Wednesday, February 26, 2020

SHA Targeting Outreach on Downtown

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

 

SHA Admin Nicole Utz (pronounced "Yoots")
Salem's Homeless Rental Assistance Program (HRAP) will be able to pay for case managers and up its outreach game downtown, thanks to recent grants from Willamette Valley Community Health (formerly the regional CCO) and two local physicians.  

HRAP case managers currently are covered by a two-year grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust that ends in a few months.

Salem Housing Authority (SHA) Administrator Nicole Utz (pronounced "Yoots") told the Salem Housing Authority Board of Commissioners Monday night that she intends to use about $100,000 from the WVCH grant to hire a "housing navigator" to "fill the gap between current [HRAP] case management and those who need additional services on the street."  

The position also will be working with Lucy Briseno, outreach coordinator with The ARCHES Project, to conduct "targeted outreach" to roughly 70 individuals known to be living in Salem's downtown core (Union Street NE (north), High Street NE (east), Ferry Street NE (south), and Front Street NE (west) -- see Riverfront Downtown Urban Renewal Plan at 27).  Over the past month or so, SHA and ARCHES staff compiled a by-name list of those individuals ("preference list") as part of the area's Built for Zero initiativeThe list closed Monday, February 24, 2020.  

Everyone on the preferred list has been, or will, be assessed using the standard tool (VI-SPDAT).  Those scoring above a certain level will receive a more in-depth assessment using the VAT (see below), and referred, as appropriate, to HRAP.  Less vulnerable individuals will be referred to The ARCHES Project for housing placement in one of their programs.  The project will use funds from City's federal programs (tenant based rental assistance)(TBRA) and from HRAP, which will require an additional allocation of $200,000.  The City Manager supports the request, which is expected to go to City Council soon.  To date, HRAP has assisted 270 homeless individuals.

 
Salem's Homeless Rental Assistance Program components, courtesy SHA's Eddie Maestas

A couple of years ago, SHA, in cooperation with Salem Police and Fire Departments, created an "immediate needs station" that provides 24/7 access to basic needs items for people in crisis -- clothing, food, blankets, socks, shoes, etc.  It's used every day and donations are always needed.  They can be dropped off at the SHA Office at 360 Church Street SE during business hours (see here).

Monday, February 24, 2020

Council Moves Sit-Lie Forward for Enactment

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

 

Headline a month after camping ban went into effect
After hours of public testimony, Councilor Kaser, reading from a prepared statement, moved to direct staff to bring back an ordinance that provides that a violation of the proposed sit-lie ordinance will not be an enumerated offense under SRC 95.750 or SRC 95.760 and enactment will be delayed until at least outdoor shelter and restroom access are available 7a-9p (the hours that the ban is effective).  The motion was seconded by Councilor Hoy.

Council voted 7-1 in favor, moving sit-lie forward for enactment (first reading)

Councilor Lewis was the only "no" vote.  He was present by phone.

Council is banking that the move will "clean up" downtown sidewalks and avoid embroiling the City in litigation.  

Sit-lie laws haven't "cleaned up" San Francisco (see City Hall Fellows' Implementation, Enforcement and Impact, by Cassella et al.), or Berkeley (see Berkeley Law's Does Sit-Lie Work, by Cooter et al.) or Spokane (see Wohlfeil, S. "More than half of Spokane's sit-lie citations have been handed down in 2018."  (17 September 2018, Inlander.)).  

Mayor Bennett told Salem Reporter last week that the law was needed to give people "incentive to move on" to the library (which prohibits lying and sleeping and bringing in packs and luggage), shelter day rooms (limited hours and might not allow sleeping or packs/luggage) and park shelters.  Harrell, S. "Salem Mayor pushes for 'sit-lie' in the face of increasing uproar over homeless problem downtown."  (21 February 2020, Salem Reporter.)  He also told Salem Reporter that, if Council failed to pass the ordinance, "there’s a potential for an initiative campaign to pass the ordinance over the council", making it clear he would support such a move by saying he thought sit-lie was "something we need to do permanently."  

Bennett appears to have abandoned his disingenuous claims that sit-lie will somehow help improve things for the people it targets.  See "Mayor Bennett Pushes Sit-Lie on KYKN" (23 February 2020).  Staff however, have not. The staff report stated that "[t]he amendment would provide the Police Department, the Salem Housing Authority, and other organizations engaged in outreach to Salem’s homeless residents additional encouragement for individuals to seek shelter and assistance rather than living on a sidewalk."  Aside from that statement, the report did not recommend moving the ordinance forward for enactment. 

It might be hard to believe any reasonable person could consider being waked by a police officer and told not to sleep or sit on the sidewalk "encouragement", but the City must sport its fig leaf

Councilor Andersen was still in Bhutan tonight, and didn't call in, which put all the pressure squarely on Councilor Kaser, a fact he would have known on February 10 when he cast the deciding vote to bring sit-lie back on February 24 (Kaser voted against bringing it back).  She also voted to remove sit-lie from Ordinance Bill 10-19 last November for the same reasons she opposed sit-lie in 2017 -- it didn't address the complaints of downtown businesses. 

Whether the City can meet Kaser's shelter/restroom conditions any time soon is unclear.  The City is in negotiations with The ARCHES Project to extend hours on weekdays (adding the hours from 3 to 9p) and open on weekends, but that is likely to cost the City upwards of $.5M annually, according to estimates provided the City, unless other revenue sources are found.  Those funds would be better spent getting people enrolled in the City's Homeless Rental Assistance Program.

Councilor Kaser speaks to her motion Monday night.
Signage on the sidewalk outside Rite Aid states that the sidewalk will be closed for cleaning/maintenance at 8a Tuesday (tomorrow).  Police were down there this afternoon, letting everyone know that they were subject to arrest beginning at 8a (no additional time to gather belongings and move).  We've been told that there's a possibility that fencing will be used to prevent access to the sidewalk after maintenance is completed.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Mayor Bennett Pushes Sit-Lie on KYKN

Chuck, Brent, Dave
Mayor Bennett appeared recently on KYKN to talk about the state of the City (See "No More Allowing Homelessness!" (16 February 2020.) 

The correspondence below was sent on the dates indicated.  To date, there has been no reply.

We do understand that the Mayor is very busy and gets a great deal of mail.  The only reason for stating that there has been no reply to date is that people keep asking.
 
---------------------




From: SARAH OWENS
Sent: Saturday, February 15, 2020 2:30 PM
To: Chuck Bennett <cbennett@cityofsalem.net>
Cc: Michael Livingston
Subject: KYKN Interview

Dear Mayor Bennett,

Listened to your interview with Brent and Dave.  I'm trying to understand why it is you support sit-lie.  I understood your reason previously as being that Chief Moore had asked for it, and you simply wanted to give him what he needed.  But you now seem to be saying something more than that.  Maybe it's not a new message but different emphasis.

You told Brent and Dave that "if you don't have a sit-lie ordinance, you have no way to push people into those shelters."  You also told them sit-lie was needed in order "to get people to go take advantage of those [programs]."  But do you have any evidence that sit-lie ordinances "push people into shelters" or programs?  I've looked, and not been able to find any, anywhere.  I wondered if you had.  If you haven't, will you ask a true expert in the social work (not the City Manager or Police Chief) whether your belief has any scientific basis and take their advice?

I know you know that Council's been repeatedly advised by people like Jimmy Jones and Pamela Lyons-Nelson, as well as Chief Moore, that people have many and varied personal reasons for being on the streets.  You told Brent and Dave that "we can't meet the need for the folks down there [at Rite Aid, etc.] with the right kind of place for them to go", and that you "understand that a lot of this comes from trauma, and mental health issues, and serious addiction...and I don't disagree that that's that's the problem."  But if you understand that the City doesn't have the right kind of place for those folks to go, and that the reason they're on the streets is trauma, mental illness and serious addiction, why would you think a sit-lie ordinance would ever "push" them into shelters?  Or whatever other services you might have in mind?  It makes no sense.  

