Ward 3 Corvallis City Council candidates on houselessness

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

Candidates for the Corvallis City Council were asked five questions about houselessness and how they would respond to the issue if elected to the council. Here are answers from candidates in Ward 3. The answers have not been edited except when needed for clarity.

Hyatt Lytle

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?

Over my six years on the City Council, the role of the city in addressing houselessness has been one that I have seen to evolve and change. The way that Corvallis city government is both charged and organized, there is currently no department that offers the more general human services administration, such as case management and medical services for houseless individuals. Historically, as Benton County is part of our local coordinated care organization (CCO) and it receives funding for direct services such as medical and mental health, administration of those services has fallen to the county. I have often overheard sentiments (and maybe even subscribed to them for a very short time in the infancy of my tenure before I knew any better) that houseless issues are the responsibility of the county, as the assumption is the root causes are medical and mental health in nature; something that I wholly disagree with now. Our houseless neighbors, my houseless constituents, are human beings, and as quaint as it is, it takes a village, not just one jurisdiction, it takes all of us.

What is the proper role of the City in providing services for houseless citizens? I believe the core areas where the city needs to be proactively working are:

  • Institutional knowledge of housing and land development: This is the city’s know-how. When it comes to building, whether it be a Permanent Supportive Housing project, like the upcoming Third Street Project, or a perhaps a cottage cluster project for houseless vets, or Land Trust Homes for first time homeowners, or a new shelter for couples and families, the city is the one to make these projects happen. Can funds be leveraged? Are there developers out there that have worked projects like this in the past? Whatever can make a project the most successful, that is what I expect from our fantastic staff in the Community Development Department.
  • Leveraging partnerships with other jurisdictions: Benton County is perhaps our largest partner, as they are part of the CCO, and we make up the largest contingent of the county’s population. We have also received funding through House Bill 4123 in the last session to work in partnership together, as well as move forward with some of the core recommendations from our HOPE (Home, Opportunity, Planning & Equity) Advisory Board. Corvallis also addresses houseless issues with neighboring cities and counties, such as Albany, Philomath, Newport, Linn and Lincoln. I would like to see the city to begin conversations with our neighbors about more regional conversations in the near-term. Engaging these relationships can only add to the conversation and may even provide some idea-sharing in how other jurisdictions address issues.
  • Leveraging partnerships with service providers: Our service providers are the boots on the ground. It is essential that the city engage in proactive ways with our community’s providers and build these relationships, because they are the ones with the know-how when it comes to serving our houseless citizens. They know how to case manage, address the human side of things, and offer support. These relationships are integral.
  • Strong policies regarding affordable housing and social services funding: Some of our policies are in need of updating. I am currently on the Social Services Funding Policy Task Force, as foundational parts of the policy have not been updated since the early 00’s. These are the funds that are part of the Local Option Levy (voted on by our citizens) that goes out each year, administered by United Way, to several nonprofits, that help a variety of basic human needs from food, shelter, child abuse/neglect, and other preventative services. It is so important that we are intentional about these funds and how they are being allocated because they may not be a lot but they have quite an impact on many in our community. The city is also provided state and federal funding for social services that fund our local shelters and also provide opportunity for local affordable housing developers and projects. Being intentional and thoughtful with policy is too important when it comes to allocating funding that individuals in need in Corvallis rely upon.

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?

Hands down, Recommendation No. 6: Provide organizational capacity to facilitate and coordinate providers in establishing a 24/7/365 sheltering system for all populations with onsite resources at shelter locations to transition people out of homelessness is the highest priority for Corvallis and Benton County. Every year, it becomes more and more evidenced with
the increase in unmanaged camping that we do not have enough shelter or type of shelter for individuals. I mention type of shelter, as the current distribution of low-barrier shelter in Corvallis is mostly contingent on gender, thus, there are no options for families, such as a father and daughter, or mother and two children, or a couple, to stay. There are also limited options for
queer or nonbinary individuals who do not feel comfortable staying in a “Men’s” or “Women’s” Shelter (I have only spoken with two individuals on the matter but found it significant enough of an issue).

Speaking for South Corvallis, as we see the significant part of unmanaged camping in the city and the blight that comes with it, we have to prioritize sheltering our people out of our riparian areas, especially come winter. There are so many hazards with the river that come with unmanaged camping. In the summer as well, South Corvallis has seen a significant increase in fires and destroyed structures in the past couple of years due to unmanaged campfires. It is absolutely time to start prioritizing our people, and not get into the rigmarole every fall that we have not prepared for winter, which I feel like has been the same theme for six years, despite pushing conversations and being active on the issues.

The next priority should be recommendation No. 4: Collaborate with social service and health care partners to increase the number of paid, full‐ time case managers to support people transitioning out of homelessness. The pandemic has changed much of the landscape of the health and social service fields, and it continues to change. According to the National Institutes of Health, the human and social services sector was dramatically impacted by COVID-19, and is not bouncing back. A shift to virtual care, has taken away from physical interactive care, which may be one impact making it challenging to find qualified case managers. If we are able to build a system, we have to have the people necessary to support it. This recommendation was not one of my priorities in earlier conversations, however, as needs have shifted, the deficit of qualified case managers should absolutely be a primary focus.

