Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Urban Renewal to the Rescue

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Resolution to Spend URA $ on Homeless Assistance
Good old urban renewal.  When the post- WWII middle class moved to the suburbs, they left their inner cities to those with low- and no-income.  Eventually, however, the commute once again made city living desirable.  Enter urban renewal, the process whereby cities "clean up" downtown, displacing the poor, and making it great again for the middle class.

To be sure, urban renewal was just one of several factors that contributed to the rise of homelessness in the latter part of the last century, but it seems entirely appropriate that a portion of the money reserved for urban renewal should be spent alleviating the suffering it causes.

So, we can all be grateful that, Monday night, the City Council, sitting as the Urban Renewal Agency Board, adopted Resolution No. 18-12 URA, approving amendments to the Riverfront-Downtown Urban Renewal Plan to add, among other things, URA Project 1110 to "address homelessness and support of the [sic] Salem Strategic Plan", and then, sitting as itself, adopted the virtually identical Resolution 2018-83.  These actions will allow the City to use its urban renewal dollars to "build out" the sobering center -- and even buy the building, if it wants to.

Here are some reasons the City might want to buy the building and lease it back to the owner/occupant, the Mid Willamette Valley Community Action Agency (MWVCAA), at a favorable (substantially less than market) rate (see here, last page): 

  1. Protect its investment against possible foreclosure.  This is a real possibility, considering the financial difficulties of the owner, which purchased the building in 2017 for $2.1M using $500,000 in state homeless assistance funds with the balance seller-financed, including two balloon payments of $250,000 each, the first of which must be paid by the end of this year (see here and here).   
  2. Lower sobering center annual operating costs.  At the moment, the City-County-Salem Health partnership is short about $200,000.  Assuming those costs include some amount for rent, City ownership would eliminate that cost and reduce the shortfall. 
  3. Allow the City to fulfill several Downtown Homeless Task Force recommendations (the building has public restrooms, and, after renovations are complete, will have more restrooms, showers and laundry facilities, and could potentially provide space for storage of personal possessions).
  4. Ensure the City always has an emergency/inclement weather overnight shelter location available downtown.
  5. Free MWVCAA to use its resources for homeless assistance, instead of buying and maintaining a building.     

Councilor McCoid Ward 4 at URA Bd Mtg 11/26/18
Recognizing that it might make sense for the City to take ownership of the Commercial Street building is not to say that the sobering center project makes  sense overall.

Yes, sobering services make general sense, in that they're a less costly way to provide a needed emergency service, but what about  this project?

It would appear to make sense from a law enforcement perspective, by avoiding hospital admissions/incarceration costs.

It would appear to make sense from MWVCAA's perspective, by lowering MWVCAA's construction, maintenance and utilities costs, not to mention the monthly mortgage payments.

But what about the homeless?  The City claims the sobering center is one of several programs that will be "actively helping the homeless and working to reduce homelessness", but is that true?  You won't find sobering services listed anywhere with OHCS or HUD as a best, or even promising, practice.  Users tend to be repeat users, versus the service being some sort of gateway to treatment or stable housing.

What about downtown businesses?  Will having a sobering center allow the police to "clean up" downtown every morning, as some may hope?  Chief Moore told the Public Safety Coordinating Council that the police do not remove those in need of sobering services, except on a voluntary basis (unlike CHIERS in PDX).  Will people be as likely, or more so, to want to go to the sobering station than they are to the ER?  Does it matter to downtown businesses where people go to sober up?   
What about HRAP?  The City program that is *actually* moving chronically homeless residents off the streets and into stable housing, one by one.  Does it make sense to spend $200,000+ annually in General Fund dollars that might otherwise be available for HRAP on sobering services?  Can we not agree it makes more sense to use those funds to help move would-be sobering service clients off the streets and into stable housing through HRAP?  The practitioners we've talked to all said yes, emphatically.

The City's decision to use urban renewal funds to address homelessness is a creative means by which to address several longstanding needs downtown.  Serious doubts remain, however, as to the advisability of City's sobering center project, the fact that we're poised to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in construction notwithstanding.  

Sadly, urban renewal won't save us from ourselves.  

Saturday, November 24, 2018

News from the Continuum

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston


Landlord Workshop at Salem Housing Authority
In late October, the Salem Housing Authority reached its goal to house 100 of Salem’s most vulnerable homeless individuals, but, as readers well know, there are many more needing this kind of housing assistance.  For that to happen,  more rental housing owners and managers must sign on.

So, a week after reaching their goal, SHA and partners hosted a workshop for interested  landlords, featuring a presentation on the effects of trauma on the brain, and how it affects the process of  recovering from homelessness.  The purpose of the workshop was to inform, but also to let prospective landlords know that leasing to HRAP clients doesn't mean they have to become social workers, because that's been taken care of, but it does help to understand what their tenants are dealing with. 

Readers may have heard Stephen Goins's presentation at a CANDO, or Emergency Housing Network, or Downtown Rotary Club meeting.  For most people, it's an eye-opener -- a compassionate but candid description of a process that looks nothing like reaching for stars or happy people hugging.  That's because, contrary to what most people might think, recovering from homelessness is terribly difficult.  It's difficult for the people in recovery, for the people supporting them, and for the people supporting the people supporting them, which is why landlords typically avoid leasing to anyone recovering from homelessness.  Stephen Goins directs Transitional Programs for Northwest Human Services, including HOST and HOAP. 

Hear HRAP team members Sonya Ryland (Housing Stability Coordinator) and Pamela Garrick (Grants Coordinator) speak about the program's first year in this podcast interview.

Cara Kaser                          Jimmy Jones                  Jeanine Knight
CANDO/Ward 1 City Councilor Cara Kaser, MWVCAA Director Jimmy Jones, and former Women's Homeless Housing Coordinator for UGM/Simonka Place Jeanine Knight all spoke at CityWatch's November meeting about area poverty and homelessness.  There was no time left after the presentations for questions, which is too bad, because people really seemed interested.  Likely, the speakers could have put the same points across in response to questions, and made more of an impression.

At the end of the meeting, the members received an update on its decision to sponsor the Tuesday segment of the community radio show, Willamette Wake Up in 2019.  In addition to its regular reports on City Council meetings, the show tended to focus on issues of poverty and homelessness in the mid valley.  No one from KMUZ had let CityWatch know the highly-praised program had been canceled just the day before.