You also told Brent and Dave that, "We've had folks, and this is anecdotal, and I understand that, but I trust that people sharing the anecdote, they have gone down to the streets by Rite Aid and by Salem Center and offered 50 beds, and they've gotten 1, 2, 3, 5 takers.  People are just down there right now, seem completely unwilling to move into available space."  Was this someone from UGM?  A member of the public?  Who has 50 beds?

Finally, you told Brent and Dave about the assistant City Attorney being mugged "by a homeless person", and followed up by saying "There are behaviors beyond the pale, and we're seeing them down there now", heavily implying that the people outside Rite Aid, etc., are committing violent crimes.  But if that's true, existing laws allow police to arrest the perpetrators, do they not.  Is it fair to suggest sit-lie is needed to protect people from dangerous homeless people?  Do you not realize this adds to the considerable danger street homeless live with every day?  It's almost as if you don't consider the street homeless your constituents.  

Sorry, one last question.  Why aren't police enforcing the camping ban?  It's quite obvious there are structures on the sidewalks downtown.    

Sarah Owens

CANDO

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
From: SARAH OWENS <hlowens2@msn.com>
Sent: Tuesday, February 18, 2020 8:19 AM
To: Chuck Bennett <cbennett@cityofsalem.net>
Cc: Cara Kaser <CKASER@cityofsalem.net>; CanDo Board <candoboard@googlegroups.com>; Salem Homeless Coalition (not the "Homeless Coalition") <salem-homeless-coalition@googlegroups.com>; Michael Livingston <michaellivingston1@msn.com>
Subject: Fw: KYKN Interview

Mr. Mayor,

FYI, we have confirmed with other sources that your "50 beds" likely refers to UGM, only the offer was for a mat, not a bed, much less a living space (as the accommodation is only overnight and uncertain because it's overflow and first come, first served with sign ups in the late afternoon).  Plus, as you know very well, the Mission takes men only.  

While it might be true that the individuals outside Rite Aid and Salem Center have been contacted by local providers (UGM, SHA, MWVCAA and others) with offers of assistance, that fact doesn't justify sit-lie when, as you yourself have said "we can't meet the need for the folks down there with the right kind of place for them to go", and that you "understand that a lot of this comes from trauma, and mental health issues, and serious addiction...and I don't disagree that that's that's the problem."

For the reasons you cited, the situation outside Rite Aid and Salem Center is primarily a public health issue.  You might think it  makes political sense to adopt an enforcement strategy to deal with it, but such strategies always fail in the long term, and not necessarily because of lawsuits.  As with the camping ban -- which is being enforced very selectively -- you must understand that police are unlikely to enforce sit-lie to the extent needed to "clean the streets" downtown.

I believe you will find, if you succeed in passing sit-lie, that it will only inflame tensions and up the risk of a lawsuit.  It won't "clean the streets." It won't reduce the complaints or take the bull's eye off the City Manager, and it won't displace homelessness from its No. 1 position in the annual customer satisfaction survey.  It will however, very likely be the thing you will be remembered for most.  I doubt that's what you want.  

in re City Camping Program

CANDO RESOLUTION NO. 2020-1
 
A RESOLUTION REGARDING CITY-SPONSORED ORGANIZED TENT-CAMPING 

WHEREAS, at its December 9, 2019, meeting, the Salem City Council discussed -- and apparently still is considering -- a plan to provide public funds, property and other resources to establish an organized tent-camping program that would accommodate approximately 35 “homeless” residents, would cost about $1 million a year and would create housing for no one;

WHEREAS, in the past two years, the Salem Housing Authority’s Homeless Rental Assistance Program (HRAP) has placed more than 100 chronically homeless individuals in permanent supportive housing;

WHEREAS, in addition to more permanent supportive housing, Salem also needs a “low-barrier” shelter facility;

WHEREAS, as City staff acknowledges in the staff report outlining the proposed organized tent-camping program, “[t]he City’s resources needed to support paid staffing of an organized temporary shelter/campsite would be better invested in a low-barrier shelter or the HRAP program”;

WHEREAS, the City is facing an approximately $16.2 million annual General Fund budget deficit, and, in order to address that revenue shortfall, the City Council (a) enacted an ordinance establishing an “operations fee” to be collected through utility billing and (b) referred a proposed employee-paid payroll tax to the voters in the May 2020 election;

WHEREAS, organized tent-camping puts no one in housing, does not constitute shelter under HUD regulations, is expensive to operate and has high “lost opportunity” costs, and many of those who are chronically homeless either will not, or cannot, participate in such programs;

WHEREAS, the Central Area Neighborhood Downtown Organization (CANDO) is a neighborhood association created by the City of Salem and, as such, has legal standing in all land use matters within its boundaries and also is asked by the City and other jurisdictions to comment on a variety of matters important to the community;

WHEREAS, two of the favored sites identified by City staff as suitable for an organized tent-camping program are in CANDO;

WHEREAS, in 2016, the City of Salem helped launch the Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative “to identify and launch proven strategies to reduce homelessness” in the region; 

WHEREAS, on September 9, 2019, the City Council authorized a Memorandum of Agreement to create a Development Council to oversee and manage the development of a local continuum of care (aka “Mid-Willamette Valley Homeless Alliance”) for purposes of receiving much-needed homeless assistance funding through HUD’s Continuum of Care Program;

WHEREAS, a city-sponsored organized camping program is inconsistent with
a. CANDO’s goal to “Support initiatives offering practical solutions for neighbors living on the streets”;
b. the mission and purpose of the Homeless Rental Assistance Program;
c. the mission and purpose of the Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative;
d. the mission and purpose of the Mid-Willamette Valley Homeless Alliance.  
NOW. THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that CANDO recommends to the City Council AGAINST using public funds and resources, including city property, to establish and /or administer an organized camping program. 

ADOPTED by the CANDO Board of Directors, this 18th day of February, 2020.

ATTEST:

CANDO Secretary/Treasurer

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

2/18/20 Minutes


Members: Valerie Freeman, Richard McGinty, M. Bryant Baird, Deb Comini, Jim Griggs
Organizations: Raleigh Kirschman, UGM
City, County and State Representatives: none
Guests: Jan Kailuweit, Alan Alexander

Prior to commencement of the meeting, Michael Livingston recognized the long service of former board chair Bruce Hoffman, who resigned this week, and the service of former board members Bob Hanna, Bill Holmstrom and Jaqui Eicher.

The regular meeting of the CANDO Board of Directors was called to order at 6:00 p.m., on Tuesday, February 18, 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 and January meetings were approved unanimously.  

The board heard a presentation by Alan Alexander on Salem Parks Foundation’s grant program for neighborhood parks.  SPF grants operate exclusively through neighborhood associations.  SPF has adjusted the timing of its grant application period with that of the Salem Parks Improvement Fund to allow neighborhood associations time to find out whether or not they will be receiving a SPIF grant (the Foundation provides matching funds for SPIF grants as well as for independent projects). SPF also provides small (non-matching) grants for projects like picnic tables, benches and trash receptacles (in the $2-$4K).  

Michael’s motion to adopt CANDO Resolution 20-1 (recommending against City-sponsored organized camping) and Sarah’s motion to allocate $150 from communications fund for use of the Ike Box Ballroom for CANDO’s 2/23 Ward 1 Candidates Forum both passed unanimously.

