Homeless Misreports: Ignored Elephants and Points

CHF 4th streetThere was posturing and demonization aplenty last week as reports surfaced that downtown homeless shelter neighbor Charlie Ringo filed a suit against Corvallis Housing First (CHF), the non-profit running the shelter. In short, Ringo owns a business property and claims he’s sustained damages because of the clients the shelter attracts. He seeks both compensation and that the shelter be court-ordered to cease and desist.

Not reported is that all the stakeholders, public officials, and much of the public had known about the impending litigation for months, and that the Corvallis Police Department had issued a Special Response Notice to the shelter earlier this year due to its clients’ continued illegal activities on or near the shelter property. The police citation means the shelter can be held financially liable if they do not act to remediate and there are recurrences. The non-profit fenced its car wash property as a responsive measure, which seems to have satisfied police.

Some Other Missed Points
Also not reported, both city and county officials are working on a plan that would return to rotating emergency cold-weather shelter operations among different neighborhoods on volunteering church properties. Also, citing complaints among the homeless that car camping has been illegal, the City is working with churches and Love Inc. to offer places and means to permit it.

Meantime, Corvallis Housing First says it wants to close its controversial downtown shelter and get back to what they say the Housing First model is all about: permanent supportive housing (like The Julian or Benton Plaza), which would reduce the need for an area emergency shelter by at least half according to most estimates. Area non-profits are working to fund the aforementioned plan for emergency sheltering—about $35,000 has already been pledged.

What’s Next
Nobody is sure about timelines. CHF says it will only reopen the downtown shelter in November if nobody else steps up. It seems like other organizations are willing, but as always, the devil is in raising the dollars. Will Ringo drop his suit if someone else steps up? Again, only time will tell.

Meanwhile, CHF is largely about helping the quite often mentally ill and self-medicating chronically homeless. The Corvallis Police Department is on record that crime has increased with the presence of the CHF shelter, some targeted at pre-teen and teen girls. The new fence is not anticipated to ameliorate crime off the CHF property. There are increasingly effective mental health interventions, especially useful prior to 20 years of homelessness, but getting access to a provider can be difficult.

The other elephant in the room is that one now hears the helping community informally referring to a “middle-class homeless population” as our economy appears to be getting tougher on the edges than it once was. This new population of homeless is not chronic in nature, but local agencies report it is increasing rapidly.

By Rob Goffins