Responding to a letter expressing concern over the cancellation, KMUZ defended the decision saying the Tuesday program "no longer serves the interest of the station", but that they would "do our best" to cover "the plight of people without shelter and the solutions to homelessness" without the Tuesday team.  (Full disclosure, we were on the Tuesday team.) 

In another loss to local coverage of issues relating to poverty and homelessness in the mid valley, Brian Hines is reporting that the Salem Weekly has or will soon be folding.  It's not known whether or not publisher A.P. Walther will maintain the Weekly's online edition.  

In an October 24, 2018, op-ed, "Why the Marion County Commissioner Races Matter", the Weekly pointed out that "the County has many social service functions in its regular budget that potentially make it a major player in addressing the many near 'crisis level' issues facing our (not strictly urban) community and region", and noted it could have "a significant impact on addressing the homelessness crisis – with which, despite some welcome progress, the City [Salem] is visibly struggling", if those elected to office were to make it a priority.  

Shelaswau Crier and "Roundtable" on Homelessness
However, the candidate perhaps the most likely to make addressing homelessness a priority, Shelaswau Crier, lost the election.  We say that because Crier took the trouble to conduct a day-long homelessness issues "roundtable" with service providers, and have them recorded for CCTV.  The "roundtable" included Crier, Russ Beaton (retired economics prof), Jimmy Jones (MWVCAA), Sarah White (Silverton Sheltering Services), Jayne Downing (Center for Hope and Safety), Trevor Haughton (Recovery Outreach Community Center), Delana Beaton (Home Base Shelters of Salem), Ken Houghton (MWVCAA) and Karolle Hughes (Oregon Coalition on Housing and Homelessness).  

The first two episodes have been aired on CCTV, and are available on VIMEO ("Homeless in Marion County: The Face of Homelessness") and ("Dispelling the Myths of Homelessness").  If the results were modest, the effort was commendable.  Hopefully, losing the election will prove to be a minor setback, and the community will be hearing more from Crier in the near future. 

For now, however, we should not expect that Marion County will be expanding its homelessness efforts beyond what it is currently doing through its Public Safety Coordinating Council (reentry initiative, MWHI Steering Committee, LEAD, sobering center), Housing Authority, and Public Health division (Hep C and STD testing). 

The County recently shared the good news that the LEAD program will be expanding, thanks to grants from the Bureau of Justice Assistance (details at right).  If you're unfamiliar with LEAD, you might want to check out the County's very short video explainer, or this two-page FAQs.

If you see the County's LEAD Navigator, Josh Lair around town, you should buy him a cup of coffee and have him tell you about his work.  He's a realist who believes in redemption, and he is full of energy and hope.  Just the kind of person you'd want to be doing this sort of work.

Josh Lair, LEAD Navigator for Marion County
October also saw the release of Part 2 of the 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.

Oregon continues in the top ten nationally for chronic homelessness (6th place), which Jimmy Jones of MWVCAA says "underscores the state’s prevention/diversion priorities haven’t abated high end homelessness" (and aren't likely to in future).  It also underscores the importance of supporting programs like HRAP, which was designed by this community and for this community and has proven to be effective in ways no other local program has.  It also underscores the importance of reforming the Salem, Marion and Polk CoC, so we can do more programs, like HRAP, that serve those who most need assistance.

Friday, November 23, 2018

11/20/18 Minutes

Members: Deb Comini, M. Bryant Baird
Organizations: Alan Mela, Grocery Outlet
City and County Representatives: Councilor Kaser; Sheri Wahrgren, Urban Development Department
Guests: none

The regular meeting of the CANDO Board of Directors was called to order at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 20, 2018, at the First Christian Church at 685 Marion Street NE, Salem.  The Chair and Secretary-Treasurer were present.  

The minutes of the October meeting were approved by unanimous consent.

Councilor Kaser reported, among other things, that she had asked staff during the 11/23 work session on the Council Policy Agenda to prioritize the Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force’s Good Neighbor Partnership recommendation, as well as the recommendations to provide public restrooms and storage facilities downtown, which are on the agenda of the next meeting of the Urban Renewal Agency and City Council.  There will be another work session on the Council Policy Agenda on January 23.     

In public comments, Alan Mela, told the board and Councilor Kaser about problems that  Grocery Outlet had been having (for example, trespassing and break-ins), and that he expected would continue for the next three years, until the new police facility and the new UGM Men’s Mission have been completed.  Councilor Kaser said she was well aware of the situation, having spoken with Mr. Mela previously, and told him she would be following up with him and certain City divisions.

The board heard a presentation by Sheri Wahrgren on the proposed amendments to the Riverfront-Downtown Urban Renewal Plan, which have already come before the Downtown Advisory Board, and will be coming before the Urban Renewal Agency and City Council at their next meeting (Monday, November 25).  In response to a question, Wahrgren said that the Project 1110 amendments will permit the City to use Urban Renewal funds for the sobering center renovations, or even purchase a building, as long as the purchase is  consistent with the project purpose. The Project 1110 plan amendments are necessary because non-profit organizations like the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency (which owns the building that will house the sobering center) are normally not eligible for urban renewal investments, as they don’t pay property taxes.  
There being no other business before the board, the Chair adjourned the meeting at 7:03 p.m.

Friday, November 16, 2018

"We Need Many More Resources"

Jones at MWVCAA's October "Meet and Greet"

By Jimmy Jones

Posted to A.P. Walther's FB page on November 10, 2018.  Minor edits have been made, and links have been added.

My name is Jimmy Jones and I am the director of the Community Action Agency here in Salem. I know that there has been some concern about the resignation of Ali Treichel, so I wanted to update everyone on what's being done in our community to serve our homeless population.