There being no further business before the board, the Chair adjourned the meeting at 6:12  p.m.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

No More Allowing Homelessness!

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston


The "Mayor says no excuse for allowing homelessness" at his State of the City address.  See Barreda, V. "Salem Mayor: Sit/lie ordinance needed to clear downtown streets."  (12 February 2020, Statesman Journal.)

In what KYKN's Brent DeHart called "the most definitive statement, the most commanding leadership I've ever seen Chuck Bennett do", the Mayor has declared that recent efforts to bring more homeless housing and resources to Salem  "remove any barrier or excuse for anyone to claim that camping on our community’s sidewalks represents a needed choice or situation."

Anyone?  Really?  Cause Chuck says so, that's it?

It seems the Statesman Journal wasn't persuaded, because the next day, Bennett's statement was called into question with a quote from Jimmy Jones, Director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, who told SJ that "though there are many resources, he would disagree the only reason the estimated 900 unsheltered people in the area would stay outside 'in this environment' is because of choice."

The only homeless resources that have come on line since November 25, 2019, when City Council removed the sit-lie provisions from Ordinance bill 10-19, is the 19-space overnight Safe Sleep program for women.  It was immediately at capacity.  The ARCHES Project is set to expand space and services (but not hours) on March 1.  Everything else is months, if not years, away.

Bennett's been caught and corrected more than once before this for saying the people living on the streets downtown are homelessness by choice because of all the services available to them, so the fact that he keeps saying it must mean that either he truly believes it, or he thinks if he says it often enough, people will come to believe it.  Those are the times we live in.

Bennett knows the "homeless by choice" meme is needed to make sit-lie acceptable.  Ditto the meme that "sit-lie ordinances push people into shelters" and programs, which he was claiming in his recent interview on KYKN.  Otherwise, sit-lie is too obviously cruel (not that being cruel necessarily bothers Bennett, but the appearance of it's not good politics in Salem).

Bennett needs four councilors to vote with him on sit-lie, and he has only three.  Councilors Nanke, Lewis and Hoy all voted in November not to take sit-lie out of Ordinance Bill 10-19.  He can't get Councilors Ausec, Leung or Nordyke because they see sit-lie for what it is.  Judging by his performance during the State of the City address, he hasn't been able to persuade Councilors Andersen or Kaser and just wants everyone to know he's not to blame if sit-lie fails to pass (again).  He wins either way.   

Bennett acknowledged in his KYKN interview that "we can't meet the need for the folks down there [at Rite Aid, etc.] with the right kind of place for them to go", and that "a lot of this comes from trauma, and mental health issues, and serious addiction...and I don't disagree that that's the problem."  So, lest there be any doubt, Bennett knows the facts.  He just doesn't let them get in his  way.


The Sit-Lie Controversy
in a Nutshell

People who believe sitting and lying on downtown sidewalks, etc. should be prohibited:
  • buy in to the "homeless by choice" meme,
  • seek to force law-abiding adults conform to their norms,
  • are not primarily concerned for the safety and well-being of the people living on the sidewalks,
  • may believe doing so will force them to engage in services,
  • believe that engaging in services means getting off the streets.

However, people experiencing street homelessness:
  • can be engaged in services and still living on the streets,
  • can be staying in an overnight shelter, and yet be on the streets during the day,
  • live with toxic stress,
  • are driven by overwhelming fear and anxiety, and the attendant desire for relief,
  • may live with mental illness and/or addiction,
  • may do bad things,
  • and yet have human and civil rights to self-determination.

Salem is not in China or Russia.

So people who would like to try to force law-abiding adults to conform to their norms should:
  • accept that criminalizing (i.e., prohibiting) non-conforming behavior will not force people into services or off the streets,
  • suspend their blame and judgment,
  • and focus on harm reduction and supporting trained professionals as they continue to offer housing and services to those living on the streets downtown.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Council Sets Ambitious 2020 Policy Agenda

Revised 19 February 2020

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston


Originally published 2/14/20 under the title "Homeless Crisis Meets 2020 Policy Agenda."  Revisions reflect actual events of the work session.

The work session on the 2020 Policy Agenda was originally scheduled for January 21, 2020, but things kinda got out of hand with the emergency declaration that had been tacked onto the agenda the week before, and the 2020 Policy Agenda was postponed.

Deliberations on annual Council Policy Agendas are not supposed to open with emergency declarations.  Policy agendas are about planning, and emergency declarations and appropriations are, well, the opposite.  So it was probably a good thing that it was postponed, even though the emergency continues through March 31.  

The policy agenda replaces the "wish list" in the budget process.  It's supposed to encourage discipline and restraint.  The wish-listy items covered in this year's staff report came from a  November 18, 2019 work session.  The idea behind the policy agenda was to let staff know what to focus on in the coming year, and give staff a chance to tell councilors what's wrong with their proposals before they're put in the budget.  Sometimes, the strategy works.    

In attendance were Mayor Bennett and Councilors Ausec, Hoy, Nordyke, Nanke and Kaser.  Lewis, Andersen and Leung were absent.

Council added a "single property urban renewal area" (the 10 acres set aside for multifamily) for affordable housing, removed organized camping (new $) as "we've already voted against it."  They went against staff recommendation and retained both the sobering center and the mobile crisis response unit (new $).  They retained the low-barrier shelter/nav center (new $) and deferred expanding the work of the Downtown Clean Team (new $).


The mobile crisis response unit or "Community Response Unit" (CRU) as United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley is calling its pilot project (see various project updates in the Downtown Good Neighbor Partnership meeting notes here).  CRU is  currently expected to begin July 1 and end October 30 and cost about $500K/yr to operate.  United Way is actively fund-raising for the van.  CRU will not be sustainable without funding from the City, which logically would come from the police or fire departments, something neither Chief Moore nor Chief Niblock appear to support. 

Bennett wanted to know how CRU would fit with the Marion County LEAD program.  Chief Moore advised the Council that the LEAD program was simply "a couple of individuals who go out on the streets and try to contact probably almost everyone there and trying to perhaps convince them to better their lives and try and get into some sort of treatment or something to defeat the demons that might keep them on the streets."

Staff essentially recommended that the City trade its 2017 sobering center wish for the shelter/nav center, but Bennett, Nordyke and Kaser wanted to keep the sobering center despite being told the project was effectively "dead" due to the $.5M/yr operations funding gap.  Bennett said he was concerned not to "lose the impetus of having the space" for it at 615 Commercial Street (aka The ARCHES Project building).  For the story of the apocryphal sobering center, see "Let's Make a Sobering Deal" (1 December 2017);  "Sobering Thoughts" (15 June 2018);  "Sobering Center Sustainable?" (10 November 2018);  "Sobering Ctr Operating Gap Widens" (13 January 2019);  "City to Build Despite Ops Funding Gap" (25 January 2019);  "City Admits Sobering Ctr Might Be 'Unattainable'" (12 March 2019).

Portland Central Concern recently closed its Portland sobering facility and ended its van transport service, citing "concerns for the safety of patients and staff, who they said were no longer able to give the level of medical care required by most people who arrived at the center."  See Bailey, E. "Central City Concern closes Portland sobering station."  (6 January 2010, The Columbian.) 

The agency said they received more and more patients in the midst of a mental crisis, agitated from opioid or meth use or a combination of both, leading to increased safety risks.

“More and more, we’re seeing people ending up in the sobering center when they should be in places where they can be given medication and a higher level of monitoring until their crisis subsides,” Dr. Amanda Risser, Central City Concern’s senior medical director of substance use disorder services told The Oregonian/OregonLive in an interview last week. “We don’t have medicine, we don’t have padded safety rooms and we don’t have the resources at the sobering center to do the hands-on intervention that happens in psychiatric centers. It just isn’t an acceptable risk anymore.”

