Ward 5 Corvallis City Council candidate Ellis on houselessness

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

Ward 5 Councilor Charlyn Ellis is running unopposed for reelection to the City Council. Here are her answers to five questions about houselessness and how the city should respond to the issue.

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?

The city needs to move away from unmanaged camping; it is a humanitarian and ecological disaster. In all of the emails I have received on the broad topic, the entire city is in agreement — unmanaged camping is bad. Our role, long-term, is to support the development of affordable housing of all types, from arrangements like the conversion of the Budget Inn to actual independent living housing. We can do that through zoning, supporting developers of the specific types of housing, and working with providers. Short term, we need to work to get more people out of the muddy edges of our parks system.

The city has made some excellent gains in the last few years in acquiring/planning for a wide range of new housing. We need to continue that work.

The county and Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center are our community health providers. They must focus on the mental health needs of our most vulnerable populations. This is a challenge nationwide, but it is huge in our area. So many people —housed and unhoused — are on waiting lists for help with a mental health crisis.

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?

I prioritize No. 6, which is a sheltering system, above all others. Until people have some sort of stability in their housing — and access to clean water—they are not able to move forward on other issues. I am concerned that the board may be moving away from shelter and focusing on data collection and coordinated entry. People need a roof over their heads.

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?

My first thought is that I am concerned that a uniformed officer can be seen as a threat to someone who is experiencing a crisis, given the past history of many people who are on the streets. I know that this is the model used in other cities and I don’t feel like I know enough about it to have an informed opinion. Give me another year.

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?

This is a complex issue. What we are doing, along with the Oregon Department of Transportation and the railroad, is not working and the camps feel like scenes from “The Grapes of Wrath.” Long term, we need affordable housing, which we are working on. Short term, the city should work with providers to create managed camping. Your real question is — should it be on city or county land? Especially parkland? I would be willing to consider using a piece of a couple of parks — or their parking lots— as a short term solution to the problem. My thought is — the campers are already in the park. If it was managed, we could control trash and human waste, provide basic hygiene, and know where to find people when they are about to miss a meeting because their phone died and they can’t be reached. We could also direct people to specific locations, rather than the entire parks system. I know it is not a popular idea, but I am very concerned that South Corvallis parks take the brunt of the unmanaged camping.

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 (see above). This is harm reduction. Giving people some stability, hygiene, and support services would be huge. After talking with some people who are living rough, the one thing that they were all very interested in was access to water. I’ve watched someone try and wash out a nasty cut with water from a bottle and then rewrap it in the same dirty sock it was wrapped in before he began. That shifted my mind on this topic.

I would prefer microshelters and the level of support provided by Unity Shelter but I know that resources are limited and we need to build that program up. In the meantime, this is a worthy step. If we could move more people into the system, we would have a better handle on what we need to do in the future.

This will be a controversial topic because it is going to require setting up camp sometimes in areas where camps have never been.

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