Friday, January 24, 2020

1/21/20 Minutes


Members: Valerie Freeman, Richard McGinty, Alan Mela
Organizations: Raleigh Kirschman and Moises Ramos, UGM; Ashley Hamilton, The ARCHES Project
City, County and State Representatives: none
Guests: Jan Kailuweit, Grant

The regular meeting of the CANDO Board of Directors was called to order at 6:00 p.m., on Tuesday, January 21, 2020, at the First Christian Church at 685 Marion Street NE, Salem.  The Chair and Secretary-Treasurer were present.  

The agenda and minutes of the December meeting were not approved due to lack of a quorum.  

In interested citizen comments, Ashley Hamilton described the City’s proposal to use Pringle Hall as a temporary warming shelter. She said based on comments during the meeting with the neighborhood, the homeless population is already in the neighborhood. It’s ARCHES’ hope that the shelter will be a beacon that will draw people in from private property locations.  The City’s priority is public health and safety. Camping in the park will not be permitted. The restrooms in the building will be supplemented by a chemical toilet.  ARCHES will provide overnight security, and City staff will visit during the day.  A storage pod will be available for the storage of personal property. The intent is to make the initiative low impact on the park and neighborhood.  Based on outreach to the folks around Nordstrom’s and Rite Aid, Hamilton said she expects about half will use the shelter.  Complaints/concerns should go to Kaylynn Gesner or Ashley Hamilton [Note: a couple hours later, the City Council decided not to open Pringle Hall.]

In other interested citizen comments, Valerie Freeman invited CANDO to participate in Salem Reads and shared this year’s selection. She also went over dates of the Public Library’s closings and openings incident to the seismic retrofit.

There being no further comments and no quorum, the Chair adjourned the meeting at 6:29 p.m.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Council Declares Unsheltered Emergency, Now What?

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston


Safe Sleep Director Lynelle Wilcox 1/12/20
As predicted, Council Tuesday night adopted a resolution declaring an emergency relating to unsheltered residents, but, when it came time to face down the angry neighbors of the South Central Area, they choked.  See Brynelson, T. "Salem Declares State of Emergency on homelessness, but scraps shelter plan."  (21 January 2020, Salem Reporter.) and "Why Salem leaders, weeks into a search for homeless shelters, walked away from new shelter beds."  (22 January 2020, Salem Reporter.)  See also, Barreda, V. "Pringle Hall off the table as temporary shelter, car camping approved."  (21 January 2020, Statesman Journal.)

The declaration temporarily cleared the way for the Safe Sleep women-only shelter to expand capacity by nine more spaces, and a pilot car-camping program that's so strict it will have few if any takers.  And, the "emergency" will expire March 31.  

The work session was supposed to have been on the 2020 Policy Agenda.  Council added the emergency declaration to the agenda last week, apparently thinking they were all in agreement on the use of Pringle Hall as a temporary shelter.  But then Councilor Andersen and Mayor Bennett met with the neighbors from Gaiety Hill and the west side of Church Street, and their convictions waivered.  So, even though Council had the facts and the moral high ground to proceed with the proposal to turn Pringle Hall into a temporary overnight shelter, it ultimately did not have the votes.

606 Church Street SE, "Pringle Hall"
Mayor Bennett was never fully on board.  Like Hoy, he strongly supported sit-lie and the camping ban, as well as HRAP and strategies to end, vs. manage, homelessness.  He didn't see the Pringle Hall proposal "fitting into any kind of rational program."    

Hoy, however, came to the work session "fully intending on supporting opening Pringle Hall."  Then he heard from the neighbors.  And, like Bennett and Andersen, he waivered.  Hoy called up Jimmy Jones, the Executive Director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency (MWVCAA), and asked, "How many folks from downtown will be going out to Pringle?"

Jones had said the week before, at the meeting with the Pringle Hall neighbors, that about half of those outside Rite Aid and the Nordstrom building would use the shelter.  But, on Tuesday, he never answered the question.  He talked about the efforts to provide shelter and housing.  He explained why making Pringle Hall a women-only shelter made no sense.

So, Bennett asked Jones what "change on downtown streets" would result from opening Pringle Hall.  Jones said any change would be "largely invisible" and downtown would "stay pretty much the way it looks and things will stay pretty much how they look now during the day."  (Emphasis added.)  Jones had said earlier that opening Pringle Hall overnight would reduce suffering and even a few deaths.  He'd also said, as noted above, that about half those outside Rite Aid and the Nordstrom building would use the shelter.  Apparently, he didn't view getting people off the streets at night as a "change on the downtown streets", and neither did the Council.