Ali's position was designed to help integrate the social service providers and coordinate the local government responses, while mapping out system resources. That work will continue with her replacement, but it's also going on on a daily basis in Marion and Polk, even now. The leadership at the City, Salem Housing Authority, Community Action, Salvation Army, Northwest Human Services, Union Gospel Mission and many other groups meet frequently to help find better ways to integrate and coordinate our services. In the past year, these agencies have opened a new day center near Marion Square Park (ARCHES) for high needs homeless clients, made plans to open a new and desperately needed men's shelter (UGM) [see here and here], initiated the City's bold and innovate Homeless Rental Assistance Program (Salem Housing Authority), acquired a desperately needed overnight shelter for minors (HOME) [and United Way of the Mid Willamette Valley], and employed new warming center model. On top of all that, the ARCHES Project houses about 375 households a year, with plans to do more in the coming year. There are literally dozens and dozens of additional services being provided beyond housing, including employment services (Work [Source Oregon], Voc[ational] Rehab[ilitation]), access to health services and crisis hotlines (Marion County Health Department and [Northwest Human Services programs:] HOAP...West Salem Clinic and crisis [and information] hotline), four day centers (HOME, HOST, ARCHES, HOAP), and an increasing outreach presence that sees many different local agencies working with one another. Ali's departure changes none of that, and that work will continue through the hiring of the next coordinator.

But what I would like to address in particular is the Homeless Rental Assistance Program. That program is funded by the City of Salem [and Salem Housing Authority] and costs about $1.4M per year. It is absolutely the single most critical and necessary housing program in the history of Salem, because it targets a subset of the chronically homeless population that we refer to as tri-morbid (people with a chronic physical health problem, chronic substance problem, and a mental health condition). For too many years this subset was not effectively housed, which is why we have such a large and visible chronically homeless population in Salem today. This group of people were never, ever going to rehouse on their own. They were going to die outside. In the last year alone we have lost at least ten of them [12 as of 11/10/18], with an average age of death of about 52.

The Salem Housing Authority (SHA) designed and runs this program. ARCHES contracts with SHA to provide the clients to the program. These clients are placed through a coordinated entry process that insures that only those mostly likely to be victimized outside, and most likely to die outside, are prioritized for housing. There is a small group of us (10 total, from ARCHES, HOST and HOAP) that meet which each one of these clients, evaluate their needs, and refer about 15 a month to Salem Housing Authority for placement. To date, SHA has housed 109 HRAP clients, and after more than a year there are 100 of them still in housing. That's a success ratio of about 92%, about 10% higher than the expected success rate for a similar program. The program is a simple, cost effective (compared to the community cost of leaving people outside), proven model for reducing chronic homelessness in the community. Between this program, ARCHES, and others, we have drawn down the chronically homeless population of Salem almost by 200 souls since June of 2017.

You may not see much of a change, because our Coordinated Entry program has proven that there are about 1,800 homeless clients in the urban growth boundary, about 2/3rds of them unsheltered. So even significant improvement can be hidden behind the massive number of folks suffering under these conditions. I know it may not seem like much is being done, but every day dozens of people in this community go to work to serve the homeless through housing programs, overnight sheltering, warming stations, domestic violence centers, day sheltering, transitional housing, veterans services, employment navigation, meal services, SOAR work, and literally dozens of other services. Most of it is hidden from public view. And honestly, we need many more resources if we are ever going to end homelessness for everyone in this community, which is the only goal I measure our work by. I just want to reassure folks that a great deal of work is being done, by the agencies and local government. We are all working closely with one another, and will continue to do so in the future. Because there is much more work to do.

By the way, our [assessment] system (which is designed to go out and find, document, and assess for vulnerability every homeless person in Marion and Polk) now has more than half a million data points on the homeless population in the community. I'd be happy to answer any questions about the homeless population in Marion-Polk or what's being done to serve them.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Sobering Center Sustainable?

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Touring future sobering space at 615 Commercial St NE, circa June 2018
The City's sobering center plans remained sketchy following Tuesday's presentation to the Public Safety Coordinating Council.  One thing was clear, however, the facility won't be opening before March 2019, probably later.

As discussed here last June, this  project is being "managed" by the City Manager's Office, and "led" by the Police Department. 

Construction of the space that will hold the sobering center has not yet begun, and it's not clear whether funding to cover the projected construction costs ($508,000+) has been secured.

MWVCAA, which owns the building at 615 Commercial Street NE, has accepted a construction bid of $1,395,000 to complete Phase 2 renovations, which now include the sobering center build out.  Originally, Phase 2 consisted of renovations to install showers, laundry, kitchen facilities and a sprinkler system, and the sobering center build out was to occur in Phase 3.  The decision to combine the two phases not only saves construction costs, it puts additional pressure on the City to move forward with the project, whether or not it's sustainable.  As of this writing, Phase 2 construction has not begun.

Also unclear is where the funds to operate the sobering program are going to come from.  The City projects annual operating costs of $638,000, but Tim Murphy, CEO of Bridgeway Recovery Services, which will operate the program, said he thought that might be too low, based on  conversations he had at the National Sobering Collaborative summit in San Diego.  Regardless, commitments from the City ($200K), Marion County ($150K) and Salem Health ($100K for a limited time) fall short of what's needed just for the first couple of years, by about $200,000.  

City Council 2018 Policy Agenda

We asked the City staff assigned to the project, Courtney Knox Busch, for a breakdown or more information about the operating costs.  She ignored the request, but did offer to come and talk to CANDO, presumably about the "one pager" she distributed at the PSCC meeting, the third published staff report on the sobering center project.

Courtney Knox Busch's one-pager
The first published staff report was issued about a year ago.  It stated that, "[a]s more details regarding specific roles, the site, and funding become available, staff will return to Council for consideration of budget, operational, lease and grant agreements."

The second staff report, issued in June to accompany a bare bones MOU with MWVCAA, stated that "to close the operating [funds] gap, the partners anticipate a grant from the local Coordinated Care Organization, Willamette Valley Community Health."
WVCH serves people covered under the Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid), which covers detoxification and treatment services, but not "sobering."  The anticipated WVCH grant was not mentioned at the PSCC meeting, or in the City's one-pager, but WVCH isn't going to be around after 2019, anyway.

Let's face it, even if we are very optimistic, and assume that they can secure an additional $200,000/yr to  operate the program, few donor agencies are willing to fund operations over the long term.  Short term, yes.  But not long term.  That's why Salem Health hasn't committed long term.  After all, it's law enforcement that stands to benefit, not Salem Hospital.  

