Ward 1 Corvallis City Council candidate Napack on houselessness

by | Oct 27, 2022 | 2022 Elections, Candidates on Houselessness | 0 comments

Ward 1 Councilor Jan Napack is running unopposed for reelection to the Corvallis City Council. Here are her answers to five questions regarding houselessness in Corvallis and how the council can best handle the issue. Her answers have not been edited, except when necessary for clarity.

1. What is the proper role of the city of Corvallis in providing services to people who are unsheltered?  To list a few examples: Should the city be working to provide shelter? Permanent supported housing? Affordable housing? Case management and medical services for houseless people? What has the city gotten right in its approach to houselessness? What could the city do better?

Should the city be working to provide shelter?

The city provides shelter and homeless services indirectly by obtaining and dispersing state, federal, levy and other funding sources to social agencies who in turn provide direct services. Examples of the City helping to provide shelter include modifying codes such as those needed to site microshelters, establishing the process for wildfire refugees to park RVs at Pioneer Park, working with Unity Shelter on a strategy for managed camping, and other efforts.      

Should the city be working to provide permanent supported housing?

Corvallis Housing First (CHF) is the entity that provides permanent supportive housing (PSH). In my view, CHF is a remarkably effective agency that has successfully built community support and garnered major funding opportunities; they have partnered with many groups to achieve their goals including Benton County Public Health. Plans and achievements include a community kitchen, solar array, structural repairs. Corvallis Community Development staff continue to work with CHF to provide technical assistance and facilitate the permitting process. I understand that Third Street Commons will specialize in serving chronic homeless individuals, many of whom have disabilities.   

Should the city be working to provide affordable housing?

The city is indeed working to provide affordable housing. However, I think answering this question is best done by readers going to the city web page that describes City Efforts to Increase Housing. Similar to how social service agencies are supported, the city designs and delivers financial assistance programs to help nonprofit housing developers and provide technical assistance to housing agencies. One example is the Affordable Housing Construction Excise Tax that was passed on new developments in order to provide funding for wide range of affordable housing uses.    

Should the city be working to provide case management and medical services for houseless people?

Indeed, the county has jurisdiction over public health which includes case management and medical services for houseless people. Recall that a recent state funding stream, realized by the passage of HB 4004 (2022) , addresses the critical behavioral health care management workforce shortage. The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) distributes those funds to established mental and/or behavioral health programs. A partial list of local grantees includes the Health Departments of Benton, Linn and Lincoln counties, Community Consortium, Inc (COI), Janus House, Trillium Family Services. Given the City does not have a health department partnering and collaboration with the County makes the most sense. Examples: the City, continues to split the cost of the HOPE program coordinator with the County, staffed and co-managed the emergency operations center during the pandemic, provides sanitation and hygiene resources.

What has the city gotten right in its approach to houselessness?

The city has shifted a great deal of Community Development staff time and resources to team with social services providers, pursue funding sources, improve and monitor housing needs, create opportunities for affordable housing (e.g., urban renewal). The city works diligently to respond to the needs of providers and their clientele. Examples include streamlining the grant process, responding to emergency fund requests, providing permit extensions, liaising with government entities, respond to relevant legislative actions, transit, etc. In other words, the city leverages the many operations that they do best in order to help achieve the goals of social services in support of shelter and housing.      

What could the city do better?

I truly think Corvallis is doing the very best in supporting the efforts of our social services given our current tax structure and extensive civic obligations (police, fire, roads, utilities, development services, planning…). Obviously, cities like Eugene or Portland that have large industrial tax bases have the means to do far more.   

2. Considering the recommendations from the city-county HOPE (Home, Opportunity, Planning and Equity) advisory board: Which ones would you place the highest priority on and why? What items would you add to the list of recommendations and why? What role should the city and the City Council take in implementing and funding those priorities?

Coordinated entry (recommendation No. 1). This is very necessary in order to meaningfully reduce homelessness by determining gaps in service, to find collaborative intersections between agencies, to track success / fails, and most importantly to specifically assess and treat based on individual needs. This recommendation supports at least three other recommendations, (No. 2, 6 and 8).    

Another recommendation I would give priority to is No. 3 – Collaboration and Coordination of Providers and Partners. Related to this is the model used by Municipal Community Court and County Adult Drug Treatment Court (ADTC) wherein clients are guided by teams of service providers, and in the case of ADTC, social workers, drug and alcohol councilors, case workers, and community resource navigators.

The city can help by identifying funding streams and providing technical avenues to achieve initiatives. For example, see the city’s Community Development website detailing funding opportunities

3. The Corvallis Police Department has launched a trial program with the Benton County Health Department to respond to people experiencing mental health crises; many of those people are unsheltered. The program is reminiscent of the CAHOOTS program in Eugene, but with at least one key difference: CAHOOTS calls are responded to by a medic and an experienced crisis worker. In Corvallis, a uniformed officer and a mental health professional respond to calls. Is this the correct approach? Why or why not?

I think this is a very good approach. People might not realize that our community police (CP) are committed to building relationships with the community, in this case homeless campers. In my dealings with these officers, I have found them to be compassionate, and possessing high emotional intelligence. Their presence can lend structure to a situation that would otherwise be unsafe for our health workers.    

4. Estimates are that the city spends tens of thousands of dollars each year posting and clearing camps where unsheltered people have been living. Do you think this is the best approach, or are there other strategies the city could consider – for example, should the city work with providers to create a managed camp or a sanctioned site where people who are unsheltered could settle?

Managed camping (huts) seems to be doing fairly well in Eugene evidenced by the many sites owned and run by large charities (e.g.  Catholic Charities, St. Vincent DePaul, Eugene Mission). These are fenced enclaves with gatekeepers, curfews, and codes of conduct. I have also seen where Lane County offers congregate accommodations at their fairgrounds. Eugene also has Safe Sleep Sites which are on properties currently owned by the city or county…perhaps a few privately owned sites? 

Unfortunately, our city has almost no suitable locations that match the required specifications. I have found a handful of vacant or little used lots that may have promise but they are owned by private individuals or institutions and they have not come forward.  

Still, I do not propose we stop postings and clearings. Parks, natural areas, rivers, and creeks are our heritage. I have visited several riparian sites of the Marys and Willamette rivers where trees have been cut down, latrines dug, the undergrowth trampled, and banks have been terraced and compacted. I have seen caches of used needles near baseball fields, trails, and public restrooms. I have also seen where responsible campers have bagged their trash only to have it ripped open and combed through by other campers.

Of course, we absolutely need housing to stabilize this situation. At some point I envision that clearing camps becomes a rarity. Nevertheless, I’m well aware there will be individuals who cannot or will not avail themselves to services and continue to live on the streets or in our parks.       

5. A proposal is in the works to establish a “rolling moratorium” on posting and clearing camps in city parks for a certain length of time; for example, specific parks would be identified as not to be posted or cleared for specific time periods. At the end of the period, it would be clear which park would be next on the rolling moratorium, and support from nonprofit providers and volunteers would assist in movement from one site to the next. Do you think this proposal is worth exploring? What do you see as its benefits and drawbacks? 

This is just starting out and is in the early stages of exploration. It is being addressed by Community Development, City Council, and leaders from our social services agencies. I’d prefer not to comment until things are further along.

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