Councilor Hoy 1/21/20
Hoy promptly executed a volte-face.  "We heard from our expert that Pringle Hall is not going to significantly impact the situation. And so, in my mind, if it’s not going to significantly help and we have a lot of neighbors who think it’s going to make their neighborhood worse, then it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to do it.”

But, of course, the Pringle Hall proposal was never intended to "significantly impact the situation."  It was only meant to get a few people inside at night, thereby reducing suffering and maybe a few deaths over a short period.  Hoy wasn't misinformed, and he didn't need "expert advice" to know Pringle Hall wasn't going to "significantly impact the situation" downtown during the day.   

In the end, only Councilors Lewis, Nordyke and Ausec held true to the stated purpose of the Pringle Hall proposal and voted in favor of it.  Councilors Hoy, Andersen, Nanke and Mayor Bennett all voted against.  Leung and Kaser were absent.

The vote on the Pringle Hall proposal is a good indicator of this Council's priorities.  Despite their rhetoric and posturing, the primary aim of Council is to avoid controversy, and "to see a difference downtown."  That means, in effect, that whether the "street homeless", as they are sometimes called, disappear into shelters, or permanent housing, or the woods, or industrial areas doesn't much matter right now, as long as there's no controversy, and they're not downtown.  So, how can one expect those priorities to shape the Council's future policy decisions?

City Zoning Map
Before voting against the Pringle Hall proposal, Hoy asked Jones how Council might "see a difference downtown", and Jones replied, "My advice would be to repeal the camping ban in the industrial areas of town so that there would be a place where people could safely camp without the impact on the commercial and residential areas."

Council readily asked staff to look into it.

There are, of course, no industrial areas in CANDO.  They're pretty much concentrated to the south in SESNA and SEMCA and in NEN and Northgate to the north.  (One does have to wonder if the City Council's overarching intent here isn't to maximize the number of residents offering public comment at their meetings.)  Lifting the camping ban in some areas and not others would be controversial.  Lifting the camping ban until March 31 would be extremely controversial -- and would not move people out of downtown. 

Jones had other advice:  "We" need to purchase "a duration warming facility" that would shelter up to 125 a night. He said he had a building in mind, but it wasn't zoned properly (1185 22d Street SE -- SESNA).  Jones thinks the state might cover the $3.5M purchase price.  Council readily asked staff to explore rezoning.

1185 22d St SE (aqua square)
Based on the Pringle Hall precedent, the decision to rezone will depend on whether "a lot of neighbors  think [a shelter]’s going to make their neighborhood worse", and if so, whether it will "significantly impact the situation" downtown during the day.  The decision could be very controversial.  On the other hand, SESNA's a different neighborhood, so maybe their response will be different from SCAN's.  One can only hope. 

Finally, Jones advised Council to have a navigation center "in the works or up and running" by next winter.  The nav center proposal was to come before Council as part of the discussion on the 2020 Policy Agenda (item 1c), once Council was finished with the emergency declaration.  However, the City Manager, understandably, wanted to postpone it because of the late hour and the "intensity" of the discussion up to that point.  So, without objection, Council postponed the 2020 Policy Agenda work session to February 18, 2020 (tentative).  When Council takes up the policy agenda in February, expect to see the sobering center project replaced by a nav center project.

Outside the Nordstrom Building 1/21/19
Whatever else happens in the short term, the pressure on Council to "do something" that will have a "visible impact" on downtown during the day, which is code for removing street homeless and their belongings from the sidewalks during the day, is likely to continue.  Despite its being controversial, expect Council to bring back sit-lie as early as April or May.  Do not expect Council to designate city property for camping.  (2020 Policy Agenda (item 1g)).

Longer term, expect the Salem Housing Authority to continue its Homeless Rental Assistance Program (HRAP) until the funding runs out, and to pursue homless housing projects.  Expect City staff to work with Jones to secure a building for duration warming, if the state comes through with the purchase price, and to turn 615 Commercial Street into a nav center.  Expect the City to continue to provide leadership and support for the Mid-Willamette Valley Homeless Alliance, but do not expect that work to have a "visible impact" on downtown during the day.  Finally, do not expect Council to develop a comprehensive policy on homelessness, even though such a policy would allow it to avoid unnecessary and time-consuming controversies and "wandering our way through" the various homeless policy proposals it's asked to consider.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Homeless Alliance Prepared for Lift Off

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston


CoC Development Councilors Lisa Leno, Jimmy Jones, Lyle Mordhorst
If you want to know how the collective effort to respond to area homelessness is going, all you have to do is look at Jimmy Jones's face during a Development Council meeting.

