Friday, August 30, 2019

City to Go Solo with Sit-Lie Jr.

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Community Forum at Loucks Auditorium, Public Library, circa 2016
The City announced yesterday in a press release that it will be conducting two community forums on Sit-Lie, Jr., which the City refers to as a "sidewalk behavior ordinance."  Per Councilor Leung, the ordinance is tentatively scheduled to go to City Council on October 14.  If, as expected, the Council adopts the ordinance, it will become effective January 1, 2020.

Councilor Leung is reportedly the only councilor not presently supporting the proposed ordinance, which is virtually unchanged from the version that failed to pass in 2017, before she was on the Council.  See "Sit-Lie, Sit-Lie Jr, Very Similar."

For our analysis of the failed 2017 ordinance, see "City Council to Consider Sit-Lie Bill" (20 September 2017).

The first forum will be at the Union Gospel Men's Mission, Wednesday evening, September 4, in the chapel.  Tour at 5, followed by forum 5:30 to 7p.  The first half-hour will be "information sharing", with an hour for questions/comments. 

The second forum will be at Loucks Auditorium of the Salem Public Library, Friday, September 13, from noon to 1:30p, same format as the first forum. 

There to respond to questions and comments will be representatives from the City’s Urban Development Department, Salem Housing Authority, Salem Police Department, and the City Attorney’s Office.

The City originally tried to promote Sit-Lie, Jr. as some kind of supportive service for people living on the streets of Salem, but providers were having none of it.  See "City to Market Sit-Lie at Community Forum" and "City's Community Forum Plan Falters."  As a result, the City must sit naked and alone on stage with Sit-Lie, Jr.  Don't be surprised, however, if that first half-hour of "information sharing" isn't a litany of all that the City's done to support programs providing resources and services to people experiencing homeless, as if that has anything at all to do with Sit-Lie, Jr.

Sit-Lie, Jr., the City will say, is about balancing the rights of homeless people with the rights of downtown businesses, particularly businesses who've expanded their operations to public spaces like sidewalks.  Stories will be told to illustrate that, whereas businesses have no problem trespassing "unwanted persons" from their premises, it's not so easy to eject them forcefully from a public space like a sidewalk.  Accordingly, the City will claim, a law is needed.

Expect the City to claim that adopting Sit-Lie, Jr. will not cost anything.  Chief Moore will offer reassurances that the majority of those targeted for enforcement will simply agree to move along, no problem.  He will have no evidence to support his claim, however.  The Chief also will say how compassionate he and his officers are and suggest that downtown business owners are just as deserving of compassion as people experiencing homelessness, as if threatening person A with force can be considered an act of compassion toward person B.

Asked where the people targeted with enforcement will go between 7a and 9p, the City will say (misleadingly) ARCHES, UGM and the Salvation Army (see the City's sit-lie FAQs).  However, The ARCHES Project day shelter is open only 8:30a to 3p, M-F.  UGM's day room is open only to men 6-8am and 9:15am to 8pm.  HOAP day shelter is open only 9a to 2p M-F, (women only 9a to 11 Mon/Thurs). Lighthouse Shelter and Simonka Place are not open during the day (except inclement weather events).

So, men may hang out at UGM during the day, except between 8a and 9:15, unless they've been trespassed for some reason.  They also can go to ARCHES and HOAP until mid-afternoon. Women have  fewer choices.  At 7a, there's UGM for breakfast.  Mondays through Fridays, women can go to ARCHES at 8:30a, or to HOAP at 9a, but both close mid-afternoon.  Thus, on weekends and on weekdays after 3p, women may eat an evening meal at UGM, but they have no other welcoming place to be.  Don't expect the City to acknowledge such realities at this forum.

Also don't expect the City to acknowledge the claims of providers that the law will drive vulnerable people into residential areas and away from services or discuss in any detail the success or failure of sit-lie laws in other cities, including why Eugene and Portland have chosen not to go the sit-lie route, but to focus instead on strategies that have been shown to work, like developing a viable alternative to calling the police (see, e.g., Clark County, WA's "Business Toolkit").

Despite all the above, if the City is going to insist on moving forward with Sit-Lie, Jr. despite its lack of community support, the forums are a good idea.  Evidence that sit-lie ordinances "work" would be better, but the City Council seems to prefer to base its decisions on opinions.  So, go to the forums and share your opinions.  Maybe the City Council will attend and listen.   