The third priority should be recommendation No. 10: Increase development or acquisition of affordable housing units for permanent supportive housing (PSH) by 20 units per year for the next eight years to add at a minimum 160 new units of PSH in Benton County. I am a strong proponent for PSH, and believe that it is the most sustainable model to help transition our
houseless neighbors into four walls.

I believe following what the Oregon Housing and Community Services’ Oregon Supportive Housing Institute’s model for Permanent Supportive Housing programs is one of the best directions that communities can take today in Oregon. Applying to the Institute, allows local governments partnered with service providers (or vice versa) to work together to outline a
PSH project, leveraging community solutions, and being awarded funding and rental assistance for the project. However, I believe that the foundation’s model can be achieved on its own, without applying to the Institute and still engaging partners in order to leverage community solutions.

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 am on the Willamette Criminal Justice Council’s Mental Health Subcommittee of which the CORE (Crisis Outreach and Response) Team concept was born from, and I believe that it is the correct pilot approach for what resources that are currently available from the city and county. CAHOOTS is a very robust program, and costs about $2.1 million per year to operate; those resources are just not available at this time between both jurisdictions. The CORE team was a brainchild of Police Chief Nick Hurley and former Benton County Deputy Director of Behavioral Health Danielle Brown, who wanted to institute a model of one
Community Livability Officer and one Qualified Mental Health Professional to respond to mental health crisis calls, instead of having our officers respond and play the role of mental health professionals (which is what they often do when they respond to crises). This concept also allows for this team to become active in the houseless community; familiar faces. Instead of an armed officer defusing a mental health crisis, a qualified professional is there to defuse, which is more than many cities can offer today.

In 2021, city and county stakeholders underwent a Strategic Intercept Mapping Model Workshop (that I was honored to be a part of), where we assessed gaps in mental health services for Benton County. We identified a gap in the CORE program of only being able to offer during business hours, and that with only one team, there was a lot of backlogs being taken care of, rather than emergent response. Again, resources being an issue and the need for a second team being ideal for the needs of our community. This model is also taking off with other jurisdictions in Oregon, as it is resource-effective in place of CAHOOTS. I fully support this model, and hope it can be expansive for the city and county. It also reflects a partnership opportunity of jurisdictions working together.

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?

After holding multiple joint ward conversations with former Ward 2 Councilor Charles Maughan with South Corvallis residents on houselessness, one thing is for certain, and our community agrees that unmanaged camping is not working. I also believe that there is a growing struggle with the accumulation of garbage in ODOT areas and it is hitting a breaking point for residents, as piles of refuse continue to amass where there are no camps and clean-up of those areas seems to go on for several weeks in between (4-5+). All residents, housed and unhoused, begin to feel uncomfortable navigating their spaces when things accumulate from unmanaged camping.

The wear on South Corvallis parks and riparian areas is also concerning, so I absolutely agree that something else needs to happen. I also believe that moving people back and forth through posting is not conducive. I would absolutely like to see more proposed concepts like Safe Camp and Safe Place, as this seems to be the community’s current model for managed camping. I would absolutely be open to the city working with providers to create such a model, and a firm believer in microshelters, as they are much more weather worthy than tents when it comes to the elements. I know that the search for public land
seems to be the impasse on a city/county initiated effort of such a project. But I am always open to continue the conversation, because unmanaged camping is not working.

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?

I do think the proposal is worth exploring, and I will be one of the councilors who is a part of the upcoming conversation. I speak for South Corvallis and the needs for my houseless constituents this winter. There is a geographic equity disparity when it comes to South Corvallis. South Corvallis has lower social determinants of health. Geographically, South Corvallis is classified as a food desert, we have two convenience stores scattered in the corridor and our one specialty grocery store (First Alternative Co-Op), which is on the very north entrance to South Corvallis. There are few “third places” such as restaurants, bars, social gathering spaces, etc. for the community. We have minimal health resources, just the Lincoln Health Center, Corvallis Community
Acupuncture, Willamette Veterinary Hospital, and no dentistry. We have no real banking, and not much retail — just a few very specialized retail locations if you want to buy guns or secondhand children’s clothing.

The point being, South Corvallis hasn’t developed like other areas of Corvallis, yet when tents go up, they stay up in both Willamette and Crystal Lake parks. However, when tents go up in any almost other park in Corvallis, they will be taken down in a matter of hours. Why? Corvallis has 49 parks. Yet, the five parks in South Corvallis where camps are being posted
back and forth from are all in riparian zones, flood zones (all of which can result in life and death issues of our houseless); they are the ones where we seem to continue managing the significant majority of unmanaged camping. This is what much of houselessness looks like in Corvallis.

Because of the predominant unmanaged camping in South Corvallis, I am always open to exploring any proposal that could allow for creative and thoughtful solutions for my constituents, both housed and unhoused. I do not have all the information and the conversation has not occurred yet, so I cannot officially say where I stand on the concept of a rolling moratorium. However, I can say that I do stand for geographic equity solutions, and this is the closest proposal I have seen offered to it and I am interested to understand more and what I can share with my ward and South Corvallis.

Alec Turner

Alec Turner had not responded to the questions as of Wednesday, Oct. 26; his answers will be posted if and when they’re received.

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