To me, the answer is, and this is just me personally, you don't give a hand out, you give a hand up.  In order to give that hand up, some of those people have to want to take that hand up, and for those that don't want to take that hand up, which is several of them, you can't do anything to make them take that hand up.  Whereas...we have programs where we'll give you housing, we'll help you with subsidized housing, but in order to do that, you're going to have to [inaudible].  You're going to have to get a job, you'll have to stay clean, you'll have to work.  That's the only way you help people up... Most of the people on Dustin can offer them jobs, you can offer them anything...they don't want it.  They just don't want it.  So...I don't think the continuation [sic] of care, even though you make a lot more money for housing, I don't think it's going to address it, because they don't want to be there yet.             

Starrett asked Kulla how more money and more staff would increase housing supply.  Kulla started to talk about supportive housing, but Kulla cut him off.  "Let's talk about housing supply.  Supportive housing is next.  I'm just talking about increasing housing supply."  She said that Yamhill County had supportive housing "covered" by existing grants and programs.  Kulla said he wished he had area experts to speak to the issue, but it was his understanding that the County was seeking more supportive housing.  Starrett said, "We're not talking about supportive housing."  Kulla said he was returning to supportive housing because it was a good example of what more money and more staff could do.  He also said it was "one answer for the people on Dustin Court."  Starrett replied,  "That's not what I asked you...I asked you how spending $261,000 and adding three more staff people is going to 'increase housing supply?'...How do you spend more money and 'poof' -- housing supply increases?"

Starrett believes that housing supply "can't increase" because of state land use laws.  "It has to do with the political will of jurisdictions.  So, what I'm saying is, I don't know if we're going to get anything for spending all that money."  Olson said he'd asked Polk and Marion county commissioners if the McKinney-Vento funds they'd received had increased housing supply, and that "the majority of commissioners say it hasn't increased their housing supply."  He said low-income housing needed to be a business proposition for developers, and that SDCs were preventing that.  Kulla asked about SDC waivers and other ways the County might facilitate low-income housing development.  For Olson, though, the issue was that the reorganization into a regional CoC didn't guarantee additional housing.

Starrett said,

One of the points they make is that if we had a smaller geographic footprint, we would be able to address our own [community's needs].  They use the example, 'issues facing Salem are not the same as those facing McMinnville or Independence', and if we had a new continuum of care, we would be able to address our own specific issues.  But, I think, by and large, whether you go to Portland, Seattle, Honolulu, which has a really big problem, or anywhere, you have basically the same problem.  The basic problem is that you have significant addiction issues which are fueling a specific type of physical homelessness. 

We have the best economy we have had in half a century.  There is no shortage of jobs...the problem today is not a lack of employment.  We have a constriction in the housing supply, which is what you have when land use laws make it not hospitable to people building and expanding...I don't think we need another layer of government to facilitate [ways to accommodate workforce housing], and I don't think we have different problems.  Everybody's got the same issues, the same questions -- how do we deal with this?   

Kulla said he thought Starrett was going to say that housing in those communities is very expensive, unaffordable.  The three discussed whether housing affordability should be considered a "root cause" of homelessness, with Starrett and Olson arguing that housing was affordable for those willing to work.  To illustrate, Starrett said,

Kate Stokes [YCAP's Director of Youth and Adult Services] knocked on every door of every RV on Dustin Court, and she said, "We can get you into affordable housing."...She would get them first and last month's, all ready to go, and people would leave.  People would leave their RV completely empty, and someone else would move in.  So, despite offer after offer after offer for the housing, which is supposed to alleviate the problem that we see, it didn't happen.  It wasn't a question of the offer wasn't there, the apartment wasn't there, the option wasn't there.  It was a choice not to do that...Why would you choose to sleep in a freezing cold RV in your own filth?  Why would you, because addiction is a horrible disease that tells us that we would rather have the drug than to live clean and warm.  It's a horrible way to live.  We do everything we can to fight for these people, to bring them into recovery, but, as you know, you can't force recovery.  And that's the problem. 

Kulla said what he was hearing was his fellow commissioners equating the people living on Dustin Court and Marsh Lane with all Yamhill County's homeless, even though, "I know you both know differently than that."  Starrett agreed there were different sub-populations, and talked about county programs targeting those sub-populations.  Kulla noted that the county wasn't providing housing for every unaccompanied youth or woman fleeing domestic violence.  Starrett replied, "You could never, ever do that.  I mean, I don't know where you could get that amount of money, to be able to solve every social ill [with] the government and someone else's taxes."   

