Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Minutes 9/15/15

September 15, 2015

David Dahle, Chair
Woody Dukes
Brock Campbell
Michael Livingston,
Vice Chair
Bob Hanna
Diana Dettwyler
Erma Hoffman, Treasurer
Bruce Hoffman
Neal Kern
Sarah Owens, Sec’y
Rebekah Engle

p=present a=absent e=excused

Residents: Bill Holmstrom, Rosa Leonardi, Deb Comini
Organizations: Jeff Leach, Bike Boulevard Advocates; Colleen Busch, Salem-Keizer Transit District Subdistrict #2; Jerry Thompson, Salem-Keizer Transit District Subdistrict #5; Juliana Cohen, Cherriots, Ken Hetsel, Morningside Neighborhood Association; Simon Sandusky, Guest Services Manager, Union Gospel Mission
City/County Representatives: Councilor Bennett
Guest: Curt Fisher

The regular meeting of the CanDo Board of Directors was called to order at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 15, 2015, at the First Christian Church at 685 Marion Street NE, Salem. David Dahle was in the chair and Sarah Owens acted as secretary.

The agenda and the minutes of the August meeting were approved unanimously.

In public comment, board member Bruce Hoffman announced that SAIF will be contacting CANDO and SCAN to discuss its plans to renovate its building at 400 High Street (built ~1974), taking it down to steel and concrete, with a goal of bringing it up to seismic and LEED equivalency standards, and replace the one-story building south of there, on Church Street (built ~1965 and not intended to last) with bio-swales and other appropriate landscaping.  

The board heard a presentation by Curt Fisher on the status of bicycle and pedestrian safety and access in the central area, followed by a presentation by Colleen Busch and Jerry Thompson of the Salem Area Mass Transit District Board, Board Member - Moving Forward Phase II and Ballot Measure to Raise Funds to Expand Bus Service.

Councilor Bennett reported that the Council had approved early sales of recreational marijuana and hired Steven Powers as City Manager, and recommended the board read the update on the project to replace the parking meters in the Capitol Mall and what he described as a miscommunication as to the intended extent of the project.  He also commented that city staff were fully committed to completing the next phase of the Winter-Maple family friendly bikeway within a year, “maybe year after”, and recommended that CANDO participate in the Capital Improvement Program planning process which begins in or around January.  Finally, he mentioned upcoming events, worksessions and hearings, in particular, the public hearing on proposed SRC 86, and asked CANDO to appear in support of its recommendations.

In new business, Sarah Owens’s motion to designate chairs of the board’s standing committees as follows:  Woody Dukes: Land Use, Neal Kern: Watershed Council, Michael Livingston: Transportation, Bruce Hoffman: Budget, passed unanimously;

Michael Livingston’s Motion Regarding CANDO Priorities, and his motion to authorize the Treasurer to prepare and submit a Letter of Intent to the City of Salem requesting a 2015-17 Salem Park Improvement Fund grant for the purchase and installation of a second piece of playground equipment at Pringle Park, passed.

Michael Livingston’s motion to authorize himself, Woody and Sarah to appear before the City Council on behalf of the board concerning CANDO’s recommendations regarding SRC 86 revisions at the public hearing currently scheduled for 9/28 passed unanimously.  

Michael Livingston’s motion to endorse Ballot Measure 24-388 to Raise Funds to Expand Bus Service passed, consistent with the board’s annual goal #1 (Support initiatives that increase bicyclist and pedestrian safety and access to downtown), and the board’s past practice to take a position on local ballot measures.

There being no other business before the board, the meeting of the Board of Directors adjourned at 7:54 p.m. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Toilets and Panhandling

 Salem's response to the Mayor's "Give Hope, Not Money" campaign
(photo by Tim King, courtesy

Revised: December 2018

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

[Originally published under the title, "CANDO's 'Homeless Issues.'"]

In 2015, the City's response to poverty and homelessness was focused on toilets and panhandling, which it referred to as "conduct in the right of way."  The story began in March of 2014, when Salem's Mayor Peterson volunteered at a warming shelter, and learned that lack of access to toilets after-hours downtown was a serious problem.  She asked her "Safe Streets and Parks Task Force" to look at how the City might provide "toilets and sanitary services for the homeless," which they did.

7/13/15 Staff Report "After Hours Parks Restrooms Closures", Attach A
But, in May, CANDO was informed that the Task Force's proposal that the City provide portable toilets downtown was likely going nowhere.

