By Bethany Carlson
At Corvallis Housing First’s public forum on Oct. 27, Executive Director Gina Vee discussed the Housing First model of homeless outreach and how CHF plans to implement that model. Architect Lori Stephens presented the tentative architectural plans for the 4th Street shelter which CHF plans to build. Stephens, who has served as chair of the Downtown Corvallis Association Design Committee, has been working pro bono to develop the plan for CHF.
CHF is in the fundraising stage for the $2.5 million needed to build the shelter. Vee said that Stone Soup, the drop-in center, and CHF would be responsible for their own operating costs and share the expenses of the building, but did not provide an estimate for those costs.
Plans call for Stone Soup and the Daytime Drop-in Center to be located on the ground floor of the three-story building. There is also a plan for a men’s dormitory with 54 beds on the second floor, and 18 women’s beds and two family rooms on the third floor. Both dorm floors will have showers, a lounge area, and an outdoor balcony, as well as isolation rooms. The men’s and women’s floors are expected to have separate entrances.
There will not be on-site parking, and the main entrance will be on 4th Street. Vee stated that shelter residents will have a set check-in time and will not be able to return until the next day if they leave during the night. While drugs and alcohol will not be permitted in the shelter, Vee said that the shelter will not turn away people for being intoxicated. “The thinking right now is that when a person initially comes in they will be assessed. If they’re alcoholic, then a plan is devised for them,” Vee said. She mentioned the Benton County Health Department’s resources for addiction, stating that case management is focused on identifying help available in the community and connecting people with those resources.
Vee envisions that people will be able to stay at the shelter for only about three months before being moved into permanent housing. This is in line with the Housing First model, which has had success in other cities in reaching a population of chronically homeless, often alcoholic people. The model provides permanent, apartment-style housing along with intensive case management without requiring that people first be drug- and alcohol-free. The case management, along with drug and alcohol treatment and rehab, is a key part of the tested Housing First model.
CHF’s current Partner’s Place program, which provides homeless people with a low-rent apartment along with case management in exchange for a commitment to recovery, has had good results. But there are currently only 14 Partner’s Place units available. Vee stated that CHF would work through other channels to find housing for the homeless, such as Willamette Neighborhood Housing. But Corvallis’ lack of moderately priced housing will doubtless continue to present obstacles.
The forum featured a Q&A session, and audience members expressed concerns about the shelter’s downtown location and its allowance of intoxicated people. The ever-popular magnet question was raised: Has CHF done research into how many people are likely to be drawn to Corvallis to the shelter? Vee did not say whether any such study had been conducted, but said that the behavior commitment required by Housing First models make it unappealing to people interested solely in a free ride. She also objected to shelter occupants being equated with the panhandling that has become problematic on 9th Street and downtown, and encouraged people to donate to homeless outreach groups rather than give money to panhandlers.