After several minutes discussing housing policy issues, Kulla pointed out "We're already in a Continuum of Care organization", and the discussion returned to whether or not Yamhill County should leave ROCC to join a regional CoC.  Olson said, "I just don't see a lot of benefits in joining a regional CoC."  Starrett said she was concerned that Yamhill County "might become less stable."  She said, and Olson agreed, that there were already differences with McMinnville, and "we don't necessarily lose anything by staying in the Balance of State."  Starrett said, "I'm looking at what they [the regional CoC] want to do, and I look at what we're doing, and then it's going to cost us more money, and we have to hire more people, so maybe what we should do at this point is say...this is not in our best interest."  There followed several minutes of discussion of the situation in McMinnville.  Finally, Olson said,

We've belonged to [ROCC] since...HUD put the rules in place.  I haven't heard any complaints.  I see it working.  Is there a potential we could get more money?  Probably.  Is there potential we could take on a lot more risk?  Certainly.  And [are] there a lot of things it's doing that the County isn't currently doing?  No.  I think the County is doing a lot better job than some of the Continuum of Care does.  So, benefit-wise, what would we benefit by changing?  I don't see a big benefit.     

Olson asked the county attorney if a formal action was needed, and it was agreed "an official vote" on the question of whether or not to join Marion and Polk counties in forming a regional CoC would be taken at the regular meeting on Thursday, May 23.  The question was ultimately placed on the agenda for May 30.  During the meeting on May 30, the question arose whether or not entities within Yamhill County such as McMinnville or YCAP could decide independently to join the regional CoC.  Based on the erroneous belief that they could, Olson and Starrett voted in favor of a motion "decline to join the regional" CoC and Kulla voted against.  Audio at 1:00 through 1:16.

6/9/10 Update:  Sources say Olson has had second thoughts about his vote and will be hosting a gathering of elected officials from Yamhill County in the next two to three weeks to discuss the proposal further.  However, the "late May, early June" decision deadline identified by the Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative Steering Committee has passed.  Even if Olson were to change his vote through a formal reconsideration process, HUD's process requires a clear demonstration that the move is  supported by the provider community.  See "HUD admits ROCC 'formed out of thin air'."  That could could be difficult without Starrett's support.  Starrett is on the YCAP board and YCAP's Kate Stokes, who refers to herself as a "happy warrior for conservatism", is Director of YCAP's Adult and Youth Program Services, which includes YCAP's homeless housing and support services, and is reported to be "100% opposed" to leaving ROCC.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Reality Check: the CoC is just a framework

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Last week, after a work session to discuss camping restrictions, low barrier shelters, and public health emergency declarations, the McMinnville City Council got an(other) earful from residents concerned about what nearby RV camping is doing to McMinnville's downtown.  People are  upset, and the Council seems at a loss on how best to deal with the problem.  (See, e.g., videos of March 23 and May 14 meetings, and this May 16 KOIN report.)

Later, in the meeting following the work session, the Council voted to support the formation of a regional Continuum of Care (CoC) with Salem/Marion and Polk Counties.  The resolution of support goes to the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners, which will hold its second work session on the proposal to form a regional CoC this Tuesday, May 21 at 1:30 at the Courthouse in McMinnville.  Yamhill County might, or might not, vote to leave the "balance of state" -- aka "Rural Oregon" Continuum of Care (ROCC) -- to form a regional CoC with Marion and Polk counties.

Whatever Yamhill decides to do, one thing is for sure:  forming a regional CoC will not, as has been suggested, "dramatically increase the number of resources that are available to the local governments in this area", nor will it "make it easier for our tri-county region to start getting coordination and project funding for regional housing and homelessness needs", without a great deal of hard work and perseverance.  It is critical that the electeds be clear that a CoC is just a framework, and what's being proposed is a reorganization to leave the 28-county ROCC and form a 2 or 3 county CoC.     

Lane County 2018 Homeless Service System Map
To use Lane County as example:

Lane County formed a CoC in the 1990s, just after HUD started the program.  Having the county health department become the community action agency, and having only one housing authority and county commission helped to simplify things.  A regional CoC will have one or two community action agencies, three or four housing authorities, two or three health departments, and two or three county commissions.