Jones is, of course, the Executive Director of the quasi-governmental Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency (MWVCAA), and one of the generals in the war on poverty.     

The Development Council, an outgrowth of the Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative, is about to launch the Mid-Willamette Valley Homeless Alliance (MWVHA or Alliance), which will bring the power and influence of local governments to bear on a problem that, for far too long, they've ignored and/or relegated to charitable and religious organizations.  Eugene/Springfield and Lane County, by contrast, recognized decades ago that they had important organizational roles and responsibilities to fulfill in responding to area homelessness.

The Development Council consists of the City of Salem, Marion and Polk counties, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, Keizer, Monmouth, Independence and the Salem-Keizer School District, as well as the United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley, the Union Gospel Mission and MWVCAA.  In a few weeks, the government entities on the Council will enter into an inter-governmental agreement under ORS 190 to form the Alliance, which will make it a separate public body.

In addition to being a public body, the Alliance will be Marion and Polk counties' "continuum of care" organization, once it registers as such with HUD (sometime in the next few weeks) and HUD accepts the submission.  At that point, Marion and Polk counties will no longer be part of the geographic area covered by the Rural Oregon Continuum of Care (ROCC).  Marion and Polk counties merged with ROCC in 2011.   

If getting the Alliance off the ground sounds complicated, it really isn't.  The bureaucratic requirements  are tedious, to be sure.  And, so is the wrangling over members' financial contributions.  However, the complicated bit will be walking the talk --  developing strategy based on sound public policy, versus each member voting ad hoc based on his or her personal bias.  Jones readily admits it won't be easy.  "This remains a very fragile process", he says.

Of course, by "process" Jones has more than homeless politics in mind.  "Most of the hard work will be done outside this room", he says.  He is wondering perhaps how he's going to persuade politicians and providers that homelessness can be solved and to make the shift from "my program" to "my community."  How to get them to think about "system performance" and commit to prioritizing housing and services based on objective vulnerability assessments, regardless funding source, and to collecting and sharing high quality data, and letting the data drive decisions.  Hard to believe this community doesn't know these things already, but that's the reality.      

The Development Council January 2020
Shifting from "my program" to "my community" will not be easy.  To quell fears that moving to local control over Continuum of Care (CoC) Program funding would result in a loss of funding, the Development Council promised "legacy" CoC Program grantees that they would continue to be funded for several years post-separation.  The move was characterized as ensuring program stability, but it was clearly a political trade-off.  

In any event, HUD always has the final say in such matters.  The 2019 CoC Program awards have been announced.  Only two agencies  serving Marion and Polk counties were awarded funds.  Total was  about $660K --  ~$323K to Shangri-La and ~$339K to Center for Hope and Safety.  The region should also receive some CoC Program funds to offset the cost to conduct vulnerability assessments and collect homeless information data.  By contrast, agencies serving Lane County were awarded more than $3.5M in 2019, and Clackamas County projects got more than $2.5M.  In addition, because these CoCs are high performers, they will probably receive additional funding on top of what's been announced.  Marion and Polk counties probably will not, because ROCC is a very low performer.

It's been known for a long time that continued participation in ROCC was bad for Marion and Polk counties' homeless.  In 2017, ROCC approved a poorly designed project developed by Salem Interfaith Hospitality Network (SIHN), dba Family Promise, and neglected to take corrective action despite SIHN's failing over a period of years to draw down any of its grant (a total of more than $300K in 2017 and 2018), ensuring SIHN's project would be de-funded in 2019.  In 2018, ROCC effectively eliminated MWVCAA's long-standing rapid rehousing project by giving it an undeserved low score in the review and ranking process (for more about that and 2018 awards, see "News from the Continuum.") (8 February 2019.)  The only good thing to be said about ROCC is that it's set the bar very low for the Alliance, at least for the first few years.  That fact probably will not give Jones much comfort.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

"A Problem of Proportionality"

Salem Breakfast on Bikes comments on the way some in the news media have covered recent events downtown, and what the City should do to recover from its self-inflicted wounds.

