Our Shelter Vote: Second Street

Each day brings added pressure for City Council and County Commission members, scheduled to meet July 16 and 17, respectively, to decide which location to grant $60,000 in matching funds for this year’s Homeless Men’s Cold Weather Shelter. After months of reporting and reflection, on commentary and data contributed from Corvallis residents — from the homeless community to local leadership, and neighbors of each proposed site — we at The Corvallis Advocate consider the CSC building on Second Street as the best fit location for this year’s emergency cold weather sheltering and homeless services. However, we do not view this site as a permanent solution.

Second Street’s frontrunning alternative, an 11-acre property behind the Pepsi plant in North Corvallis, was recently proposed by business owner Rich Carone. This site’s location was not released before the City’s public hearing on the shelter matter, and the City has not scheduled to take public testimony concerning this site. This site’s proposal was rushed, so plans for it are not as clear, other than it will need considerable preparation. Though the location itself presents concerns for siting an emergent shelter, it offers excellent opportunity for deeper level future solutions, like supportive and transitional housing.

We hope that Carone and his investors — having already planned for $4 million in funds for the Northern site — will deeply consider continued funding and development of the property for longer term housing, in the event that it’s not chosen as the location for this year’s Men’s Cold Weather Shelter.   

Why Second Street? Service Providers Weigh In
In summary of all we’ve heard from HOAC Manager Shawn Collins, the Second Street location has seen the most prep work and service integration planning for this year’s cold weather shelter. The property already has plans for integrated services of Stone Soup and The Drop-In Center, whereas the North site wouldn’t be able to accommodate Stone Soup until late 2019. In fact, some of the prep work had already started on the Second Street site.

Without integrated services, Collins has concerns about the clients’ ability to get dinner at St. Mary’s and make it back to the North shelter in time to check in.

“If it was a choice between sleeping outside and missing a meal, they would choose to miss the meal,” said Collins. As Collins has formerly stated, a downtown shelter would be most effective in meeting the homeless where they’re at, which is downtown.

Aleita Hass-Holcombe, president of the Drop-In center, feels that the Second Street location would best compliment her organization’s mission. 

“We still feel that Second Street is the best location for the guests we serve,” said Hass-Holcombe. “Most of them walk-in; it would be good to have access to other services [in the area]. Also, we know that the best practice is to have people intersecting with other people in the community, instead isolating them in another place.”

Though a state-level decision, the translocation of DHS services to 53rd Street could be considered a loss to those without means of transportation. Downtown is some distance away, however significantly closer than the proposed North site.

Collins has yet to tour the North facility, but plans to soon. He acknowledges that the building is fairly new, and may not need much augmentation, but the lack of a construction timeline this late in the game adds uncertainty to the situation. He worries that starting a totally new project might not produce a habitable shelter in time. He has a known timeline for the Second Street building, which has seen a halt in improvements following the proposed alternatives.

The Second Street location is already properly zoned, thus likely to be ready for the Nov 1 opening date. The North site has yet to attain proper permits and could face interference by neighboring residents choosing to appeal. There are arguments that current zoning does allow use of the North site for at least the shelter, but our review shows it could be challenged, most especially for the long-term plan of the site.

Collins and HOAC are committed to minimizing neighborhood impact. Last year’s shelter saw success in treatment of over a handful of clientele, plus no major crimes. Though theft and loitery were later reported by last year’s neighbor, the South Corvallis First Alternative Co-op, these incidents were unbeknownst to Collins at the time they occurred, affording him no opportunity to respond proactively. 

The Second Street location could be a shot at redemption after a failed Forth Street location under former management saw repeated disturbances and instances of harassment to neighboring business owners, employees, and customers by shelter clientele. 

North proponents maintain downtown is a draw for the whole community, and downtown sheltering therefore means a wider community impact. However, the North site borders a residential neighborhood, deepening the impacts to where people live, rather than where they work or visit.

The neighborhood the North site would impact is a particularly well kept community of modular homes, with residents of modest means, themselves. There is also an adjacent apartment complex that could be described the same way. There would be a buffer zone between the North site and its residential neighbors, but such a zone would not act amelioratively for this sort of development.

Collins explains that the homeless, while trying to improve their situations, must access services that are located throughout town. A downtown shelter would allow for more social services, community integration, and employment opportunities for our area’s homeless. 

“It worries me that as a community we would spend so much money on the belief that if we move people out of downtown, they’ll stay away from downtown,” expressed Collins. “They’re not just going to pick up and exit downtown to stay on the north end, and stay on that site because there’s a community garden and a basketball court.”

We’ve heard from both Collins and the homeless community that walkability is vital to the needs of the homeless, and that a downtown location would prove convenient to the elderly and those with disabilities.

Though right on a bus line, Collins is concerned with the North site’s accessibility. Many who are homeless have bikes with bike trailers, and carry all of their possessions with them, meaning bus travel might not be an easy option for some clientele. Collins mentioned a nearby bike path, however the path doesn’t go directly to the site. Clients would have to cross Circle Blvd. and cut through a neighborhood to reach the site.

Collins says that some of his concerns for the North site could possibly be mitigated — but that means extra costs. The $4 million that Carone and his backers are investing would mainly be used for land purchase and construction costs, but the proposal would require significantly more operational funds to maintain year-round, 24 hour operation.

“That would take us from a budget of about $160,000, conservatively, to a budget closer to a half million, maybe higher,” explained Collins. “That’s a big leap. I don’t know where that money is supposed to come from.”