The Lane County CoC has been working together for decades, planning and coordinating in accordance with HUD guidance, strategically allocating resources and competing successfully for HUD CoC funding.  As a result, the Lane County CoC today receives about four times more CoC funding per homeless individual than ROCC receives, based on PIT Count figures.

Lane County's 2018 TAC Study
Even so, the Lane County CoC faces significant challenges.  The current "system" doesn't work like it's supposed to (see Homeless Service System Map above).  Better coordination is needed across all aspects of the system.  They need to do better about street outreach, to beef-up coordinated entry, diversion and "move-on" strategies.  They need 350 units of permanent supportive housing and a low-barrier public shelter.  They need more partnerships with landlords and better tenant supports.  They need to implement frequent worker turnover training systems.          

Lane County knows all this because, in March 2018, the City of Eugene hired Technical Assistance Collaborative (TAC) out of Boston, Mass., to conduct a Public Shelter Feasibility Study and Homeless Service System analysis. The purpose of the study was to provide information about Lane County's homeless service system needs and gaps, and recommend ways to fill the gaps and make the system more effective.

The Eugene City Council and the Lane County Board of Commissioners held a joint session last week to discuss a plan to implement the recommendations over the next three to five years.  The video of the meeting is a "must see" for Marion, Polk and Yamhill electeds and for anyone still under the misapprehension that reorganizing for homeless system planning purposes and for purposes of receiving HUD CoC Program funding is any kind of a guarantee.  Of anything.

Of note, the City of Eugene does not shirk a leadership role on the grounds that "homelessness is not our problem", as Salem's City Manager has been heard to say, with echoes from the Mayor and some City Councilors, who say they want to see the counties do more but do nothing to facilitate their involvement.

Also of note, even after years of organized cooperation, problems in understanding and relationships persist.  Springfield, perhaps feeling slighted, wasn't at the table.  The conservatives always tend to want more "balance" (code for enforcement strategies), even though that has nothing to do with homeless or housing services.  Cost considerations will always fail to account for the costs of allowing the service and housing system to deteriorate further.  The point of all this is that, even after years of experience building systems and relationships, the work doesn't get any easier.  Knowing that will not only help electeds build systems and relationships, it will help them manage community, and their own, expectations.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Should the City Regulate Homeless Meal Distributions?

by Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Draft regulations would limit when and where
Mark Becktel, Public Works Operations Manager will be talking with CANDO about the City's proposal to limit the distribution of free food and "sundries" in City parks and rights of way at the May meeting at the First Christian Church on Tuesday, May 21, at 6p.

This post focuses on the proposal to limit food (meal) distributions.  It concludes that the City has failed to assess the situation properly, and needs to start over. 
Benevolent meal distributions are already regulated by state laws and rules that require permits and licenses.  These regulations are supposed to be enforced by county health officials, but, up until now, they haven't been.  They are now being enforced on a limited basis.

The City is proposing to set up an independent regulatory scheme that the City would either have to enforce, or that would depend on voluntary compliance.  Under the City's scheme, benevolent meals could be served only in certain areas of certain parks, regardless of the number of guests.  More about that provision later.

The City's proposal to regulate meal distributions arises out of the Public Works Department's decision in late 2017/early 2018, to install (without notice to CANDO) garbage cans and concrete tables and benches in the area posted “no trespassing” under the Marion Street bridge and instruct groups serving meals to the homeless community in that area to obtain permits through its "Reserve a City Facility or Park" system.  See SRC 94.200(c), which provides that a "park or a portion thereof, may be reserved for organized or group activities," emphasis added.  Some groups obtained permits, others did not.  People attached tents and tarps to the concrete furniture.  The area eventually became a large, unsanitary, unsafe homeless camp.  