Excerpt from 1/18/20 Salem Breakfast on Bikes Post

Friday, January 17, 2020

City Pleads with Pringle Hall Neighbors

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

 

606 Church Street SE - Pringle Hall
About 60 people, including City staff and staff of the Salem Housing Authority and Mid-Willamette Community Action Agency (MWVCAA), attended a meeting called by Councilor Andersen to discuss the staff proposal to use Pringle Hall as an emergency overnight warming shelter for 37 people beginning January 23  through March 31.

CANDO and Ward 1 Councilor Kaser were not invited to the meeting, even though Pringle Hall is in CANDO and Ward 1.

Inside the hall, stations had been set up to inform guests of volunteer opportunities and collect questions, comments and concerns.  Copies of a 2-page "Progress Report:  Expanding Warming Shelter Operations from January 1 to March 31" were available at the door. 

According to what was said at the meeting, if approved by Council on January 21, Pringle Hall would be open 7p to 7a, for 69 days.  As with the other shelters in the warming network, the Pringle Hall shelter program would be administered by staff from MWVCAA's The ARCHES Project.  MWVCAA is to provide "armed security" during shelter hours, and City staff are to visit the area during the day "to ensure public safety."  The City is to provide a chemical toilet in addition to the restrooms in Pringle Hall, and one or more storage pods.   

The City originally had planned to hold two briefings, one at 5:10 and one at 6, but Andersen and City Manager Steve Powers were feeling chatty -- nervous chatty, like they feared being beaten if they stopped talking -- so there was just one, very long briefing.  Jimmy Jones, Mayor Bennett and Salem Housing Authority Administrator Nicole Utz also spoke/answered questions. 

Steve Powers speaks with neighbors of Pringle Hall
"This your idea?", one man asked Powers accusingly, as things were getting under way.  "Yes, it was my idea", Powers told him a moment later, and then launched into a long explanation of how things got to this point.  Andersen reprised Monday night's argument that none of it was the Council's fault, but the crowd wasn't into what he was saying.  They just wanted him to stop talking, which he did, eventually.

"Roger" and another man expressed concern about the potential for flooding and the City's liability for personal injury on the premises.  Ernesto Toskovic worried about straining the police force.  One woman suggested the City work with the state to obtain use of the state fairgrounds.  Bennett responded that the City was working with the state, adding that he didn't think Pringle Hall was going to "solve the problem" because most of the folks downtown were not going to use it.

Mayor Bennett tells neighbors the City and State are cooperating
"Mark" said it was important to him that the City was promising the use would be a "one-time deal."  He also said he was disappointed with the City's leadership on this issue. Toskovic expressed concern that Pringle Park would become "popular", prompting a woman to ask what the City would do to discourage loitering.  Another woman asked how shelter guests would be selected, and what would happen if, say, 60 people showed up the first night?  Jones explained how the current warming shelters operate, and gave assurances his staff would be on site a few hours before the 7pm opening to make sure things ran smoothly.

After some slightly off-topic discussion of what happened to the plan to expand the warming network to a duration model, people camping out of sight being harassed, and three neighbors' scary or annoying experiences with "homeless people", someone asked what Salem Hospital and SAIF thought about the proposal.

Powers said he'd met with Salem Hospital's CEO and indicated Salem Hospital was provisionally okay with it.  A woman who said she was with SAIF spoke about SAIF's security measures but did not address the proposal itself.  As the meeting came to a close, Utz offered the crowd one final reassurance, that the Housing Authority is right next door, and is willing to assist neighbors as needed to ensure the success of the program if Council approves it.

Council is probably going to approve it, with or without Councilor "I-haven't-yet-decided" Andersen's vote, and ARCHES Project staff will make sure things go smoothly.

CANDO, Highland, Morningside, SEMCA, South Gateway, SESNA and probably other neighborhoods have all hosted shelters for a long time now, without disastrous effect, despite what some might say without evidence to back it up.  Approving the proposal would mean the neighbors in SCAN would have to tolerate another shelter in CANDO for a mere 69 days.  Doesn't seem like a lot to ask in a time of crisis.  Not at all.     

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Council Throws ARCHES Under Bus

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston


In every crisis, doubt or confusion, take the higher path - the path of compassion, courage, understanding and love.  -- Amit Ray

Lately, Salem's been through a crisis.  No, not that one.  The other one.  The leadership crisis.