Mayor Peterson was also concerned about  panhandling.  In the fall of 2014, at her behest, but without noticeable fanfare, explanation, plan or follow-up, the City released for distribution posters approved by the Mayor as part of a "Real Change"-type of campaign, designed to discourage panhandling in Salem.  See here, here.  As reported by  the Salem Insider in December, the campaign backfired. Since then, the City has not undertaken any sort of organized campaign to discourage panhandling, though the City  continues to talk about it [FN1].

In the spring of 2015, several individuals from business (Rebecca Courtney), religious (Pamella Watson, Janet Parker, Emily Goodnow) and social services (Verena Wessel) sectors initiated a public restroom project of their own in Salem's central area.

The project drew a lot of public attention, and renewed pressure on the City to provide after-hours toilet facilities downtown.  In response, City staff issued a report on "After Hours Parks Restrooms Closures" that touched on the public restroom project, and announced that the City Council would hold a work session on the subject in August.

Placed June 2015 at First Congregational Church
On August 31, the City Council held a work session titled, "Public Restrooms and Regulating Conduct in the Right of Way."  The issue for Council was, as stated by staff, does the Council want to provide additional after-hours toilet facilities in the areas identified as problems, namely the "business core" of downtown and in the Cottage-to-Winter Street blocks between Marion and Center Streets?

Three options were discussed: permanent buildings ($200K to $300K), automated public toilets (not much less expensive), and portable chemical toilets.  All three options have additional and ongoing maintenance costs.  Not discussed was the option to reopen the permanent restroom structures in the parks after hours (staff started closing the restrooms at 8:30 pm in 2014 because of repeated vandalism).
Facilities outside UGM
As a supplement to the report, staff informed the Council, among other things, that the City purchases portable toilets for ~$2K to $3K each, that 4 to 5 are destroyed by fire each year, that there is one portable toilet available 24 hours/day in both Riverfront and Marion Square Parks (which are, however, closed at night).

Placed August 2015 in the Yost Parking Lot
Staff said if the Council wanted to consider providing a toilet facility on City-owned property, one possible location would be the plaza in the alleyway between Chemeketa Parkade and JC Penney (marked with a red star in the map/slide below, though it's kind of hard to make out).

After-hours toilets available Aug 2015 downtown in yellow
By the end of the 30 minutes the Mayor allowed for this topic, there was little indication where things were likely to go, if anywhere.  Of the three options discussed, staff definitely seemed to favor the portable toilet option over the other two.  Councilors generally seemed to favor "recruiting...other agencies" (churches, businesses and the State) to work on the problem.    

Regarding the discussion on panhandling, the message from staff was that it was a community problem.  It exists because we give panhandlers money when they ask for it, so they ask for it.  Merely asking for money isn't unlawful, and trying to criminalize panhandling and other "quality of life offenses" can get the City sued, or even in trouble with HUD.

The August work session also made clear that Mayor Peterson (who requested the work session) was more concerned with panhandling downtown than panhandling citywide, and what she wanted was not "new proposals", but increased police presence downtown.

In the end, Peterson said she planned to "take this back to staff" for a report or recommendation as to whether "we need more [police] resources" downtown. Peterson  also indicated she would be calling for greater "accountability" by recipients of General Fund social service dollars (annually ~$400K) for panhandling-related behavior downtown, saying:
We have many [social service] agencies which, because of their location, draw people into the downtown area, and then, I feel, they don't feel a sense of responsibility for the result.  And I think it's time for the City to say back to them, what are you doing?  Maybe you need to be doing something differently as well. 
In closing comments, Councilor Dan Benjamin remarked that the Council needs to find out who's getting the social service funds and what the recipients are supposed to be doing with it [FN2].

In September, KATU News did a story about the toilet in the Yost parking lot being wrapped in "art."

KATU News crew with Verena Wessel and Rebecca Courtney

Toilet at Chemeketa and Front Streets

In October 2015, a fourth toilet was set up, courtesy Northwest Human Services and Paul Gehlar, in the parking lot on Front Street (230 Chemeketa St NE).

In January 2017, Mayor Peterson retired, and was replaced by former Ward 1 Councilor, Chuck Bennett.

In March 2017, the two Arta Potties downtown were put in storage with Ace Chemical Toilets,    leaving just the one in the parking lot of the First Congregational Church.  As reported here, the reason given for the removal was overuse.

"We simply need all 7 placed, not two or three potties. We have had long morning lines to serve", organizer Rebecca Courtney told us.  "We...have just formed a new partnership with "Partnerships in Community Living, Inc...this way we can provide tax deductions and receive the non profit $$, meeting the city requirements" [for a $4K grant/loan authorized by the City Council last spring.] 

Unfortunately, the Partnership was unable to make a go of it.  The toilet in the Yost parking lot, behind the Bishop Building, returned for a time, and in November 2017, one was placed in the parking lot at 615 Commercial Street.  But, as reported here, the project was halted in January 2018, and the toilets donated to Oregon City a couple of months later, as reported here.  