She said the agency recently implemented new screening criteria for accepting patients that weeded out people at high risk to threaten or harm themselves or others.

Risser said the station accepted eight to 10 people a day before the new screening was implemented and but just two to three afterward.


possible site of low barrier shelter at 1185 22d St SE
Regarding the low-barrier shelter, the staff report speculated that the City "could partner with a non-profit service provider for operations and possibly contribute to operational costs through general fund grants or TOT grants" (emphasis added).  Staff estimate a 100 bed low-barrier shelter would cost $1.36M/yr to staff and maintain.  That's over and above the cost to lease/purchase.  As with the sobering center before it, staff are encouraging councilors to hope that "there may be state funding available to support operations."  In addition to the low-barrier overnight shelter, the City's hoping to fund a (separate) 24/7 navigation center, probably in what's known as the ARCHES building at 615 Commercial Street NE.  The nav center would probably include 30-40 low-barrier beds for clients enrolled in ARCHES housing programs.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Chuck Bennett: State of the City

Note: below is the text of the Mayor's State of the City address put out through Flash Alert.  It is not a verbatim transcript.  To find out what he said, watch/hear the CCTV video here.

Thank you all for coming today… And our thanks in particular to the Sprague High School String Quartet.

Before I begin, I’d like to introduce members of the Salem City Council:

Councilor Cara Kaser – Ward 1 [absent]
Councilor Tom Andersen – Ward 2
Councilor Brad Nanke – Ward 3
Councilor Chris Hoy – Ward 6
Councilor Vanessa Nordyke – Ward 7
Councilor Jim Lewis – Ward 8

Unfortunately, Ward 4 Councilor Jackie Leung and Ward 5 Councilor Matt Ausec, were unable to be with us today.

Also present today are Salem’s City Manager, Steve Powers, and City of Salem department heads. I’d like to ask ALL City of Salem staff to stand and be recognized.

Now, I’d like to acknowledge other elected officials present and ask you to stand.

I especially want to thank the Chamber of Commerce, City Club and downtown Rotary for sponsoring this event. Each year you give our community an opportunity to hear how their city is doing – where it’s been and a look at some of the places it’s going. I particularly want to express appreciation for the prayer from Pastor John Lipton of the Capital Baptist Church on our behalf. It’s an inspiring way to end and begin our year.

As Mayor, it’s my honor and responsibility to present this report.

Each year, the city hears through a city-wide poll of our residents, the issues of most concern to them. This year was no exception. Overriding every other issue was homelessness and its impact on our city. It’s one that is on the radar of every community in the country especially here on the West Coast.

The clear, unambiguous response in Salem was simple – solve it. No excuses, no half measures, no ducking or weaving or hiding its impact on our streets, neighborhoods, business community or the general morale of the city we all love.

To describe it as an enormous challenge for city government is an understatement. The city is constituted to provide services like fire and emergency life-saving actions, police protection, water and sewer, a library, parks, planning, code enforcement and an environment that results in a robust economy. Direct social services have not been part of that mix. But today it is an essential element in meeting the needs of many homeless residents.

I can report to you that we have been successfully realigning our mission to meet this challenge.

Today, Salem provides homes for over 8,000 individuals. These are low-income or homeless residents.

The city also maintains a healthy policy of affordable housing development in the private sector.

Our Housing Rental Assistance Program (HRAP) is housing over 269 of our hardest-to-house residents. These are folks who have been unsheltered for at least 10 years and dealing with combinations of health, addiction, trauma, criminal convictions and unemployment. Using the HRAP program, I announced in my first State of the City address three years ago, we have placed them in private apartments with wrap-around services in a program that is the largest dispersed housing first program in the state. The cooperation between our Housing Authority and the Arches program is one that is being studied by many other local governments.

Work is underway today to add another 180 units of housing for this same group. These units and the associated services will deal with post-hospitalization needs in cooperation with Salem Health as well as mental health and other issues that have kept them unhoused.

We are working with this Session of the State Legislature to greatly enhance the work of the city and Community Action Agency to add a badly needed Navigation Center to its services. This will include greatly enhanced programs, services and direct assistance to meet additional needs and connections. It is planned to include a 24-hour-a day room, meals and shelter for 40 more homeless residents.

We also have joined with other local governments to create the regional homeless initiative in Marion and Polk counties, which is focused on increasing the amount of federal dollars coming into our area to deal specifically with homeless issues and individuals.

This work is coupled with a substantially enlarged Union Gospel Mission under construction, housing at the downtown Center for Hope and Safety serving abused women and families, the large network of warming shelters provided by our faith communities, Grace House and other housing options being developed by United Way. All of this offers any unhoused person in Salem an alternative to camping on our public streets.

In total, these responses remove any barrier or excuse for anyone to claim that camping on our community’s sidewalks represents a needed choice or situation.  It should finally enable the City Council to follow the clear advice from our City Manager and Police Chief to enact a sit/lie ordinance. It is untenable that after decades of work and tens of millions of dollars to preserve our historic downtown as the vibrant commercial and residential center of this region. It is being jeopardized by the current unnecessary use of our public sidewalks for permanent, 24-7 unsheltered living space with all of the attendant health and safety problems and costs [applause]. There are no more excuses for letting this situation continue. The council needs to heed our police chief’s advice to enact a sit/lie ordinance.  [And they have the opportunity on the 24th.]

I’d now like to turn to the variety of other city activities.

Let’s start with the great news. Our city economy is booming. Our unemployment rate is at a historic low. Construction permit activity remains at a five-year high for all construction types including commercial, industrial and residential projects. In total, about $600 million worth of construction was either completed or underway this past year.

Our city, now the second largest in Oregon, is a magnet for new residents looking for a high quality of life in an affordable home or apartment and a great community to either raise a family or grow old. Preferably both.

We are effectively using the federally developed Opportunity Zone programs and our first major project will be rising from the former location of the Marion Auto Garage on Commercial Street across from the Convention Center. By the way, the Convention Center itself will be adding additional space over the next year. The new project is a badly needed seven-story downtown hotel beginning construction this summer. It will serve the needs of the burgeoning convention and tourist trade in Salem.

There is a housing boom underway in Salem. From July 2018 to June 2019 the city issued permits for 317 apartment units and in 2019, 429 permits were issue for single family and duplex units.

The downtown is thriving. Throughout last year we saw new businesses locate or expand downtown and there are several more in planning or under construction. It totaled $17 million of completed new housing, commercial and office buildings on or adjacent to our riverfront. Our urban renewal grants continue to encourage private investment in our downtown. Perhaps the most visible project is the construction of 146 micro-unit apartments on the old McMahon’s site that had been vacant for a decade. The Nordstrom site has been sold to a local team and is actively working on leasing.

Western Oregon University has purchased the Vick Building on Ferry Street and will focus its higher education offerings to working professionals with most classes in the evening including a Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership. Add to that Willamette University’s agreement with Claremont School of Theology to relocate to Salem as part of the historic university’s expanding educational opportunities.
The city also is celebrating the 15th year of the Salem Convention Center opening. In that time, it has had 1.2 million event attendees, and made more than $51 million in total net revenue. It is hosting 580 events each year. Over 103,000 attendees visit and explore Salem and actively visit downtown shops, restaurants and historic sites.

This is only part of our exploding tourist trade which saw 2.5 million people visiting this area. The estimated income from this sector alone is $603 million of economic impact and signals the 11th consecutive year of growth. It also generated $4.4 million in TOT taxes, which go to support the growth of tourism, maintenance of our historic sites and homes, and support art and cultural activities. These programs include the Salem Art Association, Willamette Heritage Center, Deepwood, Bush House, Discovery Village, the Historic Elsinore, the Hallie Ford Art Gallery, and the Multi-cultural Center and its annual World Beat Festival, which has joined the Salem Art Fair as regional events.
The city is in the process of completing its feasibility study for downtown, evaluating the demand for high-speed broadband and/or free WiFi.