It's been said that one of the most pressing challenges political leaders have in the wake of extreme events is how to avoid what is commonly called the blame game.

It's a challenge the Salem City Council failed to meet on Monday night.

The extreme event:  the run up to and implementation of a camping ban.  Why a camping ban?  Contrary to what Mayor Bennett told OPB's Dave Miller, the "idea behind the camping ban" was not that "we had people who'd set up tents in our downtown."

A Brief History of Salem's Camping Ban

1970, Salem enacts a law prohibiting sleeping in public places (SRC 95.560 "Vagrancy.") 

1983, the U.S. Supreme Court declares vagrancy laws unconstitutionally vague.   

September 2017, staff are unable to persuade City Council to enact a sit-lie ordinance that included a camping ban.   

December 2017, Council repeals SRC 95.560.

2018, legal staff advise the Mid-Willamette Community Action Agency (MWVCAA) that it has authority to trespass campers; the homeless population living in and around Wallace Marine Park swells into the hundreds.   

Spring 2019, staff persuade a majority of Council to enact the previously rejected sit-lie ordinance and camping ban, as police begin sweeping camps around Wallace Marine and Cascades Gateway Park.   

October 2019, legal staff advise MWVCAA that The ARCHES Project does NOT have authority to trespass campers from the parking strips.   

November 2019, campers from Wallace Marine Park establish campsites in the parking strips around The ARCHES Project, as pressure on the City Council to "do something" grows.   

Dec 2, 2019, City Council signals an interest in allowing camping on City-owned property.   

Dec 3-8 City staff scramble to put together an information report on organized camping, and turn to MWVCAA's Jimmy Jones and his staff for help.   

Dec 9, Jones strongly advises against organized camping but offers a "stopgap" proposal to expand the warming network to a duration model (open every night) in two churches.  Council allocates funds for the expansion and retires for the holidays.   

Dec 10, plan falters when the larger of the two churches decides it's not able to participate.   

Dec 11-Jan 12, City moves ahead with implementing the camping ban, campers move onto the Capitol Mall and downtown sidewalks, staff work unsuccessfully with Jones and a real estate agent to site a temporary low-barrier shelter, the community is in an uproar and the news media have a field day.   


The Blame Game

Blame, it should be remembered, is a form of denial.  Denial of responsibility.  Denial of fact.  

Council President Hoy spoke for the Council Monday night:

"I'm feeling very frustrated.  Recently...the suggestion was made by ARCHES staff that we could consider duration warming...it would be quicker, cheaper and most importantly, more humane than our organized camping option...I asked ARCHES staff whether they'd consulted with the churches who have generously hosted the warming centers for the past two years to ensure they were willing and had the capacity to perform this expanded function.  I was quite pleased to hear that they had indeed consulted and were on board with the proposal."  

Here's the pertinent part of what was said at the meeting on December 9 (emphasis added): 

Hoy: I'm assuming you've spoken with those two establishments [Church at the Park and First Presbyterian Churches] and they're interested and willing to do that.

ARCHES staff: We have.  They have to go through some board approval at their church level, but they wanted to know how serious the inquiry was before they brought it to their board.

* * *

Hoy: Just one final question.  You mentioned January 1st.  Is there any way to move that up?

ARCHES staff: That would be contingent on the Board of First Presbyterian and Capital Park.

Granted, this colloquy occurred three hours into the evening meeting, and Hoy didn't have the benefit of our italics, but it should be readily apparent from the exchange, not to mention the circumstances, that there were additional permissions needed, and therefore the possibility that permission would be withheld.

Not according to Hoy, who proceeded to blame Jones's staff for making "a statement that sounds very sure" that was not "actually very sure", implying it was their fault that Hoy moved to fund the duration warming proposal and Council had "left the meeting optimistic and hopeful" and were "sort of left with no good option and...people who didn't have shelter were left with no good option" when things didn't work out with one of the churches.  (Full text of Hoy's statement at the end of this post).

How's that for shifting blame?  Council implements a camping ban in the middle of winter, and it's ARCHES staff's fault there was no place for campers to go, never mind that one of the churches has been open every night, per plan.  Hoy even blamed ARCHES staff for Council's meeting schedule, as if Council couldn't have called a meeting to address the situation, had it wanted to.  (See Rule 4b.)