Then, in January 2019, the City posted the area for eviction, stopped issuing permits and removed the garbage cans and concrete tables and benches.  See, Brynelson, T. and Alexander, R. "Salem to evict homeless camp at Marion Square Park." (9 January 2019, Salem Reporter.)  Bach, J. and Barreda, V. "Salem Bans Volunteers from Feeding Homeless Under the Marion Street Bridge." (11 January 2019, Statesman Journal.)  Alexander, R. "With eviction looming for homeless camp, its residents and leaders left with questions." (11 January 2019, Salem Reporter.)  Barreda, V. "Homeless advocates rally under the Marion Street Bridge." (13 January 2019, Statesman Journal.)  Brynelson, T. "City, police, service providers prepare for homeless eviction Tuesday." (14 January 2019, Salem Reporter.) and "Marion Square Park homeless camp evicted, organizations offer aid." (15 January 2019, Salem Reporter.)  See also “Meals Under Bridge on Shutdown.”

Shortly thereafter, even though there was not at the time any legal prohibition against distributing food and charitable donations in Salem parks per se, the City formed a task force “to find ways to allow distribution of food and other charitable donations to the homeless population in Salem parks while significantly minimizing the impact to the properties and its users.”  The task force was not asked to determine the need for outdoor meals, or for parks as a place to serve them.

As was noted during the task force proceedings, the Salem Revised Code does not regulate benevolent distributions per se, but requires a permit only when someone wishes to reserve a City park or facility (SRC 94.200(c)) for the purpose, or when s/he “expects or intends to involve 200 or more persons assembling on public property” (SRC 104.030).

Back in 2018, when the City placed garbage cans and concrete tables and benches in the area under Marion Street Bridge, it effectively created a reservable City "facility."  Then, by asking meal providers to seek permits to reserve the area and eventually putting the area off limits and announcing the permit program was "suspended," the City gave people (including the media) the impression that you had to have a City permit to serve benevolent meals in City parks.  But, as noted above, you don't.  You only have to have a county permit.  So, the question is, should the City also regulate benevolent meal distributions? The answer is, we don't yet know.

When the City announced it was "suspending" permits in January 2019, the meals moved to the parking lot at 615 Commercial Street NE, just north of Marion Square Park, by arrangement with the owner, the Mid Willamette Valley Community Action Agency (MWVCAA), and Marion County Environmental Health, pending completion of renovations which include a commercial kitchen.  When that happens, meals will have to move either indoors, or somewhere else.  Most sensible people would prefer that the meals move indoors.  See here for a detailed description of the effect of the parking lot meals on MWVCAA.     

So, what is the City proposing?  The Director of Public Works is authorized 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.”  An undated draft staff report sent to the City Manager on March 27, 2019, proposes to institute the requirement of a permit to “engage in benevolent distributions on City property” by amending the City’s rules and regulations (not the code), specifically, the Parks Streets and Open Spaces rules and regs, a portion of which appears at the top of this post.  The proposed rules would restrict distributions to certain parks designated “reservable or common areas” and require distributors to reserve them (i.e., obtain a permit), without regard to how many people are intended to be served.   

Put briefly, the City is proposing to adopt a rule saying that, no matter how many people are involved, benevolent distributions must be restricted to certain areas of certain parks, and those areas must be reserved.  Because a reservation is required, a permit under SRC 94.200(c) is required.  

The proposed rule might be a clever way to avoid having to amend the code, except that it's hard to make the case that restricting benevolent distributions to certain areas of certain parks, regardless of the number of people involved, is "necessary to prevent congestion and to procure the maximum use and safety for the convenience of all” under SRC 94.200(d).  If it isn't, the proposed rule is not within the Director's regulatory authority, and a code amendment (i.e., action by City Council) is required.   

The proposed rule was originally scheduled to go before the City Council on April 8, but it was removed from the agenda and not rescheduled.  What we know happened next comes from the unpublished draft minutes of the Salem Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (SPRAB)'s April meeting.  They say the City Manager and City Council sent Becktel to SPRAB to ask what should be done, even though SPRAB was represented on the task force.  

An excerpt of the draft minutes is pasted below.  It gives SPRAB four options.  Notice that the options  reduce the number of parks where meals will be allowed from 13 (as provided in the proposed rule) to 10 (option 1) or 5 (option 2).  The reason given SPRAB for the choice of parks was that homeless individuals live or congregate in them, and/or the parks have a sheltered area and restrooms. 

Draft minutes of April 11 SPRAB meeting
The draft minutes also state "Chair Quillinan is concerned about holding these activities in parks. Parks are for recreation and this is a social issue that needs to be addressed. There should be other potential locations other than parks for these feedings."  SPRAB took no action.