And what about the City?  The City's 2018-2019 budget states that "there is not an offsetting revenue" for the sobering center, so it has to come out of working capital (General Fund).  But the City has an increasingly concerning "structural imbalance between the proposed cost of General Fund services and anticipated revenues."  In addition to the PERS rate escalations in FY 2020 and FY 2022, City Council just approved a collective bargaining agreement that will cost the City an additional $8M over the next three years.  The City's either going to have to cut services or raise revenue, or both, in pretty short order.  Under those circumstances, one has to ask whether or not the City's ongoing commitment of $200,000 is, you know, sustainable, especially when costs are only going to increase over the long term.

But might urban Renewal change the calculus?  See "Urban Renewal to the Rescue."

Friday, November 2, 2018

Homeless Program Coordinator Calls it Quits

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

MWHI Program Coordinator Ali Treichel, 10/30/18
The Mid Willamette Hopeless Initiative Steering Committee (MWHISC) bid farewell to its Program Coordinator this week.  Ali Treichel, who's become a familiar face in the community of local social services providers over the past ten months, is leaving her position at the MWVCOG to take a job closer to her home in southeast Portland.  In her new position, she will be  providing contracted services to Multnomah County as a community health education coordinator.  The steering committee, which had only praise for her work at their meeting on October 30th, is currently recruiting a replacement.  Applications are due by November 30, see here for details. Also see the 11/1/18 Statesman Journal article by Capi Lynn, "Salem-area homeless coordinator secured for second year, challenges remain."

Treichel's departure leaves incomplete several projects in the one-year work plan adopted this past summer (see here and here).  She was, however, able to complete the "Service and Resource Inventory Map", and present her initial findings to the committee this past week (also see here).

Same unidentified man, different story
 The Statesman Journal quotes Treichel as saying "We have a bunch of smaller systems that often work in tandem, but it's not a streamlined system, and that's considered best practice."  Her  assessment, according to the article, "confirmed what the...steering committee...and those who work with the homeless already knew."

But the article gets a couple of things wrong.  Lynn  reported that there "is no centralized list for prioritizing housing and shelter placements", and that data gathered in the 2018 Point-in-Time Count could have been used to start such a list.  

In fact, there is a centralized list.  It's maintained by The ARCHES Project, and the data in it was gathered by trained staff using an assessment tool called the "VI-SPDAT", which stands for vulnerability index service prioritization decision assistance tool.  The problem is, not enough providers use the list to prioritize placements, and that allows for cherry picking.  

Treichel's written report, dated August 10, 2018, but made public and presented on October 30, 2018, states that, as part of the mapping assignment, she was to identify "gaps and inefficiencies within the regional service continuum [of Marion and Polk Counties] as compared to best practice solutions and frameworks."  The report makes findings in four subject areas:  (1) the coordinated homelessness response system, (2) sheltering services outside the Salem-Keizer area, (3) shelter, and (4) housing.

With respect to (1), Treichel found that the "coordinated homelessness response both fragmented and largely uncoordinated" and lacking "key elements needed for an efficient response to homelessness", beginning with a functioning coordinated entry system.  (See our December 16, 2017 post, "Coordinated Entry After One Year", here.)  To address the problem that not enough providers use the list to prioritize placements, Treichel recommended that "participating jurisdictions require providers that receive funding to collect and input quality, timely and comprehensive shareable, data and fully participate in" the local coordinated entry system, with exceptions for programs serving youth and those fleeing domestic violence, etc.

The findings in (2) through (4) can be summed up with "additional sheltering options are needed to serve families of all types and individuals of all need levels" throughout the area.  Treichel recommended that "[a]ny new shelters should be low barrier" and that "the next coordinator further explore the creation of a multi-jurisdictional [housing] development team (originally included as part of the initial year-one work plan."        

Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility
Notably absent from the report to the committee was any mention of the City of Salem's recent interest in the Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility as a possible low barrier shelter option (see here and last paragraph here).  Hillcrest closed in September 2017, after the state determined an upgrade to meet modern standards was cost prohibitive.    

Treichel didn't know about the City's interest in Hillcrest, because the City didn't bother to include her in the October 3 "feasibility meeting" where it was discussed, and evidently, steering committee member Kristin Retherford, who did attend the meeting, didn't bother to tell her.

One has to wonder why the City is spending $45K/year on regional homeless program coordination.      

Councilor/Commissioner Lewis
The City also neglected to inform Councilor Lewis (Ward 8, West Salem), or anyone else from Polk County (which presently has no emergency shelter facility, low-barrier or otherwise) of the "feasibility meeting", or the interest in Hillcrest.  So, it was a little awkward when, at the last meeting of the Salem Housing Authority Board of Commissioners (October 22, 2018), Lewis asked SHA Administrator Andy Wilch about Hillcrest:   

There's been some talk about the Hillcrest interest is that there is a dormitory type building sitting there empty, and we have a homeless crisis.  So, putting those two things together, it makes sense to me -- is it usable, can we do it from a capacity standpoint, and let's assume for a minute that the State of Oregon just lets us use the building, if it's within our ability to use it for homelessness.  Comments?

To which Wilch replied,

Hillcrest's many pieces
About three years ago, we went up and looked at the same units that you're talking about, and at that time, we didn't really see the need...the market has changed a lot, for a lot of our clients.  And so we are having some additional conversations, working with the City and SHA.  I know there was a group that went up there [with] DAS...this afternoon to look at it.  One issue that I think is going to be hard to [overcome] is DAS will probably want to have a single sale.  So, unless they're willing to break up some of the pieces, it could be pretty hard to make that work.  But, if you want to, we could work on that, along with the City.

To which Commissioner Lewis replied:

I don't know if I'm interested in purchasing the property and using that part for homelessness.  I'm more interested in using it while it's still vacant or supposedly up for sale.

Whereupon the City Manager in his capacity as Executive Director of the Housing Authority reassured everyone that a report would be forthcoming.

In some ways, the City's Hillcrest project sounds a lot like what's going on in Eugene (just get 'em outta downtown) and Portland (say you'll do anything). 

Lime green = proposed site                                                                                 Red = existing site
Lane County is trying to move a camp set up as a protest from downtown out to an industrial area near Hwy 99 and Roosevelt Blvd.  As always, health and safety concerns are cited as reasons, but the proposed camp is actually closer to services.  Hillcrest, on the other hand, would not be close to services, many of which are downtown.