It's clear from the video of the December 6 meeting that, when speaking to Council, ARCHES staff was focused on explaining how the program would work, i.e. how the budget and staffing levels were adequate and necessary to the task.  In other words, it was the program that staff sounded "very sure" about, not what building would be used.

Council would have known that City and ARCHES staff had had to put these budgets and program proposals together on extremely short notice, and that there were bound to be mistakes.  For instance, staff said Church at the Park and First Presbyterian could accommodate 140, but per Chief Niblock and fire regulations, Church at the Park is limited to 14 and First Presbyterian is limited to 78, for a total of 92.  And, the camping budget estimate double-counted the cost of supports like toilets.  But, if there was a mistake about the churches' agreement to expand warming program, it was Council's, not ARCHES staff's.  

Council, particularly Hoy, has too much experience not to have understood that the duration warming proposal was every bit as subject to contingencies as the organized camping program -- or any program, for that matter, that's been thrown together in a matter of days.  But that didn't stop Bennett and Councilor Andersen from piling on.

Bennett, bless his heart, just said "I think we would all join you in your frustration, Councilor."

But, Andersen -- you know Andersen -- he just had to go one better, and claim that, but for the failure of ARCHES staff, the Council would have passed his motion to develop an organized camping program, and the City "would have had something in place now."  (Full text of Andersen's statement at the end of this post).

Andersen's claim was, of course, counter-factual, self-serving bluster.  There is no way anyone could have stood up an organized camping program in that amount of time, especially over the holidays.  

The staff report stated that it would take 60 to 90 days to "prepare a site and provide supervision", and that assumed the City had someone suitable to administer the program -- which it didn't.  Speaking to Council during the meeting, Jimmy Jones could not have been clearer when he told them that he did not think organized camping was a viable alternative and he was unwilling to run such a program on a temporary basis.  

Not one of the Council said a word in defense of Jones or his staff.  Not one.  Councilor Nordyke referred to the "frustration we've had" but said she wanted to "look forward."  Councilor Kaser said she'd received a lot of emails and phone calls from people "on both sides of the issue", whatever that means.  Councilor Leung spoke, but said very little.  Councilors Ausec, Lewis and Nanke did not comment.

Councilor Hoy made a premeditated decision to "express publicly my frustration" with a key partner in a time of crisis, why?  What possible purpose did it serve, other than blame-shifting?  He even shared his intent to "express frustration" at the January meeting with at least one other member of Council, who not only did not stop him, but piled on with his own self-serving remarks about how he would have saved the day "but for" Jimmy Jones's staff.

What is wrong with this Council that they don't see how it makes them look to be blaming others for their poor judgment and planning, for their disorganization and policy failures?  McCoid would never have let this happen.

Council owes Jones and The ARCHES Project an unequivocal apology, and they should be very grateful that he is not one to let personal insults interfere with his professionalism. 


           ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Hoy's January 13 comment:
I'm feeling very frustrated.  Recently...the suggestion was made by ARCHES staff that we could consider duration warming...it would be quicker, cheaper and most importantly, more humane than our organized camping option...I asked ARCHES staff whether they'd consulted with the churches who have generously hosted the warming centers for the past two years to ensure they were willing and had the capacity to perform this expanded function.  I was quite pleased to hear that they had indeed consulted and were on board with the proposal. I made the motion to implement the fund that put the proposal, Council passed the motion, and a meaningful plan was in place and everybody left the meeting optimistic and hopeful.  Sadly, that was all for naught because we learned through what for whatever reason miscommunication misunderstanding I don't know exactly what but the churches weren't they didn't have the capacity to handle new burden and they weren't able to help us in that new way.  So because we had no more meetings planned for the year and had just implemented the camping ban we were sort of left with no good option and most importantly out of all that people who didn't have a shelter were left with no good options.  And I have spent the past month being very frustrated trying to rectify that situation...I just want to express publicly my frustration and I would hope that anytime somebody comes before this Council and makes a statement that sounds very sure that they're actually very sure because we make important decisions based on the information we get.  And we did that and it didn't work.           
Andersen's January 13 comment:
I was aware the councilor was going to do this and I certainly agree with him because I made the original motion which was to...establish a temporary tent center at Wallace Marine Park with various conditions and when we were informed that the churches were willing to do this...and of course for whatever reason we were informed the churches understandably had not come to the conclusion they were willing to do it, even though we were told so.  I believe that...my motion would have passed and it's a month later now, and we would have had something in place now.  So, in effect, we've lost that month and I certainly concur with Councilor Hoy that we've got to trust what people say.  So, when people come to talk to us, especially in an official capacity, we need to be able to rely on that and we relied on that to our detriment and more importantly, to the detriment of the City and the people in the City who had no place to go.  And that's very disturbing to me.