Of course, there are other potential locations, but the City has people very confused to the point they believe that meal distributions are not allowed anywhere unless one has a City permit, which is simply not true.  Unless a reservation is involved, or 200+ guests are expected, the only permit that's currently required is the one from the county.

The SPRAB minutes say Becktel put the issue this way:  "[T]he focus is to get as many of the homeless to established shelters as possible.  Acknowledging there will be some people who will not go to a shelter facility, there will still be a need to feed outdoors.  The question was: Where to conduct the feedings?"

But the question Becktel put to SPRAB was, Which parks do you want to restrict "outdoor feedings" to?  Ten?  or Five? 

Our question is, who decided the City should restrict benevolent distributions in parks, regardless of whether reservations or 200+ guests are involved?  The answer is, no one. 

The City has needlessly complicated things by failing to ask very basic questions and examining assumptions, including its own.  Questions like, Is there an objective need to "feed outdoors?"  How big is it?  Does it need to occur in City parks?  Does anyone want it to occur in parks?  Which parks?  How often?  Are they currently taking place in parks?  Which parks?  How often?  What issues, if any, have there been?

City Manager's Update on the clean up under the MSB
To be clear, the problem was never benevolent meal distributions generally.

The problem was the daily meals under the Marion Street Bridge, because in between them, people lingered, camped, were preyed upon, and engaged in anti-social behavior there, and in the adjacent Marion Square Park, and the police, who spent 80% of their time at the park during the summer already, didn't have the resources to enforce the camping prohibition.

But, all along, the area under the bridge, which was not part of the park, was posted no trespassing.  When the City finally decided to enforce the order, the immediate problem was solved.  With no daily meal service, a lot of people went to UGM for meals, and people stopped hanging about in Marion Square Park. 

MWVCAA's involvement with the meal providers using its parking lot has kept things fairly orderly and predictable.  They will be more so once the renovations are completed, and the meals move inside.  That's expected to be some time in August.
If providers don't choose to move inside in August, they will need to obtain permits from the county every 30 days.  Marion County has waived fees through August 1.  But, after that, the county must charge in order to cover costs.

Before the City undertakes to regulate benevolent meal distributions in parks, it should first find out whether the groups currently serving meals in MWVCAA's parking lot expect to move indoors in August, or whether they, or some of them, plan obtain county permits so that they may continue serving meals outdoors somewhere.  The City should ask whether those county permittees will want to use City parks for meal distributions, and how often.  Then, and only then, should the City decide whether to adopt regulations mandating that benevolent meals be restricted to certain facilities in certain parks, or whether to reject them as stigmatizing and invidious, status-based discrimination in favor of some less restrictive, more humane scheme. 

The City might, or might not need to regulate homeless meal distributions some time in the future, but not along the lines that are currently being proposed.  The City needs to stop, back out its erroneous assumptions and reassess the situation.  If that's what is meant by "Do nothing" (option 4), then that's what SPRAB and CANDO should recommend. 

6/10/19 Update:  from the City Manager's Update of June 5, 2019


Saturday, May 4, 2019

News from the Continuum

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Image courtesy Statesman Journal
April saw heavy rains, flooding, refuse from camps being swept into the Willamette, premature death, rent rises, budget cuts and little good news on the ground in what some call the fight to bring a functional end to homelessness in Oregon.

See Bach, J. "Salem apartment rents continue to rise, but Oregon housing crunch shows signs of easing."  (3 April 2019, Statesman Journal.)  Urness, Z. "Heavy rainfall expected to bring flooding and evacuations across Western Oregon."  (7 April 2019, Statesman Journal.)  Barreda, V. "50-year old homeless man dies of natural causes at Wallace Marine Park." (7 April 2019, Statesman Journal.)  Bach, J. "Piles of trash along Salem's Willamette Slough spur concerns, cleanup program starts in May."  8 April 2019, Statesman Journal.)  Brynelson, T. "City manager proposes budget cuts to homeless aid, youth programs to help general fund."  (19 April 2019, Salem Reporter.)