As I mentioned, the Union Gospel Mission is underway with its new facility in North Downtown across the street from the new Police Station, which will open in September. UGM will be vacating its current site, which the city is purchasing along with the Saffron hardware building and has slated for future redevelopment. And we can now see the outlines of the new YMCA being built at State and Cottage.
Industrial development at the Mill Creek Industrial site continues with two recent projects of 110,000 square feet of commercial office buildings being developed by PacTrust. At the same time, the Oregon Court of Appeals has affirmed a Land Use Board of Appeals decision sending back the City Council denial of the COSTCO move from its current location to South Salem for a review for further council action. Amazon has begun operations in its million-square-foot building and has announced additional space being located at the Panasonic building on Gaffin Road across Highway 22.

Urban Renewal Grants are supporting the Ochoa Queseria’s expansion onto Portland Road and are being used to support new development at Wallace and Glenn Creek, West Salem Machine’s purchase of new equipment, a new sports rehab facility, Xicha Restaurant and brewing and a whole list of other projects.

And in the economic development arena, the city is also finalizing its Salem Airport Business Plan which will be presented soon to the City Council.

Food processing has been an important piece of Salem’s economy for more than 100 years. Food processors have faced substantial challenges. The most notable example has been the bankruptcy and now sale of NORPAC. Most of the company’s assets in Salem have been sold to Lineage Logistics. Plans now will include a lease of the Salem plant. At this point about half of the NORPAC workers are back on the job and employment is expected to be back to the original 480 by spring. There’s a substantial effort to assist all workers seeking new opportunities as well.

In 2019, the city worked with Oregon Fruit in its move to a new facility and with new equipment and efficiencies allowing them to diversify product types and expand operations.

There has been a tremendous effort in our Fire Department to improve its cardiac arrest save rate. I want to report that it has been a tremendous success. The save rate hit 50% while the national average is 32%. And a new protocol being used by only four other cities in the nation is going to increase that save rate to as high as 80%. The department and Fire Foundation, through its schools programs, has trained nearly 18,000 local kids and parents in CPR and the use of AEDs in the past five years. The Pulse Point app now has 17,000 users in Salem with nearly 9,000 CPR responders ready to help save their co-workers and neighbors in an emergency. In addition, the department has led the way in developing a community wide resiliency plan and is working toward informing 30,000 youngsters and parents on needed supplies for sheltering in place for up to two weeks in case of community wide emergency. This program will be broadening into a wide range of community actions and planning needed in these dire cases.

Besides the completion of the new police facility coming this year, the big news was the retirement of Police Chief Gerry Moore. The Chief has agreed to stay on for a while, but the hiring process for a replacement, if there can ever be one, will begin this Spring. No pressure on the new guy. In addition, the police continue to work closely with neighborhood associations, Coffee with a Cop and the Citizen Police Academy. The behavioral health unit in the department has expanded to four officers to assist folks in emotional crisis.

Salem has had tremendous success working with our legislative delegation on a range of local issues. In last year’s session, the city secured a $20 million grant for our drinking water system and is seeking another $10 million to finance additional sources for city water beyond the North Santiam River. The integrity of the drinking water system is now secure from any algal influences. We want to thank the delegation and particularly Senate President Peter Courtney for this work.

Rep. Brian Clem was able to secure $100,000 to move the Peace Mosaic from the old YMCA wall to Riverfront Park. Other state allocations included $250,000 for Liberty House and a $1 million grant for the Gerry Frank/Rotary Amphitheater being developed by the Rotary Club.

The city is currently seeking about $7 million from the Legislature in cooperation with the Community Action Agency to meet additional local homeless needs with a substantially enlarged project that will include a Navigation Center and additional service and shelter spaces.

The city’s Blight to Bright initiative, being managed by the code enforcement section of Community Development, has made major strides in more rapidly removing blighted properties and using lien funds to improve these derelict or dangerous buildings that blight our neighborhoods. This is a tremendous program that benefits all our neighborhoods where abandoned properties have a substantial negative impact. I expect we will see more action on this front and are likely to add to the code enforcement budget by adding a dedicated specialist in this area.

Also in community development, our planning department is well underway with the Our Salem comprehensive planning project. This is the first major review of the city’s comprehensive plan in over 40 years and will help shape our growth areas and patterns for years to come. The visioning process was kicked off this summer and has included more than 75 community events, meetings and gatherings. The outcome of this will be out in March. It will be the foundation of the new plan. I can’t tell you how important this process is to the long-term livability of this community on all levels. Many of the successes and failures we face today in growth and its impacts are the result of long-term planning decisions made in the 1970’s. I can’t stress enough how important this is to Salem’s future.

Community development, through its planning side, also is completing its multifamily housing design project to make it easier to develop badly needed multi-family housing. The department also is working on the Historic Preservation Plan and has worked closely with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde to arrive at a memorandum of understanding that will be extended to the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz and the Warm Springs.

It also is completing planning work on the following projects:
 
East Park development of 695 homes at the site of the former Pictsweet property off Cordon Road, a 264 unit complex on the old state hospital north campus, and a 312 unit apartment complex at Linwood and Orchard Heights in West Salem.

And there are several other multi-unit complexes, including one at the old Fairview Training center for 180-units of apartments.

Just to summarize, the nationally recognized building and safety section department has completed 9,656 permits, and 20,178 inspections on units valued at almost $419 million.

The library has moved into the old Capitol Press building on Broadway as the City Library site is undergoing major seismic renovation. This year they turned on automatic renewal of items and are looking seriously at eliminating all fines and parking fees.

Perhaps the most difficult area of activity in the city to summarize quickly is the substantial impact our Public Works Department has on all of our basic quality of life programs. These include transportation including streets, sidewalks, crosswalks, traffic safety generally; climate action planning; city construction project oversight, like the new police station building; library improvements; our water supply and delivery system; and our sewer and storm drain systems.

Let me just hit some highlights and, believe me, given the amount of work being done by this department it really is only highlights:
  • Developing a strategy to protect our water supply from potential water quantity shortfalls to algal blooms. They have done them all. New treatment systems and a substantial new well system are awaiting funding this year.
  • Playing a key role in development of a city Climate Action Plan through an audit of both the city’s actions and the community’s environment including Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
  • Continuing the city’s sidewalk replacement program along with various rehabilitation programs to meet Americans with Disability standards
  • Overseeing and planning of the library and police facilities in every detail including street improvements at the police site.
  • Launching a new on-line Pedestrian Crossings program and leveraging state and federal money to pay for work on 6 new crossing projects in 2020 and completing two major ones on Commercial and Brown roads.
  • Overseeing the city streetlight program, including installing new lights.
  • Overseeing the city parks including two major parks property acquisitions at Hazelgreen Road and Rees Hill Road adding collectively over 60 new acres of future park land. And have in progress purchases on D street, and Reed Road.
  • Establishing a city tree canopy assessment and new targets for city tree coverage and inventory. They found 42,892 street trees in Salem. They also partnered with Friends of trees to plan 525 large trees and 5,645 small trees or shrubs.
  • Overseeing two major parks construction projects, the Gerry Frank Amphitheatre and a new restroom facility on the north end of Riverfront Park. Both get underway this spring and summer.
  • Guiding the Pringle Creek restoration project including major stream bed reshaping and restoration and ground work on connecting existing paths under Commercial Street to Riverfront park.
  • Developing electricity cogeneration with PGE that produces 1,200 kilowatts of renewable power by burning the biogas produced as a byproduct of wastewater treatment at Willow Lake. This saves the city over $300,000 per year.
I want to mention a couple of other successes in our community that deserve note as we think about the State of Salem.

