As the cold weather season fast approaches the city of Corvallis, plans for the seasonal men’s shelter have begun to take shape. Over the past six months, the organization that would be running the shelter this upcoming season has been largely unknown. Due to a significant amount of disputes over the 2015-’16 shelter concerning public safety for the surrounding neighborhoods, citizens and City Council encouraged crucial operational changes.
This past week, both Community Outreach Inc. (COI) and Corvallis Housing First (CHF) submitted proposals to City Council for how to shelter those experiencing homelessness. Representatives from both organizations presented their respective plans to the Housing Opportunities Action Council (HOAC), a collaborative effort between local organizations to address issues for those experiencing homelessness. HOAC is co-chaired by Mayor Biff Traber and County Commissioner Anne Schuster.
Referring to thawing relations and ongoing talks between COI and CHF, Schuster said, “I’m most grateful that CHF and COI are working together.” However, this thaw between the two organizations is fairly recent, and their different proposals for this year’s sheltering services vie for the same pool of city funds.
CHF Downtown Shelter Proposal
CHF, the organization that has been operating the downtown cold weather shelter for the past few years, proposes improvements to their already existing model for the 2016-’17 shelter. In the past, the 4th Street shelter opened every day from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and provided some level of individual case management services for those men most in need. In an attempt to address the complaints from surrounding neighbors, CHF added four distinct changes.
The first is to increase the presence of the Corvallis Police Department (CPD) around the shelter during the most frequent traffic times, typically right when the shelter opens and closes. Second, they’ve proposed a series of public forums, beginning in September, where CHF and cooperating organizations can hear concerns from the public and mitigate any ensuing negative effects. Third, CHF is forming partnerships with Good Samaritan Health Services, Veteran’s Programs, Jackson Street Youth Services, and others to further address the needs of those using the shelter. Fourth, CHF would assess the vulnerability of individual cases prior to the shelter’s opening day, and in essence, pre-register the 20 most vulnerable individuals for the whole cold weather season. CHF can shelter 40 people each night.
A major concern is that the shelter closes at 7 a.m., meaning the men are let out downtown around the same time that students are on their way to school. Brad Smith, board president of CHF, said that the hours depend on the occupancy permit, and is something they are actively looking at.
CHF is requesting just over $27,000 from the City to fund their proposal. According to Mayor Traber, the city has allotted $47,000 to be put towards homeless services and the recipient will be decided after proposal negotiations at the Tuesday, Sept. 6 City Council meeting.
COI Weather-Dependent Proposal
COI, an organization that has been helping those experiencing homelessness achieve self-sufficiency through various other programs, has also put forward a one-year proposal
for an inclement weather shelter.
Their shelter would open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. only on nights when the National Weather Service Forecast Office indicates “severe cold.” Their current Homeless Emergency Services will also be extended to six days a week, which will provide the men with showers, food, phone, mail, and document storage.
Originally, COI had planned to adopt a scattered site model, with multiple bed locations at churches and organizations around Corvallis in an attempt to diffuse the negative neighborhood impacts. But because solid proposals are only now forming just two and a half months before the cold weather season, there is not enough time to secure multiple locations, according to Kari Whitacre, executive director of COI. Nor is there at press time a proposed location for a single COI site shelter.
COI will also not be providing a shelter if a separate organization opens a shelter. Their requested funds total $113,800, before incorporating insurance costs. When asked for a reaction to the limited city funding of $47,000, Whitacre said they will “rely on the City to see the value in the services and fund the full request.”
City Council Meets Sept. 6
Details of the proposals can be negotiated at the City Council meeting to be held on Tuesday, Sept. 6. Mayor Traber said, “Both proposals have strong points and challenges. Council will have a hard decision.”
County Commissioner Candidate Paul Cauthorn, an outspoken critic of the downtown CHF shelter, hopes that a more balanced representation of organizations will be present. After the Aug. 24 HOAC meeting, he stated it was “balanced heavily weighted from CHF” and there was not enough representation from COI. Notably, HOAC’s governing board has one voting member each from CHF and COI, though each organization chooses their own representatives for meeting attendance.
Decisions and negotiations made at the City Council meeting will prove critical, as inclement weather warnings draw closer and closer. Either plan will need a sufficient amount of time to organize, train employees, obtain permits, and finalize overall preparations for men experiencing homelessness this season.
At press time, the City Council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the Downtown Fire Station, 400 NW Harrison Avenue. For details, visit www.corvallisoregon.gov.
By Regina Pieracci
EDITORIAL: Homeless Need City Council to Lead
Only six months ago did Corvallis Housing First announce plans to cease yearly emergency cold weather men’s sheltering at their downtown location. At the time, CHF stated their preference for refocusing on permanent supportive housing, but they also said they would re-open the shelter if nobody else stepped up to viably offer emergency services.
Neighborhood groups impacted by the shelter were relieved but skeptical over claims the shelter would in fact close as six months is not much time to find alternatives.
So enter Community Outreach Inc. (COI) with their vast pool of talent and experience helping homeless families and veterans; they have developed a proposal for a men’s emergency shelter, best as anyone could in six months. But, at press time, among other missing essential specifics, it does not identify a sheltering location. COI representatives readily admit, with their own facilities already past capacity, that finding a location in this short a time is proving to be tough.
CHF already has a location and staffing, and we believe they are probably in the best position to offer a men’s emergency shelter this year. Some may point out their proposals cost a fraction of COI’s, but we would actually prefer to see more spent on these programs, so that’s not a motivator for our opinion. Others would voice concerns for the neighborhood impacted by the shelter’s operation—crime does increase when the shelter operates, schoolchildren have been harassed, and there should be no excuse for these and other impacts. In essence, a community-wide burden has been disproportionately shouldered by just a few neighborhoods these last few years.
City leadership could commit to a tactical action plan now, rather than waiting for problems to arise. The idea shared at HOAC for heavily increased police patrols an hour and half before nightly intake and after morning close is a good one—as would be keeping the shelter open until neighborhood children are off to school. More generally, as this is a community-wide concern, increased leadership from the city may be helpful. For instance, CHF proposes to meet with the shelter’s neighbors regularly, though it may be more fruitful for city leaders to facilitate and act on these conversations.
In any event, November is just two months away. We hope the City Council makes a decision now for this year, and quickly pivots to enhancing its leadership role planning for 2017-’18.