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

City's Community Forum Plan Falters

By Sarah Owens


Homeless services providers are "always happy to talk about the good things" they're doing, but they're concerned that their participation in a community forum with Sit-Lie, Jr. on the program might be seen as a tacit endorsement of it.  See  "City to Market Sit-Lie at Community Forum."  Consequently, they are unwilling to participate in a forum if Sit-Lie, Jr. is on the program.

The forum was planned for September 4, with the sit-lie ordinance going to City Council on September 23. 

For some providers, the concern to avoid tacit endorsement of Sit-Lie, Jr. extends to  participation in meetings of the work group that the City is now calling the "Good Neighbor Partnership."  The group's first meeting took place June 25, one month before Sit-Lie, Jr. was originally scheduled to go before the City Council -- although that was not generally known at the time.  See "Son of Sit-Lie to Return."

A couple of hours before the meeting, Michael Livingston and I asked if we might attend, and were told no, that the work group needed one meeting without an audience to be able to speak freely about goals and so forth.  The impression we were given was that there was no agenda, other than to set group goals and expectations.  

However, according to the City, that night the group also "talked about the importance of accountability" and was asked whether "a behavior-related ordinance" was a good example of what was meant by "accountability."  When "some [business reps] said yes", the group was asked about "daytime vs. all the time, warnings vs. citations, how many warnings before someone would be trespassed from the downtown, if they were trespassed and then excluded from the downtown what kind of service barrier would this be, what if people were trespassed or excluded from the public right of way, but could still visit service providers and enter an exclusion zone for the purpose of seeking shelter, meals, or other services from a provider?"  According to several participants, the group was not informed that a sit-lie ordinance was going to the City Council in July.  

It was not until after we published "Son of Sit-Lie to Return" on July 11, and called the City out for bringing back a sit-lie ordinance without having formed and consulted a Good Neighbor Partnership (see Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force Recommendation #3) that the City renamed the work group the Good Neighbor Partnership.  See "City Scrambling to Save Son of Sit-Lie."

The work group's second meeting on August 14 focused on the City's plan to hold a "community forum to share information on services, initiatives, and issues surrounding homelessness." See "City to Market Sit-Lie at Community Forum."  The City's proposed sit-lie ordinance was also on the agenda.  (For those who might not know, "Issues surrounding homelessness" here means stories intended to make the case for a sit-lie ordinance.)

Only two of the group's seven business reps showed up for the second meeting, Hazel Patton and the Chamber's Communications Manager, Gabby Garrido.  They didn't have any stories, so the it fell to  Urban Development Director and group facilitator Kristin Retherford to try and make the case for sit-lie.  At least twice, she related stories of business encounters with people engaging in problem behaviors downtown, none of which involved sitting or lying on sidewalks.  The stories always end with, "but if it happens outside, the police can't do anything."

Several of us pointed out that, in fact, the police can and do often "do something" in such situations.  But, what Retherford meant to convey was that the behavior outside on the sidewalk isn't an offense, so police can't cite/exclude the "unwanted person" from the area, they can only ask the person to leave.  Therefore, the behavior should be deemed criminal (an offense, infraction).  Trouble is, a sit-lie ordinance would  not prohibit the behavior Retherford related to the work group.

Providers say they want a "bright line" between them and Sit-Lie, Jr.  They would rather be seen to be investing in "successful models" (e.g., trainings on resources and de-escalation techniques) and building trusting relationships.  "What's sit-lie got to do with trust?", asked one provider put it during the meeting on August 14.

According to the City's plan for the forum, panelists would take questions from a moderator (no questions from the audience), to avoid putting anyone "on the spot."  But not everyone agrees with that approach.  "We can't support sit-lie consistent with mission and purpose.  Why not just put it the whole thing out there?"  At the same time, no one wants to be the business community's punching bag.  As Dan Clem put it, "I'm not interested in having another slapfest [referring to accusations made by business reps at the first meeting].  It's the business community that want this, let the Chamber put something together."  (The Chamber has since offered to host a forum.)

As it happens, what the business community want is not a forum on resources, but a one-page "who to call" guide, according to Salem Main Street Association officials.  That's what they wanted back in 2017, when CANDO reached out to the Chamber/Nick Williams and downtown businesses right after the first sit-lie ordinance failed.  CANDO talked with the Mayor, and met with Urban Development Department staff, and offered to help craft such a guide (see, e.g., Clark County, WA's "Business Toolkit").  But no, the City had to convene another task force.