In Portland, gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler's promised to open Wapato for the homeless if he's elected.  But, as Darrin Brightman points out, the owner's already asked for and failed to receive any viable operating proposal, which suggests a homeless shelter is not a realistic option.  Hillcrest is certainly no more so, not that the City's bothered to ask any providers if they'd be interested, probably because it knows there aren't any.

So, is the City just going through the motions?  Is that why it didn't include Treichel or Lewis or Polk County in their conversations?  Maybe.  But if they're not just going through the motions, what are they doing? 

The MWHI Steering Committee hopes to have a new Program Coordinator starting in January 2019.

[11/10/18 Update: added links to Treichel's inventory map, initial findings and summary.]    

Friday, October 26, 2018

MWVCAA Promotes CRP Director to Head of Agency

Revised: January 2019


By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Jimmy Jones to replace Jon Reeves at MWVCAA
The MWVCAA Board of Directors agreed Thursday night to promote CRP Director Jimmy Jones to Executive Director.  Jones had been acting as Interim Executive Director since May 22, 2018, following the sudden departure of his predecessor Jon Reeves amidst financial and regulatory troubles at the agency.  MWVCAA has an annual budget of roughly $30M, mostly in state and federal grants.  

According to MWVCAA's HR Director, Helena Haytas, Jones was chosen from a field of 30 minimally qualified applicants, 8 of whom were given a personal interview, 2 of whom -- Jones and Sheri Boelter of Billings, MT -- became finalists.  Sources say the search committee wanted to stop the process at that point and recommend Jones, but the BOD insisted the process continue as planned, with a second interview and a community "Meet and Greet."       

Jones is not your typical social worker.  He's an academic who found a calling later in life than is perhaps usual.  His main strengths in this competition were his incumbency and his dedication to the work of The ARCHES Project, which he took charge of in March of 2017, immediately thereafter  becoming involved in a scheme to use state homeless assistance funds to purchase a large office building on Commercial Street, and turn it into a "resource center."  

Complaints trigger scrutiny...
Unlike Jones, Boelter has "actual experience" as a non-profit executive director.  After seven years with the Community Action Agency in Billings as "Chief of Development and Planning Officer", she was chosen to head the Tumbleweed Runaway Program in Billings.  She left that position in 2015 under a cloud (allegations that she may have inflated or even  fabricated numbers), however.  (Her blog states that she left for medical reasons.)  In 2016, Boelter was hired to direct Young Families Early Head Start in Billings (at a greatly reduced salary, according to YFEHS's Form 990), but she recently left that position as well, for reasons unknown.  Those two departures, and the fact that neither Tumbleweed nor YFEHS had a budget exceeding $1.5M, may have leveled the playing field between the two candidates.

It's not particularly reassuring that an agency with financial and regulatory issues would short-list two individuals who've been credibly charged with engaging in sharp practice in pursuit of their professional goals.  However, it's possible the search committee didn't know about the complaints against Boelter.  The committee did, however, know about the purchase of the Commercial Street property.  Asked why the BOD should overlook his conduct in that purchase, Jones responded,

I do not think they should.  I was two months into that job and given a task to execute so I executed it.  We were less than 90 days from losing $500,000 so it was executed clumsily and with a great deal of optimism, when a healthy dose of skepticism would have better served us.  That plan was approved by OHCS and we have cobbled together the renovation costs, just not with the speed we hoped.  

Call it optimism, or call it willful blindness.  Whatever you call it, it's not a desirable characteristic in an executive director, certainly not an executive director of a multi-million dollar, quasi-government agency.  Consider what's happened to MWVCAA over the past three years, as Jon Reeves (and the BOD) have "optimistically" failed to provide a "healthy dose of skepticism" in the conduct of its financial affairs.

So, is there any reason to hope that Jones as E.D. will be willing to control his "optimism"?  Maybe.  In his closing remarks to the community last week, Jones said he had had no intention of applying for the position of E.D. when he "moved over to the main office" as Interim.

But, working over there, I came to believe, over time, that our agency had struggled...And I came to believe that most of the things our agency had struggled with I understood and could fix going forward.  So, the best way to protect my work...and the people that I serve, in the end, I decided to apply for this position.      

Admitting publicly that "our agency has struggled" and needs fixing, when the agency itself has never done so*, is a good sign, even though it was also optimistic, even risky, considering the competition had not been decided.

*The institutional blindness is so profound that the search committee didn't even inform Boelter of  ODE CNP's recent "serious deficiency" determination against the agency.

Below is the complete statement issued by the Tumbleweed board in March 2015, as published here (8KPAX, 3/20/15)):

The Tumbleweed Board of Directors has done a thorough investigation into allegations regarding our Executive Director, Sheri Boelter. Our volunteer board has spent hundreds of work hours investigating these allegations, including interviewing former and current employees and reviewing data. Yellowstone Youth Crisis Network conducted its own review of our files based on these accusations and found everything to be in order - except that it appeared that data on youth homelessness was actually under-reported. The board found no evidence that any staff member had been directed or encouraged to inflate data about at-risk and homeless youth. We found no evidence (and are aware of no claim) that anyone has misappropriated any money or that any discrepancies in data affected any grants. Appropriate actions have been taken from our findings, and we have used this opportunity to improve some policies, including policies on how data is reported and updated. All other actions taken by the board will remain private in order to comply with employee privacy rights. The board continues to believe Sheri Boelter to be the right person running Tumbleweed, and she has the support of the board going forward. We are ready to return our focus to supporting Sheri and her staff in serving the runaway, homeless, and at-risk youth of Billings. As the board investigated these allegations, one conclusion we have reached is that the need is real and is under-served in our community. We are in midst of major renovations to our facility, paid for in part by the 2014 banquet, to expand our drop-in center services and hours. We will welcome the community to an open house to see our new drop-in center and the continued work of our program when construction is completed.

For more about the assertion that, notwithstanding the statement of board support, Boelter left "under a cloud", see Kemmick, E. "Boelter is out as director of Tumbleweed Program" (31 December 2015, Last Best News) and Brouwer, D. "As Tumbleweed board stands by director, questions still remain." (19 March 2015, Billings Gazette). 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Chipping in

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

PDX:  Billionaires challenge each other on social media to do more about homelessness.