We are blessed to have one of the finest hospitals in the country and you only need to see the accolades it receives nationally to recognize that. As you’ve probably seen, the hospital is adding a new wing to hold another 150 beds on top of its current 490 beds. That wing is expected to help meet the 30 percent population growth rate we expect over the next 20 years. In addition, the hospital continues to be our largest private employer with 5,000 employees and an economic impact of about $1.35 billion. As we work on our Aging in Place strategy in Salem, one of the major areas we found in cooperation with AARP and Center 50+ was that quality, comprehensive health care is a major issue for independent living of seniors along with transportation, social participation, outdoor participation and engagement, communications,  affordable housing, civic and community support and again – health care. The hospital recognizes this fact and the community’s needs.

I also want to recognize the tremendous work being done by our Transit District, Cherriots. Since September, when the district added Saturday and later evening service, ridership as substantially increased. Weekday ridership is up over 10 percent from last year. Total weekday ridership has reached 1,064,000 this year with the new Saturday service reaching over 100,000 riders since September. Full Fare 30-day bus passes are up 14 percent, Youth Fare 30-day passes jumped 57.2 percent. As we begin to deal with congestion and gas emissions in our city, this is nothing but good news and a tribute to the new board and its efforts.

I hope you find the progress this community is making on all fronts as exciting as I do. With the kind of can-do, volunteer, professional, business and non-profit service underway in this community. I am convinced, no issue no matter how troubling, difficult or challenging we face, we can and will be overcome. And I want to assure you that your city government and elected officials at the city, county and state level will continue to meet the goals you set for us. Nothing is beyond our means or our dreams in every aspect of our community life. So I hope you will all join me in facing 2020 with conviction and a spirit of Getter Done. And I promise you I will be here again next year to give you a report on how it went.

Thank you again for your attention and support.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Council Votes to Keep Camping Ban Intact, Bring Sit Lie Back

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston


Bennett, Leung, Nanke and Kaser voting against on 1/27/2020
To no one's surprise, not one of the five councilors who voted in favor of
Councilor Andersen's motion to direct staff to return with a proposal lifting the camping ban in some areas ended up voting in favor of it. 
Salem Breakfast on Bikes described the staff proposal this way:  "on the surface it does not look like a fully baked proposal. Instead it looks like spitballing another 'idea for consideration.'"

"Spitballing" if you don't know (we didn't) has come to mean "throwing out ideas for discussion, brainstorming, expressing solutions to a problem in order to see how they are received."  But to some of us, "spitballing" is still a small, nasty way of dissing someone.

From the staff report: "It is extremely difficult to predict the specific effects or consequences of the proposal...increase to the number of campsites...Some [but not all] individuals currently staying on the sidewalks within the downtown area may relocate...Nothing in the proposal would prevent individuals from continuing to reside on downtown sidewalks. Without additional authority to regulate the current behavior in the downtown, it is unlikely the behaviors will be reduced [you must enact sit-lie]...substantial impacts on neighboring properties...potential cost to the City for the associated clean-ups and responses to any camp that is deemed a nuisance...The proposal would create enforcement challenges for staff in determining what properties and areas are subject to camping restrictions. Additional costs and delayed enforcement will result from not having distinct and easily identifiable boundaries. This challenge will also apply to people who wish to camp and will not know the areas the camping restrictions apply."  The map illustrates the problem.


At 8:45, after spending well over an hour on Multi-family housing design (emphasis on balconies and parking) Councilor Andersen moved to lift the ban outside of downtown, residential areas and parks.  Second by Councilor Ausec.  Councilors Hoy and Nanke spoke against the motion.  The Mayor called on Chief Moore for a report and recommendation, which was to enact sit-lie.  Councilor Lewis spoke against the motion, saying with reference to the map that it "it defies common sense", spoke to the need for a low-barrier shelter, and called on the Council to enact sit-lie.  Mayor Bennett turned Lewis's comments into a substitute motion.  Hoy asked the City Manager for a report on negotiations with the state (ongoing).  Mayor Bennett said that the problem was not having a sit-lie ordinance.  Andersen asked whether the City had identified a location for a shelter and navigation center (yes).  Andersen asked about the potential for legal challenges to a sit-lie ordinance, and was reassured by City Attorney Dan Atchison that there was not a problem with the constitutionality of the twice-rejected sit-lie ordinance. Councilor Nordyke called on Mid-Willamette Community Action Agency's Executive Director Jimmy Jones to speak to the effects of lifting the camping ban (it probably won't empty the sidewalks outside Rite Aid).  Councilor Lewis spoke against the main motion and in favor of his substitute motion.  Andersen and Bennett engaged in a back and forth about what to do, Bennett insisting that shelter beds are available.  City Manager Powers intervened and called on Salem Housing Authority Administrator Nicole Utz to speak to the number of available shelter beds (system is basically at capacity).  Andersen again called on Jones to speak to the question of shelter bed availability, following which, Bennett asked Andersen "At what point do you look at your downtown streets and say when is the time to clean this mess up?"  He then moved a substitute motion to bring sit-lie back at the next Council meeting, and initiated a heated exchanged with Andersen.  Councilor Kaser said she would not support either motion, saying she felt that everyone was being very "reactionary."  She said she didn't know what the way forward was, but she urged the Council not "do anything tonight."  Councilor Leung expressed exasperation with the situation in specific detail, adding that "saying we do have enough shelter is a big lie."  Hoy commented on the lack of "an overall strategy."  Nanke indicated he favored sit-lie.  Nordyke spoke against sit-lie, saying it would bring litigation costs and "wouldn't work", saying "Did a camping ban work?  No."  She urged looking to the long term and for Council not try to kill each other in the mean time.  Bennett said he didn't hear any other solution than sit-lie.  Andersen agreed the issue was to find a short term solution, and clarified that the Mayor's substitute motion was to bring back sit-lie.  (Sit-lie was last rejected 25 November 2020 and Council rules provide a 6-month wait before bringing a matter back -- unless five councilors agree to do so.)  The Mayor's substitute motion passed with Ausec, Nordyke, Leung and Kaser voting against.     

   
See Harrell, S. "Left with few options, the Salem City Council reconsiders banning sitting, lying on sidewalks."  (11 February 2020, Salem Reporter.) and Whitworth, W. "Homelessness in Salem: City Council to revisit controversial sit-lie ordinance."  (11 February 2020, Statesman Journal.)

Virginia Stapleton, State of the City

By Virginia Stapleton


Before sharing my thoughts on the State of the City, I want you to know a little about me.

I was born and raised in Salem and have lived in Ward 1 for twelve years. I’ve been married to my husband Isaak for eighteen years, and together we are raising two wonderful daughters.

Since we moved to Ward 1 Isaak and I have been committed to community service. We ran our Neighborhood Watch program and coordinated National Night Out for many years. I'm proud to have been a founding Board Member of the Englewood Forest Festival and President of the Englewood Elementary Parent Teacher Club. Today I am a member of the Salem-Keizer School District Budget Committee.

Now I'm running to become a member of the Salem City Council replacing my friend Cara Kaser, who is stepping down after four years of dedicated service.

As a full time mom raising two children in Ward 1, I believe I will bring a unique perspective not represented on our City Council. As I think about the "State of the City '', the issues that draw my attention are the things that affect young families like mine.

Salem is a much better place to live now than it was when I was growing up. There are so many things we can be proud of! I also see many areas that we can improve on.