According to project originator Rebecca Maitland Courtney, despite discounts from ACE Chemical and the support of downtown businesses, there were just too few owners willing to allow a toilet to be placed on their property to make the program work, resulting in overuse, misuse and vandalism of the two or three toilets that were in operation.

In February 2018, Mayor Bennett's Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force began a series of meetings in which the need for 24/7 public toilets downtown was placed front and center.  Toilets made the top of the list of recommendations.  "Mayor Mulls Dtown Hless Recs", 8/29/18, here).  "Public toilets 24/7" also made it into the 2019 Council Policy Agenda as a "possible" item to be considered in the FY 2020 Proposed Budget.  (Here at page 7.)   

In March 2020, just as the City preparing to respond to the growing pandemic, it appeared that the City was prepared to install a Portland Loo on the west side of Marion Square Park.  The cost to purchase/install was said to be $185,000.  The purchase could be covered with Urban Renewal funds. Estimated cleaning + maintenance was $125,000/yr, which would be included in City Manager’s Proposed Fiscal Year 2020-21 budget.  Time to project completion was estimated at 7 months due to a backlog at Portland Loo.  As of August 2020, the status of the project is unknown.

In April 2020, Seton Hall Law Review published an article by Taunya Lovell Banks, titled "The Disappearing Public Toilet", asserting that "the lack of government operated or sponsored public toilets in urban areas and their replacement with toilets controlled by private business creates opportunities to discriminate against people seeking access to those toilets based on occupation, socioeconomic status, gender-identification, race, and even medical condition."  See Brown, A.  "The Pandemic Has Closed Public Restrooms, and Many Have Nowhere to Go."  (23 July 2020, Stateline.)  

[FN1]  Mayor Peterson brought her concern about panhandling to her work on the Mid Willamette Homeless Initiative Task Force.  In November 2016, its Public Safety committee heard about the Salt Lake City's Homeless Outreach Service Team (HOST), a "Real Change" type of anti-panhanding program launched in 2011.  "Camille", a representative of Salt Lake City's downtown business association who spoke by phone about the program, said the amount collected was "insignificant."  Nevertheless, a recommendation was made to "Support City of Salem's strategy to address panhandling.  See Salt Lake City's Homeless Outreach website []." (See here at page 3.)  The committee did not consider Salt Lake City's recently published study indicating the program was not effective.

Another recommendation of the Task Force was to "Support the City of Salem's plan to develop a work program...similar to a program in Albuquerque []."  (See here at page 3.)  Albuquerque's "There's a Better Way" program is also an anti-panhandling program.  They way it works is someone drives a van around Albuquerque (a city of about 550,000) picking up as many as 10 panhandlers who are willing to work that day for $9/hr instead of panhandle.  Although the city's public works department is involved somehow, it appears that the program is run by St. Martin's Hospitality Center ("a nonprofit that connects people with housing, employment and mental health services").  St. Martin's pays the salary and expenses of the van driver.  It pays program participants' wages out of a $50K grant from the City.  The work consists of things like weeding and "beautification."

Both recommendations are in the most recent iteration of the Task Force's Strategic Plan (3.2 and 4.3), and anti-panhandling made it into the one-year work plan of Homeless Initiative Coordinator.  Unfortunately, she quit just before her findings were due to be submitted. 

Homeless Initiative Program Coordinator's anti-panhandling project

The Task Force's anti-panhandling recommendations were also discussed at Mayor Bennett's Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force meetings in 2018.  City Staff included anti-panhandling measures in the list of recommendations issued in August 2018, but Task Force members gave them "ten red dots" after being advised a red dot means "I don't ever want to see this idea again."

Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force anti-panhandling recommendation
[FN2]  Councilor Benjamin wanted to know who in the social services had received grants from the General Fund.  In the previous two funding cycles (FY2014-15 and FY2015-16), the City had awarded grants to Congregations Helping People (CHP), Marion Polk Food Share, St. Francis Shelter, Mano a Mano, Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency's HOME Youth Resource Center, Northwest Human Services' HOST and Crisis Hotline, and the Salvation Army. 

Only two of those programs, CHP and the Hotline, are located downtown.  Although HOAP on Church Street could be said to draw homeless individuals (reportedly ~90-100/day, with 50-60 new clients/month), it's unlikely that the Hotline, which has space in the office and delivers services by telephone, does so.  Similarly, the clients of CHP, which operates out of the First Methodist Church on State Street and provides one-time emergency assistance to homeless and at-risk families, are unlikely to be remaining much less causing problems in the downtown area.