Salem:  Mayor issues press release asking residents to "step up" and "join the effort."
Yeah, it's not a horse race, but the Mayor burst out of the virtual gate in 2017 with an ambitious plan to address the City's outsized chronic homelessness problem -- the City's first true Housing First program.  And, since then, he seems to have grown a bit shy on the subject of homelessness.  After a couple of recent Willamette Wake Up radio interviews focusing on the situation downtown, he quit his monthly gig there.  Could it be he felt unprepared to deal with such a complex subject?  Or, could it be he didn't like being quoted?  We asked, but he declined to answer.  

Maybe the Mayor's retreat had to do with his not wanting to be asked about a recent resident satisfaction survey by the City of Salem.  As we reported earlier, that survey found a majority of residents were unsatisfied with the "City’s coordination of social services to serve needs of homeless in our community."  The City responded to that finding by -- wait for it -- issuing a press release that made a subtle change in the way it described the duties of the regional coordinator hired by the Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments.  

Original description on the City website: "Following the recommendation of the Mid-Valley Homeless Initiative, the City of Salem contributed $45,000 toward the hiring of a regional coordinator at the Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments.  This person is responsible for planning and coordinating programs and projects to prevent and reduce homelessness with our region’s cities, counties, agencies, and services providers." 

City's press release description: "Following the recommendation of the Mid-Valley Homeless Initiative, the City of Salem contributed $45,000 toward the hiring of a regional coordinator at the Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments.  Under the direction of Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative leadership, this person researches best practices and coordinates homelessness reduction efforts with the region's city, county and other local governments."

In fairness, both versions overstate what's being done.  Compare the regional coordinator's one-year work plan.  Along the same lines, the press release states, "Salem is taking a collaborative approach and adapting best practices to fit our community."  No explanation, just the bare assertion.  But, if you're gonna brag about collaboratively altering a best practice (e.g., Housing First), you need to explain somehow what it is you changed and why, and prove it's still effective (e.g., the Winnipeg approach).       

The press release quotes the Mayor as saying "We have built a strong foundation to address homelessness" and states, "Your individual involvement plays a vital part of reducing homelessness in Salem."  But is either of those statements true?  Less than a month ago, the Mayor was struggling to articulate the City's homelessness policy.  Now, all of a sudden, we have a strong foundation?  And, aren't we way past the point of calling for individual involvement?  We're not saying we shouldn't showcase Abel or Raul or Claire -- we're saying that a homelessness policy that's reliant on individual involvement for its effectiveness is not even a policy, it's just wishful thinking.  As Salem Breakfast on Bikes says about the transportation system, "What we need now is system change, not the individual actions of virtuous-minded individuals."

No community can end homelessness as long its leaders substitute policy for hollow phrases like, "Homelessness is all of our responsibility", and "we" just need "chip in", "step up" and "join the effort" because, in essence, "Anything Helps."  The proper response to community dissatisfaction with the City's coordination of social services is immediate, decisive, and sustainable action, like following through with recreating the Salem, Marion and Polk CoC to coordinate the delivery of homeless services, convening the Good Neighbor Partnership that the DHSTF recommended, and calling on religious and business leaders to pledge financial support for HRAP.         

The City Council decided last year to embark on a process to revise Salem's Comprehensive Plan, which is supposed to guide how the City grows.  Guess whether the current plan includes a section on homelessness.  The City's "plan" for homelessness is a ten year-old document whose sole purpose is to have something to cite in submissions to HUD.  In other words, there is no comprehensive plan,  policy, set of guidelines or reference points for decision-making on matters affecting homeless services delivery, e.g., shelter siting, other than what is in the zoning code and Strategic Plan, which is pretty minimal.  That's why the City's always reacting to public pressure to "do something" and having to pull together task forces and work groups to try and figure something out, but the result often just confuses and angers people, politicians included, more.

The latest example is the non-public "feasibility meeting" called by Councilor Kaser and Mayor Bennett to consider a possible "organized camping" ordinance.  The meeting resulted in an unofficial, ad hoc decision to look at siting a low-barrier shelter somewhere away from downtown, not because "away from downtown" was, after due deliberation, determined to be the best place for single men and women struggling with substance abuse issues to be sheltered, but because that's where some politician prefers for them to be.  Not only was that a policy decision, it was a bad policy decision, from both a process and a substantive standpoint, and the community, including the homeless community, deserves better.  As Jeff Kositsky says, “You can’t solve homelessness by addressing housed people’s complaints, you solve homelessness by addressing homeless people’s needs.”  Just "anything" doesn't help Salem's homeless residents. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

10/16/18 Minutes

Members: Deb Comini
Organizations: Raleigh Kirshman, Union Gospel Mission; Katya Goloviznina, Salem Area Chamber of Commerce
City and County Representatives: David Smith, Jennifer Hingston and John Gibson, SPD
Guests: none

The regular meeting of the CANDO Board of Directors was called to order at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, October 16, 2018, at the First Christian Church at 685 Marion Street NE, Salem.  The Chair and Secretary-Treasurer were present.  

Sarah Owens’s motion to postpone indefinitely the motion to recommend that the City Council retain Winter Street SE between Ferry and Bellevue in the Pay to Park District passed unanimously.  By unanimous consent, the minutes of the July and September meetings were approved.

Councilor Kaser reported that Willamette University had withdrawn its objections to including Winter Street SE between Ferry and Bellevue in the Pay to Park District (see below), and mentioned a few items coming up on the Council calendar, including the hearing on a proposed ordinance banning certain single-use plastic bags, the town hall and subsequent work session on the Council Policy Agenda, and a public hearing on increasing solid waste fees.  She also reported that she planned to ask Council to direct staff to draft an ordinance requiring closed captioning on televisions in public spaces.