I think investment in active transportation is a big need in Ward 1. We need to fix our sidewalks and provide safe crossings for everyone who chooses to walk. A few years ago I worked with Mayor Bennett to get the flashing lights installed at the crosswalk at 19th and Market which now provides a safer route to Englewood School. We need to do more. I would like to see many more cross walks installed around the city.

Currently our bike lanes are fragmented. We need to work on connecting them and expanding their reach. I would like to see the Winter-Maple Neighborhood Greenway completed, as well as more greenways installed to connect our different neighborhoods.

I feel strongly that more investment in our parks and other green spaces is needed as we become more densely populated. And, I will also work to create a tree canopy on every street.

We need to do everything we can to support a thriving downtown where we nurture small businesses and create a vibrant place for people to live, work, and shop. And speaking of downtown, West Salem needs a better downtown! We've made a start in the Edgewater District but there is so much more we could do to create a true "main street" for West Salem.

A long term goal of mine is to redevelop our riverfront north of downtown. I would like to create a linear park connecting Riverfront Park and Keizer Rapids Park. Can you imagine the kind of development we would have on Front Street with apartments and new businesses, restaurants and a brewpub looking out on the river north of downtown? There is so much potential to make Ward 1 the most livable ward in Salem and that's what I want to work on.

Over the past few years the topic of the third bridge has been really divisive for our city. I feel I am the person to help heal some of those old wounds. My family moved to West Salem when I was five and I spent most of my life living and working in and around the West Salem area. With this experience I feel I can relate to many of our citizens who are frustrated with this issue. We need short term solutions like the recommendations from the City's Congestion Relief Task Force, and we need a long term solution for another river crossing, working with ODOT and our regional partners. I plan to work diligently on both.

Finally, we need to address the number one concern in Salem, especially in Ward 1 given its proximity to downtown, finding compassionate and effective solutions to homelessness. The current situation is 30 years in the making, and it is a direct result of policies made at national, state, and local levels. There is no one silver bullet, this situation will take time but we must continue to move in a positive direction. Our most pressing need is to create one or more low barrier warming shelters that are open when needed. I fully support the creation of a Navigation Center to direct people to the services and support they desperately need, and would love to see the creation of a Sobering Center. We also need to continue to fund the Homeless Rental Assistance Program as a long term solution. I am greatly encouraged by the formation of the new Mid-Willamette Valley Homeless Alliance that promises to provide more resources and more collaboration to address the crisis. If we can coordinate all our resources — federal, state, county and city — I'm convinced we will no longer see the level of problems our unhoused neighbors have experienced this winter.

There is a lot more I could say about the state of our city and how I want to make it become even better, though I'll stop here and say that if you want to help me achieve my goals for Ward 1, I welcome your support; I'd love to hear from you. Please go to my website, ElectVirginiaStapleton.com, to contact me and to see how you can help.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Is the White House Targeting Housing First?

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

 

From "The State of Homelessness in America"
The White House Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) has issued a report on "The State of Homelessness in America" that promises to do for Housing First  what Andrew Wakefield's "Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children" did for immunotherapy for childhood diseases.

Using a "supply and demand" lens, the report argues that the "root cause" of homelessness is inadequate housing supply, which results from zoning and other local housing regulations.  So, if you want to reduce homelessness, get rid of local housing regulations.  It also argues that shelters cause homelessness (by decreasing the demand for housing), so you don't want too many or to make them too nice.  A third cause of homelessness is "tolerability of sleeping in the streets", which the report says is tied to climate and policing.  The report questions whether there really was a 15% decline in homelessness between 2007 and 2018, but if there was, the report says, it wasn't due to Housing First or other federal efforts (see pp 24-29). 

Housing First is a recovery-oriented, harm-reduction strategy that moves people experiencing homelessness into permanent housing without preconditions and barriers to entry, such as sobriety, treatment or service participation requirements.  You could say that Housing First was a bit of a last resort after decades of trying everything else, including wars on alcohol, drugs and poverty, and insisting that the chronically homeless be "housing ready" before they could be housed.  And, the studies all show Housing First outperforms housing ready, if what you want is to get the chronically homeless stably housed.  However, the tendency to exaggerate its successes has made it vulnerable to criticism.  See, Trilling, D. "Chronic homelessness and the Housing First program: research review of how programs have worked."  (26 August 2016, Journalist's Resource.)     

One such critic is said to be Robert G. Marbut, an apparently self-taught expert in "homeless transformation", who was appointed December 4, 2019, to head the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness following the abrupt, but not unexpected, ouster of the highly respected director, Matthew Doherty, considered a champion of Housing First.

Robert G. Marbut, USICH Director (courtesy Newsedge.com)
As far as we can tell, Marbut's interest in homelessness did not come from any kind of "lived experience."  Wikipedia says Marbut received a B.A. and M.A. from a small private college in California, married, had kids, ran the 1985 and 1987 mayoral campaigns of Henry Cisneros, through whom he acquired a White House fellowship under Bush I, following which he pursued various forms of sports administration (e.g., directing the 1993 Olympic Festival and the San Antonio Spurs "sports and entertainment division").  In the late 1990s he was elected to two terms on the San Antonio City Council, divorced and remarried, and began teaching government at the local community college.  In 2003, he picked up another M.A. in government, followed by a Ph.D. in 2005, the same year that San Antonio passed ordinances targeting aggressive panhandling and public urination.

In 2006, San Antonio's Mayor formed an equivalent to Salem's Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force.  The task force "tapped Marbut...who had been helping the city coordinate its response to large numbers of New Orleans evacuees in the wake of Hurricane Katrina."  Delaney, A. "How A Traveling Consultant Helps America Hide The Homeless." (9 March 2015, HuffPost.).  In that role, Marbut advised the City to support the 23-acre Haven for Hope homeless complex which opened in 2010 with Marbut in charge.

"Texas-sized" Haven for Hope, cost $101M to build
With Haven for Hope, San Antonio "embraced a traditional model of extended shelter, while encouraging a personal transformation."  
Smith, D. "Here's how a Texas oilman's vision spawned a homeless shelter extraordinaire."  (26 August 2017, Los Angeles Times.) 

HuffPost in 2015 reported that Haven for Hope was "politically popular, despite some concerns about increased nuisance crimes in its vicinity."  At that time, "the facility had a $15 million [annual] operating budget and provided shelter for up to 1,500 people — about 500 of whom were sleeping outside in a courtyard."  IdSmith's LA Times piece provides a more detailed look at the numbers.  Although Haven for Hope seems to have made Marbut the expert in reducing street homelessness, no other city's tried to replicate it to scale.

Marbut's association with Haven for Hope and similar "housing ready" programs seems to be what gave housing and homeless services providers cause for alarm when the White House put him in charge of USICH.  See, e.g., Ockerman, E. "Trump Pick to Lead Homelessness Council Thinks Free Food Is 'Enabling'."  (4 December 2019, Vice News.)  But, Director Marbut's in a very different role now. 

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Director Marbut "opposes offering support services only after a home has been provided and wants to tie services to housing vouchers or placement", and quoted him as saying, “We need services and housing together.”

Now, there is nothing controversial about offering services before or with housingBut, if by "tie services to housing" Director Marbut means he wants to make engagement in services a precondition to housing, or necessary to retain housing, then he's essentially saying he wants federal policy to revert to a "housing ready" standard.  But, that's not what he he told the WSJ.  What he told the WSJ was "he doesn’t want to argue over definitions of Housing First because its meaning has changed over time."  Kesling, B. "New Homelessness Czar Takes Aim at Longstanding Policy."  (1 February 2020, Wall Street Journal)

There's irony here.  The fact is, many homeless housing providers would secretly agree with Marbut about the need for preconditions (e.g., be assessed, get your i.d., clear a UA, pass a criminal background check, take a Rent Well class, go to an orientation, talk to WorkSource Oregon, leave your pet, leave your stuff, leave your partner, leave your adolescent male child, leave your gender identity, recover from surgery, recover from addiction, take your meds, apply for benefits, designate a third-party payee, etc.).  Such preconditions, in effect, require most people to engage in services.  Providers claim their programs are Housing First, because that's what gets them funded, but, as a practical matter, they're merely Housing Firstish.  That's why Marbut's right when he says the meaning has changed over time.