Monday, January 13, 2020

"Snotty Writing Doesn't Help Poor People"

Last fall, as Salem was beginning to recruit volunteers for the 2019-2020 winter warming network, The Oregonian published an essay/opinion piece written by a Silverton resident who used to be on Salem Weekly's editorial board.  It went something like this: she's sitting on a chair outside a restaurant in Salem near a woman who is clearly unable to meet basic needs and is in distress.  She describes the woman's condition with exquisite dispassion, which leads her to muse on her privileged life, and then to wonder about "our ability to see beyond the political masquerade that makes us all weaker and more alone" and "our will and resolve when it comes to solving any of this."  When her tofu and rice lunch arrives, she decides to leave it for the woman.

The piece got a lot of attention, most of it approving.  So approving, in fact, we wondered whether we shouldn't write a critique of both the piece, and the acceptance it was getting.  But, after reading the comments, we found others had beat us to it.

Note: we think perhaps Bert meant to say "snooty writing", but it's a tough call.

Facebook post and selected comments

Sunday, January 12, 2020

HUD Clears Salem MSA to Leave ROCC

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston


12/5/19 "Stakeholders" vote 'Yes' to leaving ROCC
Finally, HUD has given Salem, Marion and Polk counties (aka the Salem Metropolitan Statistical Area) the go-ahead to split off from the nightmare Rural Oregon Continuum of Care and re-form a regional continuum of care to coordinate delivery of homeless housing and services. 

Jimmy Jones, Director of the Mid-Willamette Community Action Agency, calls the decision a "generational change."  That's his way of trying to limit expectations, of letting people know that, although "actual" change will be slow in coming, there is reason to hope it will, eventually, turn out to have been significant.  Like getting elected or married, it's all about how one handles what comes next.

MWVHA Staff Jan Calvin arranges 'Yes' photo
As regular readers will be aware, the move is long overdue and brings much responsibility, but little risk, owing to the intolerable and ever-deteriorating conditions in ROCC.  See "ROCC: Leave or Remain?"  The new/old regional CoC will bear the name "Mid-Willamette Valley Homeless Alliance" and take its former HUD identifier "OR-504", relinquished in 2011 when Marion and Polk counties merged with ROCC.

The past ten years have cost the region's homeless housing and services so dearly that the region will probably never catch up.  But, we might at least stop falling further and further behind.  If nothing else, the re-formation effort has brought City, county and tribal  officials together in common cause, and means the region will finally have access to local homeless management information system and performance data, which is something it's never really had, even though the information existed.

You can find more information, including formation documents, at the Mid-Willamette Valley Homeless Alliance's website, here

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

"Things are getting much worse."

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Rite Aid west wall.  Courtesy KGW News.
"Unintended" and "unexpected", that's how Jimmy Jones, Director of the Mid-Willamette Community Action Agency described the situation downtown in an email to the City Council, three weeks after the City's camping ban went into effect.

In the January 6 email, Jones told Council what CANDO knows too well -- that many who'd been camping downtown before the ban went into effect have moved, sans tents, to downtown sidewalks with overhangs, where they are getting soaked in the rain and high winds, and becoming "physically very sick."  Jones told KGW News up to 90 are living next to Rite Aid.  Without support from the City or ARCHES Project staff, Jones reports that "[t]he situation is deteriorating rapidly."  

[T]he waste products (while they were bad near ARCHES) are accumulating at a much greater rate than before because there’s no trash collection nor toilets available. The trash is compound[ed] by the all-day, all-night donations from private citizens that are taking place throughout the downtown...There’s a great deal of garbage, food laying around, and the street front is an open sewer.

Jones also told the Council that, contrary to what some people (e.g., T. J. Sullivan) predicted, the camping ban did not force people to connect to services.

Rather, The ARCHES Project has seen a marked decline in visits to the day center.

"The fundamental dynamic is that folks are now less well connected to resources after the ban", Jones told the Council.

The City of Keizer enacted a camping ban last night, amidst fear that without it, Salem's campers might take refuge in Keizer.  

For the past month, Jones has been working with the City to site a "duration" (open every night) warming shelter.  So far, he's not had success.  