While the Statesman Journal said the "cleanup program starts in May", Jimmy Jones, Executive Director of the Mid Willamette Valley Community Action Agency emailed us last week that the private property north of Wallace Marine Park was being posted "no trespassing" and that "whatever survived the flood will be bulldozed."  He added, "it’s hard to say exactly what impact that will have on the downtown.  We are expecting a few really difficult service days."  See Bach, J. "Salem area homeless told to move from Wallace Marine Park area." (1 May 2019, Statesman Journal.)

Not the best time for the community to hear that the City plans to halve the challenging, but successful, Homeless Rental Assistance Program (HRAP), which targets the chronically homeless population.  But, the problem's more nuanced than it's been presented, as Lynelle Wilcox discovered at the budget committee meeting on April 23, where she offered comment in support of continued and full funding for the warming centers and HRAP.

Lynelle Wilcox at 4/23 budget meeting
In response to questions raised by her comments, Urban Development Director (UDD) Kristin Retherford explained, in essence, that the limiting factors for the program had been the limited supply of landlords willing to work with the chronically homeless, and the need to maintain the recommended caseload.  As a consequence, HRAP had so far not cost the City more than $700K/year, and unspent allocations had been carried over.  See Brynelson, T. "City manager proposes budget cuts to homeless aid, youth programs to help general fund."  (19 April 2019, Salem Reporter.)  Thus, the proposed budget is more of a realignment with capacity than a cut. 

According to what Retherford told the committee,  HRAP has, to date, placed 153 in housing, with an attrition rate of about 20% due to eviction, death and changed personal circumstances.  Fifty-one had "graduated" and moved onto Housing Choice Vouchers.  The program queue consists of 3 basic categories: 45 are "enrolled" (working with case managers to remove various barriers to a housing placement); 15 have been referred and are waiting to be enrolled; and another 200 have been assessed as high needs and are waiting to be referred to the program.  There are not enough housing units or case managers for those in that last category.  (City funds do not cover all case manager salaries.  For example, one position is covered by a two-year grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust.)

Proposed 2019-2020 Budget, Book 1, p. 4
Wilcox was back at the May 1 budget committee meeting to urge the City to keep the current $1.4M budget and use the additional funds to add program capacity and relieve the bottleneck.  But, if the City were to do that, they risk not having sufficient funds for barrier removal and rent assistance, because so many of those resources went toward adding capacity.

So, HRAP just isn't scalable in the current housing market, at least not without a lot more resources,  and the housing authority is wise not to try to expand beyond what they believe they can handle.  The fact is, it took Salem decades to grow its chronically homeless population to a size that's twice the national average, and it's going to take time to bring those numbers down.

That said, last year's budget states that a "sustainability plan" for HRAP would be developed "in FY 2019" for City Council consideration and would include "realistic choices, some difficult, to maintain HRAP into the future."  No mention of said plan at the 4/24 or 5/1 budget committee meetings.

Nor was there any mention of the Good Neighbor Partnership, which also would target the chronically homeless, specifically, those living downtown.  Could it be that downtown business owners aren't complaining?  See "Bureaucratic BS Buries Good Neighbor Partnership."  

Member-Mayor Bennett got the last word on HRAP, reminding everyone that HRAP was just one of the City/SHA's housing programs (see here for a list of SHA's current housing preservation projects including the Rental Assistance Demonstration project, which attempts to compensate for the federal government's refusal to provide stable funding for maintenance and repair, Redwood Crossings [formerly Fisher Road], Southfair Apartments and Yaquina Hall), and promising to go after some of that $100M reportedly being spent on "services tied to homelessness."  See Brynelson, T. "Report: Region spent $100 million last year on services tied to homelessness."  (8 April 2019, Salem Reporter.)  Good luck with that, Mayor.

Stably housing the chronically homeless is relatively do-able.  It's the future that should concern us, according to a new ECO Northwest report on homelessness in Oregon.

Oregon’s policy discussion might improve if homelessness were described as two, related crises. One crisis affects a population of individuals with highly challenging personal circumstances who will struggle to remain housed absent sustained, intensive support. A second crisis affects more than 150,000 households: the short-term homeless plus the growing numbers of severely cost-burdened renters on the verge of homelessness. The first crisis, while challenging, is within the scope of traditional, local homeless agencies to address and solve with additional resources and efficiencies. The second crisis is not. Meaningful progress there would require action by a much broader set of public, private, local, state, and federal actors.   See Tapogna, J. & Baron, M. "Homelessness in Oregon, A Review of Trends, Causes and Policy Options."  (13 March 2019, Oregon Community Foundation.) 