The CEA report referred to above states that HUD's Continuum of Care Program "maintains a commitment to providing housing with no preconditions to program participants."  But the report also points out that, in 2020, programs would be allowed to impose "service participation requirements for participants after they have been stabilized in housing", and that, in future, HUD would be putting greater emphasis on "self-sufficiency."  Is this a change?  Or is policy merely reflecting what providers are already doing,? 

Bear in mind that Consultant Marbut was not professionally trained, and the lens through which he saw homelessness was comparatively narrow.  When professionals think of homelessness, they tend to think about either the particular population they serve (e.g., students, disabled, DV victims, elderly, chronic), or the entire panoply.  Consultant Marbut, a former City Councilor, was hired to meet the needs of city officials, business owners, police and sheriff departments.

Consultant Marbut's job was to find short-term "solutions" for cities -- like Salem, only bigger and richer -- who were "grappling" with their visible "street homeless", whom he tended to see as able-bodied individuals, more or less capable of "self-sufficiency" with the right tools and incentives.  He believed that "Having a home is not the problem for the homeless. It’s maintaining a financial stability that allows you to maintain your homestead."   See Stephens, A. "Cities Are Hiring This Controversial Homelessness Consultant."  (31 March 2015, Next City.)  Mid-Willamette Community Action Agency Director Jimmy Jones estimates that maybe one quarter of Salem's 1,000 unsheltered homeless fit Consultant Marbut's description, and none of them are in the group outside Rite-Aid.    

In 2014, Consultant Marbut told NPR,

[C]ities first go from doing nothing. And that doesn't work, and it hurts the economy and the individuals that are homeless are having problems. Then they overreact. They pendulize to the extreme other side and start arresting everybody and criminalizing. Then they find out that doesn't work. And that's about the point in time I get the call. 

Consultant Marbut began his study of homelessness by pretending he was living on the streets.  The experience led him to conclude that cities should discourage "street feeding" because "if you give food on the street, you end up in a very convoluted way, but still an important way, you end up preventing people [street homeless] from going into 24/7 programming", which he considered necessary to their recovery.  Few professionals would argue with that view, assuming the availability of 24/7 programming for street homeless, which not every community has.  Right now, Salem just has the Union Gospel Mission. 

Over the course of "visiting 237 homeless service providers in 12 states and the District of Columbia", Consultant Marbut developed "Seven Guiding Principles of Homeless Transformation."  (They are set out at the end of the post.)  He offered them to cities as a "measuring stick" for reviewing the work of homeless service providers and "moving [them] from enablement to engagement."  Professionals concerned about Director Marbut's intentions find Consultant Marbut's principles shocking.

In December 2019, Diane Yentel, president of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, described Consultant Marbut's seven principles as "paternalistic, patronizing, [and] filled with poverty blaming/shaming."  A number of Yentel's followers agreed with that assessment, particularly as applied to principles 4 and 5, which advocate rewarding positive behavior, and ensuring consequences for negative behavior.

However, if you believe your target population to be "able-bodied individuals, more or less capable of 'self-sufficiency' with the right tools and incentives", a policy of rewarding positive behavior and ensuring consequences for negative behavior is hardly outside the professional mainstream.  

None of this is to suggest Consultant Marbut hasn't given cause for concern.  As the five-minute clip below explains, he apparently claimed, without evidence, to have cut street homelessness by 80-90% in St. Petersburg and Clearwater, Florida, he doesn't know enough about the federally mandated Homeless Management Information System to realize it's a complete shambles, and his Pinellas Safe Harbor "jail diversion" program was described in a 2014 report to the United Nations Committee Against Torture as a “cruel, inhuman, and degrading.”   

courtesy ytCropper


At the end of the day, the current administration isn't any more or less interested in ending homelessness (homelessness was not mentioned in the 2020 State of the Union address, for instance) than prior ones have been.  Homeless policy, like immigration policy, remains an unsettled area, full of contentious issues that carry significant blame-shifting, divisive and destructive potential.  If what one's interested in is a law-and-order, deregulation agenda, homeless policy's the perfect vehicle.  See, e.g., Levin, S.  "'They've turned their back on us' California's homeless crisis grows in numbers and violence."  (27 December 2019, The Guardian.)  Cities and states who don't like that ride can and should set their own policies.  See, e.g., Evans, W. N., D.C. Phillips, and K. Ruffini, K."Reducing and Preventing Homelessness: A Review of the Evidence and Charting a Research Agenda."  (July 2019, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab.) 




Consultant Marbut's 

Seven Guiding Principles of Homeless Transformation



1. Move to a Culture of Transformation (versus the Old Culture of Warehousing):

Homeless individuals must be engaged and no longer enabled.  Everybody within the services delivery system (e.g. general public, media, elected politicians, appointed officials, monitors, boards, staffs and volunteers of service agencies and most importantly the homeless themselves) must embrace a culture of transformation.  A culture, that through the help of others, homeless individuals can transform and integrate themselves back into society.  For moral and fiscal reasons, homelessness must become and unacceptable condition that is not tolerated in the U.S.A.

2. Co-location and Virtual E-integration of as Many Services as Possible:

In order to increase success, all services within a service area must be e-integrated.  Virtual e-integration improves coordination of services, enhances performance, reduces "gaming" of the system, engages individuals on the margin of society and increases cost-effeciencies within and between agencies.  Further more, whenever financially possible, services should be co-located.  Co-location goes beyond virtual e-integration by increasing the numbe rof "service hits" into a shorter period of time through the reduction of wasted time in transit and minimization of mishandled referrals.  Co-location also increases the supportive "human touch."

3.  Must have a Master Case Management System that is Customized:

Because there are so many different service agencies helping homeless individuals (e.g., government at multi-levels, non-profits and faith-based), it is critical that ONE person coordinates the services an individual receives and to do so in a customized fashion.  The types of service provided is critical, but what is more important is the sequencing and frequency of customized services.

4. Reward Positive Behavior:

Positive behavior of individuals should be rewarded with increased responsibilities and additional privileges.  Privileges such as higher quality sleeping arrangements, more privacy and elective learning opportunities should be used as rewards.  It is important that these rewards be used as "tools" to approximate the "real world" in order to increase sustainable reintegration into society.

5.  Consequences for Negative Behavior:

Too often there are no consequences for negative behavior of individuals.  Unfortunately, this sends a message that bad behavior is acceptable.  Within the transformational process, it is critical to have swift and proportionate consequences.

6.  External Activities Must be Redirected or Stopped:

External activities such as "street feeding" must be redirected to support the transformation process.  In most cases, these activities are well-intentioned efforts by good folks; however, these activities are very enabling and often do little to engage homeless individuals.

7. Panhandling Enables the Homeless and Must Be Stopped:

Unearned cash is very enabling and does not engage homeless individuals in job and skills training which is needed to end homelessness.  Additionally, more often than not, cash is not used for food and housing but is instead used to buy drugs and alcohol which further perpetuates the homeless cycle.  Homeless individuals who are panhandling should be engaged into the transformational process.  Furthermore, most panhandlers are not truly homeless but are preying on the good nature of citizens to get tax-free dollars.