The biggest struggle has been some nimbyism, some zoning issues, and the flat out unwillingness of any of these property owners (with perhaps two exceptions) to rent any of these properties for this purpose, without a promise to purchase.  The best building for this work is the old DHS building on 22nd Street, but it is not zoned correctly and it will cost $3.5M.  
 
The City's known since 2017 that its existing prohibitions on camping were either legally flawed or inadequate, and that a comprehensive camping ban was inevitable.  So, we are wondering, what makes what's happened downtown "unintended" or "unexpected"? 

Jones recently told KGW News, “When the city of Salem passed their ordinance, they imagined all those people who were camping outside Arches in tents would suddenly go away."  But, last August, Jones told KATU News,

[A]s every homeless service provider in the state will tell you, historically, we and every other provider have had grave concerns about any sit-lie ordinance. And the problem with them generally is that they sort of criminalize people's right to existence and they tend to push the population out of the downtown core, for example, in this case. And so the next question you have to ask yourself is what is the unintended consequences of actions like that? The people won't simply cease to exist when those kinds of legislations are passed. They'll have to go somewhere. So where will they go?

See Douglass, J. "Leader of homeless support group in Salem says, 'We have not served them well'."  (15 August 2019, KATU News.)

It's abundantly clear from news reports and the social media commentary on them that Salem residents are not buying that any of what's happened was unintended or unexpected.  If there's any  debate it's whether incompetence or indifference are more to blame.  Whichever it is, the issue's  coming back to Council in a week (January 13), and as there doesn't yet appear to be kind of framework for decision-making, it's likely to be a long night of virtue-signaling and speechifying, followed by some arbitrary decision.   This post will be updated with pertinent staff report(s), assuming there are any, after the agenda's published later this week.

1/8/20:  In a story about the City's efforts to identify private property that could be leased as a shelter, the Salem Reporter quoted Kristin Retherford as saying "it’s unlikely there will be anything on the agenda [Monday night, 1/13] involving shelters or designating a place to legally camp."  See
See Brynelson, T. "Officials say NIMBYism, zoning and unwilling landlords sink search for Salem emergency shelter."  (8 January 2020, Salem Reporter.)

Nordstrom sidewalk fencing
Later in the afternoon, the City announced it would close two sidewalks by the Nordstrom and Rite Aid buildings temporarily so that the area could be cleaned up.  See Brynelson, T. "Salem to close, clean, sidewalks where homeless stay."  (8 January 2020, Salem Reporter.) and Bach, J. "Salem to clean up sidewalks overtaken by homeless." (8 January 2020, Statesman Journal.)

1/9/20:  Under contract with the City, Service Master began cleaning the Nordstrom sidewalk.  See Barreda, V. "Crews begin cleaning downtown Salem streets."  (9 January 2020, Statesman Journal.)  The agenda for Monday's City Council was published.  The only related item was an informational report on car-camping.

1/10/20:  Rite Aid sidewalks were cleaned and a fence was erected to block access to most of the Nordstorm sidewalk.  See Barreda, V. "Downtown business owners get involved in clearing sidewalks."  (10 January 2020, Statesman Journal.)  Total cost of cleanup was approximately $10K. 

Thursday, January 2, 2020

No More Good Ideas

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

 

Adapted from Tanya Cordrey's "Saying No to More Good Ideas."
That a project might "do something" for a few of the City's homeless doesn’t mean the City should undertake it.

A good idea is not the same as a great opportunity.

The news provides a steady stream of project ideas relating to homelessness.

Salem residents are constantly bombarding the City and each other with those good ideas, most of which they've not researched and know very little about.

The City's problem is not a shortage of good ideas.

Nor does the City's suffer from a lack of compassion.  A big heart is no substitute for a big brain when it comes to solving complex social problems. 

We should not be asking the City (OR United Way OR the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency) to clog their roadmaps with ideas that, cumulatively, have no real impact.  (This is assuming they have roadmaps.)  We should instead be asking them to double down on needs-based, housing first interventions, and, if necessary, unclog their homeless housing and services roadmaps.  We should be asking them to listen to the professionals.  We should be asking them to cut their support for programs that aren't demonstrably making a difference, and focus on what is known to work. 

And by "work" is not meant managing or responding to complaints about homelessness, but moving people experiencing homelessness into stable housing.      

Because saying yes to every good idea means Salem will continue to miss out on the great opportunities, and the numbers of chronically homeless will just continue to grow.