Now, two years later, despite providers' outreach efforts, businesses are apparently no better connected to resources, and it's Salem Main Street Association, instead of the Chamber, asking for the "who to call" guide on the grounds that businesses still don't know whom to call, when, or for what.  So, they call the police, despite "understanding that calling the police is not the right answer in every situation."

Given community agreement that calling the police is not the right answer in every situation, then the solution isn't to expand the number of situations where "calling the police is...the right answer."  Yet that's exactly what a sit-lie ordinance would do.  If all you have is a hammer... 

Photo courtesy CAHOOTS
We need to rethink our first response.  Salem police do not need to have their areas of responsibilities expanded so that they must police even more nuisance behavior.  They have much more serious problems to solve.  See Harrell, S. "Salem Police Chief reacts to community concern over recent street violence."  (Salem Reporter, August 12, 2019.)  The City should table its latest plan to pass a sit-lie ordinance and instead work with the so-called Good Neighbor Partnership to coordinate services, identify concrete, reliable alternatives to calling police, share those alternatives with business community.  That's what works.  That's what the community really want.

8/27/19 Update:  the City plans to hold a "Downtown Homeless Initiatives Forum" in the chapel of the UGM Men's Mission from 5:30 to 7 on Wednesday, September 4.  The forum will include a draft copy of a downtown "tool kit" (based on the one used in Clark County, WA), provide shelter and housing updates, and market Sit-Lie, Jr.  UGM says it's not taking a position on Sit-Lie, Jr.  The City's stated goal for the forum "is to bring the community together to discuss ways to help people on the streets/sidewalks, offer downtown businesses practical advice, and discuss Sit-Lie, Jr.  Panelists to  include representatives from the City’s Urban Development Department, the UGM, Salem Housing Authority, Salem Police Department, and the City Attorney’s Office.

Friday, August 16, 2019

News from the Continuum

By Sarah Owens

Lts Quinton and Deanna Markham
The new leadership of The Salvation Army of Marion and Polk Counties has moved quietly into position.  Lts Quinton and Deanna Markham are recently arrived from their previous assignment in Modesto, CA.  See "West Announces 2019 Officer Moves."  

Will Salem see the Lighthouse Shelter continue to decline under the Markhams' leadership?  Depends on whether they share their predecessors' view that "it's all about kids."  (They might not.  See  "Salvation Army commits to doubling impact on homelessness.")    

The Salem Housing Authority Board of Commissioners and City Council recently authorized extending the HRAP grant agreement through June 2020 to allow about $720K unspent 2019 funds to roll over to the current fiscal year.  The funds cover everything from rent assistance and  barrier removal to admin and salaries.

HRAP's going through some changes.  Several Salem Housing Authority staff who got the program through its first two years -- Andy Wilch, Kellie Bataglia, Sonya Ryland and Pamala Garrick -- have all left the building.  There was a definite shift in the feel and focus of the program as it moved into its second year, and pressure mounted to move stable participants onto vouchers.  By year three, the eviction rate had risen slightly, and new management was contemplating limiting participation to those with  lower needs.  (Never mind that vulnerability outside is not an accurate predictor of housing stability).  The continued shortage of affordable housing, budgetary pressures, and sensational headlines haven't helped.  See Bach, J. "Can Salem continue to pay for its 'housing first' program to get homeless off the streets?"  (Statesman Journal, May 19, 2019.)   Brynelson, T. "Landlords say they're taking a risk renting to Salem's homeless."  (Salem Reporter, July 17, 2019.) Brynelson, T. "Former Salem Housing Authority staffer slams 'toxic environment' in resignation letter."  (Salem Reporter, August 14, 2019.)

Some HRAP graduates have been forced to search for new housing, versus remaining in their homes on the voucher as the program intended -- Michael (at right) being one example.  And, as we all know, it's really, really hard to find housing at voucher rates.  In a handful of cases, graduates have had to turn to MWVCAA's The ARCHES Project, for help.  As far as anyone knows, the City's five-year financing commitment to the program remains unchanged, but given certain councilors' flip-flop on the sit-lie issue, nothing is certain.  See "City to Market Sit-Lie at Community Forum." 

The state's housing finance agency, Oregon Housing and Community Services, had a successful legislative session.  See the OHCS's legislative budget summary here at page 133.  We are talking success in the hundreds of millions, some of which will come to Marion and Polk counties.