Following up her report last month that she was at the beginning stages of looking at a possible “supervised camping” ordinance, Councilor Kaser reported having held a 90-minute “feasibility meeting” that included the City Manager Steve Powers, Housing Authority Administrator Andy Wilch, SPD Chief Jerry Moore and Deputy Chief Skip Miller, Parks and Transportation Services Manager Mark Bechtel, Mayor Chuck Bennett, SHA Client Services Manager Kellie Battaglia, MWVCAA Interim Director Jimmy Jones, and, from the community,  Neal Kern (CANDO) and Audrey Schackel (St. Mark Lutheran Church).  Councilor Kaser reported that the idea of allowing camping in Marion Square Park was “shot down immediately.”  She said if the City were to allow such a project to go forward somewhere else, it should focus on homeless women.  However, the impact would be very small considering the resources it would require.  Alternatively, a low-barrier shelter using the same resources would probably have greater impact.  The City Manager is looking at the former Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility (2450 Strong Rd SE) and the former K-Mart building (2470 Mission St. SE) as possible low-barrier shelter sites. Councilor Kaser said she was interested in having shelters “not concentrated downtown”, and, in response to a question about cost, that “the City shouldn’t run the shelter.”  [The City ultimately decided not to proceed with the project.]

Officer David Smith reported that the Downtown Enforcement Team was in its “transition season”, when they’re spending less time dealing with problems at Marion Square Park, and more time with residents bedding down in the parkades and entryways downtown and the affected businesses.  He said they’d also been going down to the flood-prone areas along the river where there were an “extensive number” of camps, including one with a two-story wooden-pallet structure.  He said that, despite rumors of greater numbers, they had posted only 10-15 camps with at most 2 people per camp, and were still in the process of cleaning up.  He recognized that such actions do force some people into the downtown.  He said the team was getting a lot of mileage out of its utility vehicle, patrolling Minto Brown Island and Riverfront Parks.  He asked everyone several times to encourage people to enjoy the parks with a buddy and pepper spray.
In public comments, Katya Goloviznina said there would be a Salem-Keizer School District Boundary Adjustment Open House on October 30 from 6 to 8p at CTEC.  
Sarah Owens’s motions to cancel the December meeting, and to adopt a resolution supporting the creation of a Good Neighbor Partnership as recommended by the Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force passed unanimously, subject to the Board’s approval of the the final form of the resolution.  

There being no other business before the board, the Chair adjourned the meeting at 6:55 p.m.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

TSA Launches Salem-Keizer Collaboration

Revised: January 2019

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Ashley Shaw (HOME YRC), Dan Wms (TSA), Bryce Peterson (Salem Hlth)
Last week, Salvation Army Major Dan Williams stood in front of a huge banner sporting the North Salem SIT's new name and logo and told 60 or so attendees that TSA had been "looking forward to this [launch] a little over a month" (Salem Health announced TSA's involvement on August 17, 2018).

Williams said he was having lunch one day with Salem Health's Bryce Peterson, who was looking for an agency to take over the North Salem SIT.  He said he "told Bryce, 'Why not us? Do you think there would be a conflict of interest, or anything else, with us doing it?'  And he [Bryce] said, 'No'.  And I said, 'Neither do I'." 

Williams said he told Bryce,

Why don't we throw our hat in the ring?  We'll hold the first meeting, we'll talk about the direction that we think that we're going to head and the direction that we're going, some of the things we've talked about and started, and go from there?  And, if everybody's in agreement, then we will take it on, and we will move forward with it.

Williams said he'd been on Salem Health's steering committee "toward the end" (he attended one of 15 meetings) and that he'd spoken with Brent Demoe, whom he referred to as the "founder of the SIT program in Polk County" (Donna Middleton initiated SI in Polk County, years before Demoe arrived on the scene).  Williams said Brent had told him that "the SIT program" 

[W]orks really well in a rural area.  It works really well in a smaller area.  But in Salem, because Salem is so big, it wasn't quite -- holding to one catchment area, holding to one really difficult to do because then you can only help people in that one area. 

So, Williams said, he put together a group, consisting of Bryce, TSA's Social Services Director Jason Ramos, Angela Parada from Salem Housing Authority, Ashley Shaw from MWVCAA's HOME YRC, Cassandra Hutchinson of NWSDS, Janet Herb from DHS and Kristin and Memo from NWHS, and they decided, as TSA "couldn't really continue to run this as a SIT program because of the criteria and what the SIT program criteria was, that you had to be in one catchment area to do that", to change the name to Salem-Keizer Collaboration and expand the service area to all of Salem and Keizer, except for West Salem, which has its own SIT.

Other than the name change and expanded service area, Williams said, SKC will be "keeping the same criteria as the SIT program."

The only difference between us [SKC] and what the SIT was set up to do is that we're going to expand the area.  This doesn't mean to say we can't change it at some point...I didn't want to walk in this room and all of sudden change it on you in mid-stream.  I want to be able to talk and look at it and see what we need to do.

Translation:  he has already decided to make changes but wants to make it look like they're coming from the partners.

I'm going to send out some questions on a Survey Monkey...that we would like for you to respond to.  So, as we move forward, we develop this in a way that works for all of us.  Because here's the thing.  I want you here, in this room.  I need you, and you need each other to be in this room together, and the only way that we can do that, and to help people that are in need, is if we're in here.

Williams said Memo had asked him "how long is Salvation Army in this for?  And I looked at him and said, as long as you are.  [Pause.] We're in it for the long haul.  I was asked if we were in it only for as long as the money lasts?  No.  We're in it for the long haul."  "But", he added,

It depends on what happens today.  If we say as a group today that this is a meeting that means a lot to you, if you want to continue under the name Salem-Keizer Collaboration, no longer a SIT program, then I need to know that.  Because if we do that, then we have a lot of plans moving forward that we need to get started on.  The [fiscal] agent for this will remain the money never comes into our bookkeeping...So I need to know -- here's the thing -- see this beautiful banner back here that Salem Health got for us?  What I want to know is, if we're in, we need to be on this...I want to put your logo, your agency on this banner to say, we're in this together...If it is [something you want to do], then we're going to hire somebody to do's not going to be anybody on staff right now, we're going to hire somebody to run this program for us...We have a grant for the first year, and we're going to have goals.  Every quarter, I told the grantee [sic], that we would get them goals...and we would give them a report to tell them where we're at with this.  And, what the goals are going to be is, how many lives did we touch in this room and how many agencies showed up every month to work together...Those are our goals...[If you agree], we will be moving forward with hiring somebody, we will be...getting a URL, so that that way the web page will go directly to...[TSA's] social service page...we want that person before we get to the next meeting...So, are we in?"  

