Homeless Series: Lots of Programs, But No Map

If you are an unhoused veteran, which social service provider do you choose? Which one applies to you? Which one could turn you away? And, how many places will you look before you give up, believing there may not be help, given your particular circumstances?

In Corvallis, we do have the Daytime Drop-in Center – but what if you’re freshly fleeing domestic violence late at night, and have never been unhoused before, then what?

Yesterday, we outlined several shelter options: Some for teens, others for women, others for men, and so on. Beyond sheltering, there are also support services for longer range solutions, and if all that seems like there’s plenty, you quickly learn there is no real map, and that are plenty of very real gaps.

Shawn Collins knows all about the navigability of the current system, until recently, he served as the Housing Opportunities Action Council Project Manager for United Way.

“If you think about the social service network in Corvallis, coordination between them is manual,” says Collins. “Do they know the person at the right organizations to connect with? Is there a good communication relationship there? Not really. There isn’t a formal system to make sure that if you show up at the Food Bank and self-identify as being homeless, that information isn’t necessarily transferred to anybody that could help you with that problem, and you might get referred to COI, but COI doesn’t know that you’ve been referred to them.”

Collins continued, “Also, because there is little connectivity, the client must relate the same traumatic events that led to their current position over and over again at each point of service, re-living that trauma and pain. That is a really huge burden for the client. So, you find people who kind of become service resistant, and a lot of it is because they can’t bear to go through that experience again, and a lot of times, it doesn’t even improve their situation at all, and they don’t end up actually getting services.”

Here’s how this could feel to someone needing help. Imagine that you had to take a bus across town to DeMaggio’s Pizza and it took a lot of effort just to get there, and you’re really hungry, and you are getting hopeful that you’ll finally get something to eat when you arrive, and you walk in, sit down, and DeMaggio’s says, “Sorry, you are wearing green. Green-wearing people can get pizza at Fireworks. You should go there.” So, you get back on the bus – hungrier, and now feeling a bit upset. Now, when you get to Fireworks they say, “Gosh, I’m sorry, but we don’t take credit cards here. You will have to go to Cirello’s, but make sure you have a hat to get service there.”

All that sounds a little nuts, but it’s only pizza – and you have the option to just eat something else. But if you’re homeless, you don’t have options, and worse, it may have taken everything you have just to get to the first place.

Tomorrow, in the next part of our series on homelessness: Despite being led to the right services, two longtime Corvallisites come to a tragic and untimely end.

CitySpeak presents a forum on homelessness on Thursday, Oct. 3, at 6:30 pm. The event is scheduled at the Corvallis-Benton County Library.