The 2019 Session also brought statewide upzoning reform (ban on single-family zones).  The effect of that ban locally remains to be seen. 

Pros might be interested in the recent OHCS-commissioned studies on affordable housing costs (here at 67), and on statewide shelters here.  The shelter study recommends that the state support the development of navigation centers in Salem and Eugene.  Nav centers are emergency low-barrier shelters that accommodate partners, pets, and possessions, operate 24/7 and provide intensive case management to connect people to public benefits, health services and permanent housing.

Finally, a mere two years after OHCS was caught colluding with MWVCAA to cover up the misap-propriation of EHA/SHAP funds for the purchase of 615 Commercial Street NE (see "MWVCAA Purchase Sidesteps State Approval Process"),
OHCS is implementing formal procedures for approving and overseeing the use of emergency housing funds for real estate purchases.  See here at 43.  The new procedures are, of course, to be applied prospectively, and make no provision in the event of fraud, misrepresentation or non-compliance.

Friday, August 9, 2019

City to Market Sit-Lie at Community Forum

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

August 21 September 4 community forum to feature Sit-Lie Jr?
(providers refuse to participate)
The City has invited homeless housing and service providers to participate in a community forum at Loucks Auditorium on the evening of August 21.  [Rescheduled to 9/4/19]

Its goal:  "to provide information to the community on services, projects, initiatives, and experiences."

Its structure:  a panel answering a moderator's questions (no pesky audience questions, thank you.)

And right in the middle of that panel, you guessed it, will be a City rep to tell us all about how Sit-Lie Jr. is going to "keep sidewalks and public spaces clean and welcoming to all" and "provide more options for police officers to connect the homeless with the help they need."  (See 8/2/19 press release, "Salem responds to growing concerns of activities in public right of way, including sidewalks and parking strips.")  It does not, repeat not criminalize homelessness.  

It was the 2017 version that criminalized homelessness.  Councilor Hoy said soThis version is different.  It has a new name.  "An Ordinance Relating to Conduct on Sidewalks."  Hoy has said  he supports it (he opposed the 2017 bill).  So has Councilor Kaser (ditto).   

Trouble is, the two versions are virtually identical.  See "Sit-Lie, Sit-Lie Jr. 'Very Similar'."

Whether or not the forum takes place depends on whether enough providers are willing to participate;  make the forum look like something other than what it is:  "outreach" in support of Sit-Lie Jr.  

That's why the City's invited providers who can be counted on to know who butters their bread.  Speaking of which, the Salem Main Street Association's been invited to participate, and share "information on what they hear from downtown businesses and property owners."  Readers may recall that, in 2017, downtown businesses and property owners were afraid to come out publicly in favor of the ordinance.  See "Council Kills Sit-Lie after Public Hearing."  But since when has "information" on what someone's heard been considered reliable?  Uuuuhhmmm, no.

The City will likely share more about its plans for the community forum at the August meeting of what's now being referred to as the Good Neighbor Partnership, which is set for 5:30 next Wednesday evening, August 14, at the Urban Development Department office.  The agenda has not yet been shared, but we will post it here when and if it is.  For more about the Good Neighbor Partnership, see "Son of Sit-Lie to Return" and the posts linked therein.

8/13/19 Update:  per the agenda (below) the community forum has been rescheduled to 9/4/19 and might be a two-part panel instead of a Sit-Lie Jr. sandwich.  Sounds like providers don't much care for the City's cooking.

And anyway, United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley, preempted the City with a forum of its own for downtown businesses and staff, called "Humanizing Homelessness: a care-focused workshop" at which participants will learn about de-escalation techniques, how and when to support someone who's experiencing homelessness, and what resources are available. 

Ever unwilling to take the hint, the City's now saying they expect to take Sit-Lie, Jr. to City Council on 9/23/19.  

Agenda for August 14, 2019 Meeting

8/16/19 Update:  based on what was said at the meeting on the 14th, there's probably not going to be a forum on September 4, either.  If there is, Sit-Lie Jr. will be alone on stage.  Providers at the meeting were concerned that participation in the work group and in the proposed forum would amount to a "tacit endorsement" of the proposed ordinance.  They therefore didn't want to discuss it at the meeting or  participate in the forum if Sit-Lie Jr. was going to be on the program.  More details in a subsequent blog post.