Noises of mild assent emanated from a few people on the right side of the room.  "Okay", Williams said, "then we will be moving forward with that."

The North Salem SIT started out with $3,500 in General, or Team, funds (courtesy PH Tech), $19,408 from the Early Learning Hub (ELH funds are available to benefit children under the age of 6, including children in utero) and a share of the $15,000 Willamette Valley Community Health grant to Salem Health. 

Williams told the group there was $3,178.83 left from WVCH (the agenda had that amount listed as the General Fund balance) and $17,222.29 left from the Early Learning Hub.  Williams asked if there were any questions, "I can't answer."  There were no questions.  The meeting moved on to resource questions.

We asked Salem Health about the WVCH/General Fund balance.  We learned that Shangri-La, the fiscal agent for the Salem Health teams, held all three teams' "general balance" funds and the $15,000 WVCH grant funds in a single account.  All three teams also shared a debit card account.  To calculate what amount should be transferred to each team, Salem Health divided the ending balance on the joint account ($7,576.48) and the ending balance on the debit card account ($2,182.34) three ways, and added to or subtracted from that total each team's book ending balance ($751.70 for Woodburn, $1,013.14 for N. Marion, and -$74.11 for N. Salem).  Based on those calculations, Salem Health transferred funds to each team as follows:  $4,004.64 to Woodburn, $4,266.08 to N. Marion, and $3,178.83 to N. Salem.          

A recap of the meeting sent out the day after the meeting characterized it this way.

The afternoon was filled with great positive energy, lots of laughs, impactful discussions, and incredible networking!  Much feedback of support and encouragement for the Salem Keizer Collaboration team continues to grow in order to impact those in our neighboring communities!

Trigger warning:  If this meeting or its description here left you feeling hopeful, grateful, or good, what follows could be disappointing.

The meeting we attended was not filled with "great positive energy, lots of laughs, impactful discussions [or] incredible networking."  Williams had filled his presentation with TSA/Kroc promos, complete with Kroc Center day pass and coffee mug giveaways, program guides, scholarships, invitations to "Kroctoberfest" and the "Red Kettle Kickoff", right down to the altar call of "Are we in?"  His audience was polite, some were grateful, but more than a few seemed reserved, even skeptical, and here's probably why. 

TSA proposes The Salem-Keizer Collaboration as the successor to the North Salem SIT pilot.  Not to rub it in, but one does need to keep in mind that, from a service integration standpoint, the pilot was a failure.  Knowing that, what is TSA's plan for success?  What will that look like, and how will it be measured?  Surely, it can't just be the number of people served, or how many agencies show up?     

Williams says both that SKC is "no longer a SIT program" and that "the only difference between us [SKC] and what the SIT was set up to do is that we're going to expand the area."  So which is it?  Is TSA attempting service integration, or isn't it? 

We know from experience that service integration is not as easy as it might look.  At a minimum, success requires a program coordinator with
  1. significant local social service experience, relationships, and knowledge, 
  2. the necessary skill set, 
  3. administrative support, 
  4. hours sufficient to meet demand.
Meetings are important, but service integration occurs primarily outside the meetings.  One of the reasons the North Salem SIT failed was Salem Health's reliance on the naive belief that "SIT magic" just happens in meetings, when in reality it is the result of the skill and hard work of a qualified coordinator in between meetings.  Williams did not say whether TSA plans to hire a "meeting facilitator", as Salem Health did, or whether they will be looking for a full-time, qualified coordinator.       

The "Salem-Keizer Collaborative" Oct 3, Kroc Center
Based on what was said at this first meeting, it would seem that TSA really doesn't have much of a plan, unless one considers "we [will] develop this in a way that works for all of us" to be a plan.

Such a plan might work for a relatively small group whose members attend consistently, but not a large and fluid group like SKC, with its vastly expanded service area, is likely to be.

Again, we know from experience that a room of 60+ people is not the most collegial setting, nor is it conducive to group decision-making or problem solving.  One can't even read the name tents on the side opposite, or be heard without a microphone, in a group that large.

So, given all the limitations of a large group, why did TSA decide to expand?  The obvious answer is convenience.  One meeting of service providers instead of six, potentially.  Will the trade-off -- losing the community orientation, the unifying focus on the local schools, the deep involvement of school counselors, area churches and neighborhood groups -- be worth it?  Can the size problem be overcome by splitting into SLF-type "action teams" at some point during the meeting?  Maybe.  But, why bring together 60+ social workers, only to split them up again?

If convenience is paramount, why not forget the meeting, put those admin dollars toward direct aid, and just send every funding request through for a vote "as is", the way Salem Health ended up doing?  For that matter, why not forget the voting?  The team approves requests anyway.  That really would be convenient. 

The need for service integration in this community is not in dispute, and awareness of its absence has grown well beyond the professional community.  A recent survey of Salem residents found that a majority remain less than satisfied with the City’s coordination of social services to serve needs of homeless (emphasis added).  For years, the City (through its Housing Authority) has hosted monthly networking meetings of homeless/housing providers at the Union Gospel Men's Mission, and it hasn't been enough.  The community really doesn't need another networking meeting. 

Aside from TSA's not having much of a plan for SKC and the overall lack of transparency, we note the failure to:
  1. communicate directly with the team before October 2, 
  2. acknowledge and thank North Salem SIT coordinators Skye Hibbard-Swanson and Sheri Beehner, both of whom were present for the October 3d meeting,
  3. provide an accurate accounting of funds spent in 2017-2018 (the final ledger issued in June was neither complete nor accurate) (probably not practically possible, because of the way the accounts were kept),
  4. acknowledge and thank Salem Health for its continued financial support (we are hearing $25,000 for 2018-2019),
  5. provide instructions on how to submit funding requests,
  6. acknowledge and address satisfactorily the conflict of interest that exists when a partner/advocate takes on the role of coordinator (Bryce told us on August 21st that he had discussed the conflict issue with Williams and that Williams had assured him it would be dealt with properly.  He did not say he and Williams had agreed there was no conflict.)