When approached with these figures, Rich Carone expressed interest in learning more about proposed operating costs with the intention of finding a fundraising target.

The money isn’t the only hurdle here, either. A year-round, 24-hour shelter and managed camping would need organizations to actually manage them. First Unitarian runs the winter nighttime shelter, but they haven’t committed to extended operation. Carone said he is speaking with organizations that may be willing, like Community Outreach, Inc., but Collins wants to see these details worked out before a project of this magnitude is approved.

North Site Examined
Collins may be skeptical of the North site for emergency shelter purposes, but he does acknowledge this site’s enormous potential to possibly alleviate a root cause of homelessness.

“What they really need is housing. The problem is, there’s not enough,” explained Collins. “The North site: it’s a beautiful site! It’d be a fantastic site to put housing on.”

Rich Carone’s North site proposal includes both short-term and long-term plans to combat homelessness. An office building exists on the site, which Carone proposes for this year’s cold weather shelter. The plan is to construct a larger, approximately 18,000 square foot building capable of housing a year-round, 24 hour shelter, Stone Soup, and the Drop-in Center, to open in late 2019. Currently provided figures suggest the North site and 9,600 square foot Second Street building would each require $1 per square foot rental costs.

Carone and a group of about ten unnamed investors have pledged $4 million dollars for the development of this facility: $1.5 million of their own funds, and $2.5 million in the form of bank loans. Carone states that he and his investors are not concerned with profiting from their investment, and would be happy to just break even. They plan to pay for all the required renovations needed for the existing on-site building and are offering a ten-year lease, and may be willing to offer an option to buy.

Carone’s eventual vision for the site also includes hospital transition rooms, workforce opportunities, and an outside area for pets, a community garden, basketball, and possible camping. When asked, he has also expressed interest in transitional housing on the eleven acre site, possibly even if the Second Street location is chosen for the shelter.

“I’d need to see a plan,” said Carone. “I’ve never built individual housing – just commercial buildings.”

North Location Neighbors
North Corvallis resident DJ Wiegand lives near the proposed shelter site. He and other neighboring residents were blindsided by Carone’s proposal and a lack of opportunity for public input by city leadership. 

Wiegand set out to inform the neighborhood, talking to hundreds of people. He knocked on many of the doors between the proposed site and Stewart Slough, 50+ houses in the 169 home North Star Community, and several of the businesses in the area.

“Among the hundreds of people I talked to, I had one individual who was very much in favor of the North site shelter. Approximately half were not aware of the proposal,” explained Wiegand. 

“The vast majority of people I spoke with, by far, thought the proposed shelter on Second Street offered the most comprehensive solution that best fit the needs of the local homeless community.” He continued “They realize that it’s a complex issue that doesn’t have an easy solution.”

Sentiment from Homeless Individuals
Scott Ziemendorf was an RV mechanic until his home was foreclosed on 7 years ago. He carries all of his earthly possessions in a stroller that he found abandoned outside of Walmart. He likes the idea of consolidated services; they would be easier for him to access. He can’t ride the bus with his possessions, and there’s nowhere for him to store them without risk of theft. 

Ziemendorf says he wouldn’t mind going to North Corvallis for services, if many of those services could be accessed from the same area. It’s also no surprise to him that the city and county might not want to locate a plethora of services downtown.

“I think in this town -— especially this town — you can’t stick it right under their nose,” explained Ziemendorf. “The people that have the money, the buildings, and the businesses, they’re pretty snobby.”

Our homeless community members like Scott Ziemendorf think that they could benefit from increased services, but many times they become criminalized for not having access to the most basic of human needs, like a place to sleep or a toilet. Ziemendorf claims to have been arrested several times for not having access to a proper restroom.

“We could use some port-a-potties scattered around… That’s three tickets: trespassing, disorderly conduct, and offensive littering,” he explains. 

Ziemendorf and his friend A.J. would appreciate even just a safe place to camp.

“Corvallis acts like they want to help,” said A.J. “They give us supplies and help, then they turn around and kick us out of all the camping areas, and we get tickets and fines.”

A.J. understands that there should be consequences for creating a mess, but he and Ziemendorf say that given the opportunity and means, they could keep a clean campsite.

Scott and A.J. typify sentiments of many of the homeless we have interviewed. Among the homeless, there is some preference for a downtown location, though they are most interested in co-located services.

Our Community, Beyond Shelter
Mirroring previous years, the cold weather location debate has brought divisiveness and a lack of timely resolution to Corvallis, reminding us of an acute need for a couple-year City/County study and public process.

As this newspaper has said in the past, we see a need for leadership in Corvallis to invest in comprehensive research into best practices, and issues of local homelessness in relation to housing and mental health service gaps. Our view is knowledge and consensus building could prove foundational to the unity our community will need to meet the challenge of housing the homeless. 

A secured location for the Men’s Cold Weather Shelter is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our area’s homelessness. As Carone states, the Men’s Cold Weather Shelter houses 50 people max — just 5 percent of the Homeless population of about 1000 people, meaning there are 95 percent of people left deserving a level of consideration equalling what we’ve given this single component, if not more. 

The Corvallis City Council will meet on July 16, 6pm at the firehouse at 400 NW Harrison, they are scheduled to deliberate on a shelter location.

As of this article’s release, 112 days remain until the men’s cold weather shelter is scheduled to open. And counting.

Other contributing authors/reporters include: Jonah Anderson, Alisha Wang-Saville, Ari Blatt, and Stevie Beisswanger.

By Jay Sharpe