We asked Jimmy Jones what he had to say about the report.  He wrote:

Oregon suffers from a double bind, having an extraordinary large unsheltered homeless population [14,476 per the 2018 Point-in-Time homeless count] and very little operable information on the nature of that homeless populations.  There is also next to no analytical information on the size, vulnerabilities, and composition of the Oregon homeless population as a whole.  This new study helps, but it too underestimates the scope of the problem.  Though warning us about the unreliability of PIT count information, it goes on to base most of its observations on that same information. The infrastructure in rural America is eroding.  Our next big wave of homelessness will be in rural camps spread across backwoods and frontier counties throughout the west.  PIT counts stand little chance of ever accurately capturing a rural homeless population.  Still, the report has promise and value because it is one of the few analytical discussions of the homeless crisis in Oregon. The only other state body that gathers research to inform public policy on homelessness is Oregon Housing and Community Services, and generally they do not often publish these kinds of analytical public reports. 
Rural Oregon or "Balance of State" CoC (brown) (interactive map)

One of the things the report does well is to understand that there are many different homeless populations in Oregon. The affordable housing crisis is triggering a considerable percentage of that recent wave of homelessness.  But those who become homeless for primarily economic reasons tend not to stay homeless long.  They generally self-resolve.
 The report does note that unsheltered and chronic rates are very high and growing, but it does not make the connection that this population--despite the public's general assumption that the street homeless are the first served -- is not a priority in the state funding model.  The only funding source that prioritizes unsheltered chronic homeless in Oregon are the HUD COC programs.  In Oregon, 28 of the 36 counties are served by the Rural Oregon Continuum of Care.  The ROCC has one of the largest total homeless populations in the United States, and ought to draw a total HUD grant somewhere in the range of $12-15 million. Instead, because of the ROCC's sheer size, performance issues, and the failure to collaborate and collectively plan, it has a federal grant only a little north of $3 million.  The ROCC has what is probably the single most inadequate federal grant in the United States, given a homeless population of this size.  
The report does note that there are many structural challenges to ending homelessness in Oregon that have nothing to do with the homeless population.  Housing construction is too expensive, too slow, and mired in extraordinary bureaucratic barriers.  Housing Authorities have the means to make a serious dent in homelessness, but have never prioritized access for homeless clients, and when they have they have historically not acted in a collaborative manner, refusing to use the region's coordinated entry list and relying either on social worker referrals or unverified self-reports.  The lions share of individuals housed under housing authorities homeless preference models would not have qualified to be counted as homeless on the PIT count.  

There are supply side answers to some of the homeless crisis, as the report points out. The state needs to remove those barriers and spend a decade prioritizing construction. But those affordable housing units should be linked to a region's homeless service providers to make the greatest impact on homelessness. The report does reinforce the evidence on national best practices.  The work of housing the homeless has to flow through analytical models, focusing on the concepts of vulnerability and FUSE scores and evidence based tools.  Those measures will make sure that the chronically homeless get the first available placements, and that the associated systems costs of homelessness are reduced.  If we spent a decade building affordable housing for the income related homeless populations and developing service intensive Permanent Supportive Housing, especially congregate PSH models, we could make some progress on ending homelessness.  To date the entire system has been underfunded, plagued by half-measures, undermined by failures of governments (at all levels) to insist on best practice models, and plagued by the bad practice of leaving housing decisions to service providers.

Lastly, there is a shelter crisis in Oregon.  Not only do we have the second largest unsheltered population in the United States, but our shelter models are generally geared toward lower needs clients without addictions and mental health barriers.  Shelters are an incredibly expensive response to homelessness, and they tend to fall under the "managing but not ending homeless approach."  Oregon needs to get serious about funding shelters, but also requiring outcomes of them.  Forcing them to work with high barrier clients, even those with active addictions, and holding all of us to account on the exit outcomes.

Exit outcomes?  Good idea, but it's pretty hard to hold providers or programs to account when exit outcomes aren't made public, eh, Jimmy?   

On a final note, for the first time in three years, MWVCAA completed its single-agency audit on time and without material weaknesses.  It's also managed to land former City Councilor Steve McCoid on its Board of Directors.  For a recent interview with McCoid, see here.