Sunday, November 17, 2019

News from the Continuum

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Ex-Wallace-Marine Park area campers have moved to downtown
Residents in the 600 block of Commercial Street NE are pretty upset about the recent influx of campers to the neighborhood following police "sweeps" of camps around Wallace Marine Park.  See Bach, J. and Radnovich, C.  "Recent evictions, police activity could end decades of homeless camps in Wallace Marine Park."  (15 September 2019, Statesman Journal.)  Brynelson, T. "City cuts back more access to Cascades Gateway Park"  (25 September 2019, Salem Reporter.)

Based on reports of group fights fueled by intoxication spilling into traffic, frequent domestic violence episodes, and prolonged bouts of incoherent yelling, it's a rough and vulnerable group that's moved on to the parking strips by the ARCHES Project property, across Union Street from the chemical toilets in Marion Square Park.

ARCHES Project staff and partners assessing campers have found that a substantial number are likely to score high on the vulnerability index and will qualify for HRAP.  One individual had lived in the WMP area for 16 years before being rousted by police.

Camps along the rail line (11/16/19) next to Marion Street Bridge
Camps have also been set up along the rail line near the Marion Street Bridge, and on the parking strips in the 700 blocks of Marion and Union Streets.

The camps on parking strips are fueling support for Ordinance Bill 10-19, which would ban camping on City property when it takes effect.  The big question on everyone's mind is, where can these people go?

As always happens, the camps downtown have renewed awareness (or maybe anger is a better word) and a sense of urgency about the problem.  Local businessman Larry Tokarski held a four-hour, VIP homelessness "summit" last week, reportedly to "get everyone on the same page", whatever that might mean.  See Brynelson, T. "Local leaders meet to talk homelessness."  (November 15, 2019, Salem Reporter.)

Based on Salem Reporter's account, the page looks something like the one at right.

Wherever would we be without business leaders to get us on the same page?

One of the stranger lessons to come out of the Good Neighbor Partnership is that business leaders often prefer to focus on what is sometimes referred to as "managing homelessness" versus finding out what's needed to get people stably housed, even though the former is far and away more resource intensive.

By "managing homelessness" is meant doing what it takes to meet people's basic needs despite their not having a decent and stable place to live.

The Good Neighbor Partnership met 11/13 at SHA
We're talking emergency overnight shelters, "Safe Sleep" programs, warming centers, sanctioned camping (including car-camping programs), stand-alone feeding and clothing programs, etc.  All such programs come with high opportunity costs and, good intentions notwithstanding, do little to nothing to help a person find stable housing.  You would think business leaders would want to support something more permanent -- something like housing infrastructure -- which is what the professionals keep telling them is what's needed, but the business leaders just don't get it.  They prioritize their own complaints, demand government protection, and only when they finally realize that the authorities are not going to lock up the problem and throw away the key, do they want to talk about alternatives.  

Maybe our business leaders are not as smart as they or we think they are?  Or as generous?  Or maybe, just maybe, things are every bit as happy and forward looking as the City's 2019 Community Report would suggest, and everything's as it should be?

City of Salem's 2019 Community Report, page 4
But, however bad or good you might think things are now, they could be about to get a lot worse.  The Trump Administration has just ousted USICH Director Matthew Doherty in advance of what's expected to be some sort of massive "sweep" of encampments in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and if that happens, the obvious question once again is where will those people go?

City of Salem 2019 Customer Satisfaction Survey
Whatever happens, it's not likely to alter the steady rise of homelessness as Salem residents' biggest concern, or the way it appears to be eroding confidence in City government, as discussed in the City's 2019 Customer Satisfaction Survey.  Maybe the City just needs to keep telling residents homelessness is not the City's problem? 

Finally, with all the news there's been about Ordinance Bill 10-19 (aka Sit-Lie, Jr. or the Sidewalk Behavior Ordinance), we've not reported on the August training event organized by United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley called  "Humanizing Homelessness."  United Way described it as "A training opportunity for local business owners and their staff to acquire better skills for positive outcomes for interactions with homeless people."  The training was sponsored by Chemeketa Center for Business & Industry, The Governor's Cup Coffee Roasters and US Bank.  There was a morning and evening session.  We went to the morning session, which was well attended and well received, though overshadowed by the looming prospect of sit-lie making enforcement the preferred "tool" for downtown businesses facing difficult situations.  United Way currently has no plans for future trainings.

From L: Elizabeth Schrader, Kevin Hill, Breezy Aguirre, Phyllis Martin, Kim Hanson


  1. I've been pondering the topic of managing homelessness vs. solving homelessness a lot lately.

    Providing food as basic nourishment, clothing as basic hygiene and warmth, safe sleep as a basic human need that enables some deep rest.... none of those things directly solve homelessness, yet each of those things enable some ease, breathing room, a small respite from ongoing survival mode.

    When there's some breathing room, people are more likely to grow hope, build trust and relationships, and find spoons to connect with services and supports that may lead to them moving forward and becoming housed.

    If those managing-homelessness supports are not reducing solving-homelessness dollars, it seems like the two can coexist, and the former can enable the latter.

    1. The question is one of policy. In terms of policy, what you're really saying is, please let us keep doing what we like to do, what's within our budget and skill set (both minuscule), what's comfortable and familiar, what makes us feel good about ourselves, rather than put all energy and resources into professional services and programs that we know will work. Continue piecemeal efforts and dogoodery. Path of least resistance, preserve ineffective institutions and programs, and forget about who really suffers because we won't make hard policy choices. You are kidding yourself if you think amateur supports "enable" people to be stably housed.