Homeless Shelter: Lost Opportunities

The dust continues to settle after political pressures successfully influenced fiscal agents to recycle use of the Hansen Tire Factory building in South Corvallis as this year’s Men’s Cold Weather Shelter location. Plans were abandoned for a Second Street location after legal action was threatened in a letter by Concerned Citizens for Corvallis Downtown Safety and Livability, a group of business and property owners in Corvallis. This resulted in the loss and potential of co-location of the Cold Weather Shelter with nonprofit organizations the Daytime Drop-In Center and Stone Soup. Both provide vital services to the homeless, including meals, employment, counseling, pet assistance, and more. The nonprofits were forced out due to spatial restrictions at the Hansen site.

Shawn Collins, Project Manager of the Housing Opportunities Action Council, oversees operations for the Men’s Cold Weather Shelter in conjunction with a joint city-county 10-year plan to address homelessness. 

Collins says the change of location will interfere with opportunities for service improvement and collaboration in addressing local homelessness.

“There will still be collaboration, and there may even be future opportunities for co-location…but there is a real loss of the opportunity to build something bigger than any organization could deliver on its own.” He adds, “The plans developed for 2nd and Western were focused on a long-term future that allowed each of the services a level of stability that would have really been helpful, created opportunities for collaboration that would have improved services for the clients of each service, and I believe would have ultimately had a positive impact on downtown livability.” 

Collins reports that the Daytime Drop-in Center is now without a permanent home and that Stone Soup has abandoned plans to consolidate services, choosing to operate independently. 

Mayor Biff Traber, who co-chairs HOAC, shares a similar sentiment: “Separate sites for the 3 services misses any opportunity for synergy and efficiency of co-location.” Traber lists co-location as a priority goal in the now updated 10-Year Plan, and examples shared space and better access to support services as lost opportunities for shelter clients and service providers.

Building Consensus
Though plans have shifted, potential for community consensus is not entirely lost, as business owner and now investor in the Hansen site, Rich Carone actively pursues greater solutions for the long-term success of our area’s homeless. 

“The goal is to get all stakeholders to work together to put together an overall plan to address the homelessness issues in Corvallis,” Carone comments.

This is compacted with the county’s recent hiring of professional facilitator Ari Basil-Wagner of Greater Oregon Behavioral Health Inc., to create dialogue and consensus among major stakeholders over the span of an estimated four months. This will be an effort to drive solidarity in what has been a long-standing and short-sighted community dialogue surrounding local sheltering

“The way much of the community conversation developed was polarizing and extreme,” said Collins, “and didn’t leave much room for agreement on shared values, and the interest I believe we all share in ensuring that the basic needs of all in our community are met.”

Collins reflects on the divisive dialogue that swept through Corvallis during the determination process for this year’s cold weather site: “We established battle lines and warring camps, and when the political process didn’t bring the results some desired, they shifted the battle and threatened continued legal action.”

Collins credits the change in location “in part due to the distraction legal action would create, and the real chance it would have put lives at risk by making a cold weather shelter impossible to operate this year.”

Applauding the efforts of Carone, he further states, “I’m glad that we’ve got the support of Rich Carone to relocate, appreciate the investment of time and money he is making to ensure the Shelter opens on time, and know he continues to seek opportunities for solutions that will make a positive impact on housing and homeless issues in the community.” 

Looking ahead, Carone comments, “We have taken some preliminary steps, but we have a long road to travel to get to consensus.”

Mayor Traber is hopeful that community conversation facilitated by Basil-Wagner will further aid in driving consensus.

Plans from GOBHI include mitigation of negative impacts for the seasonal site, long-term agreement on service provision and co-located services, as well as  enhanced strategic efforts for Corvallis’ 10-year plan in addressing homelessness—including a review of HOAC’s role. Inclusion of the homeless population or those formerly homeless has so far not been reported as being part of GOBHI’s plan.

“Past planning efforts have had input from the homeless community,” said Traber, “However, clearly we could do more.”   

The Hansen Site
The Hansen site is expected to be ready for the November opening date, however it is unclear whether the site will prove a viable location for years to come. 

“The building is a solution for this winter, and is available in the future if it turns out that’s part of the overall agreed upon plan,” said Carone.

Collins remarks, “If the Shelter is to operate long-term at this site, there will be additional work (added bathroom capacity, for example) needed. One of the benefits of being co-located with Stone Soup and the Corvallis Daytime Drop-in Center was that it changed the dynamics around meals for Shelter clients. This move means the Shelter and Stone Soup are no longer close—and that will limit use of that service by Shelter clients. However, discussions are under way to seek some solutions there.”

Beyond cold weather sheltering, decisions and public discourse regarding local homelessness need to take a wider scope in Corvallis.

“We do have a growing homeless situation in Corvallis and a need for shelter. This is due in many ways to a lack of affordable housing in Corvallis, for most income levels,” says Traber, continuing, “As such, we do need to continue to resolve the shelter needs while also working to provide the most effective services to help the homeless move to long-term housing and to expand the housing options available to the broader community.”  

By Stevie Beisswanger