Ward 8 Corvallis City Council candidate Yee on houselessness

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

Ward 8 Corvallis City Councilor Tracey Yee is running unopposed for reelection to the council. Here are her answers to five questions about houselessness and how the city should address the issue. The answers are unedited 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?

The city’s primary points of contact with people who are unsheltered occur with staff in several different city departments like the Corvallis Police Department, Parks and Recreation, Community Development, and Public Works and, in my opinion, each of these departments is very good at addressing the aspects of houselessness in their respective purview. As it’s currently structured, the city of Corvallis does not have a health and human services department with staff, funding, or infrastructure so the city is not in a position to provide direct services to people who are unsheltered such as case management, health navigation, permanent supported housing, or medical services. Given this, the city’s role is to partner with the county, state, and federal governments, local nongovernment organizations, and nonprofit service providers to administer grants and programs that facilitate the construction of, or access to, affordable housing and other wraparound services – which they do well. These partnerships are very important, and city staff are deeply engaged with Benton County, Community Services Consortium, and local service providers on a regular basis through HOPE and CORE.

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 would prioritize 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) and No. 7 (Facilitate and support the creation of a Resource Center) because the two things really go together in establishing a platform on which to build stability and consistency in service delivery that could lead to success. I would also prioritize No. 10 (Increase development or acquisition of affordable housing units for permanent supportive housing (PSH) by 20 new units per year for the next eight years to add at a minimum 160 new units of PSH in Benton County) because as people transition out of homelessness, some will need PSH units to move into. Earlier this year, the City Council voted to appropriate 15% of the city’s ARPA funds (about $2 million) for social services funding to address homelessness. The city is also serving as a pass-through agency for $2 million in state funds to address homelessness in the form of grants to service providers. I believe, for this year’s slate of work anyway, there are adequate funds available but some of the networks, groundwork, and infrastructure are not yet in place to be able to utilize the funding. The city has a role in creating policies and processes that can provide streamlined access and to provide technical assistance to service providers that are operating in the city in terms of navigating requirements, municipal codes and ordinances.

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 the Crisis, Outreach, Response, and Engagement (CORE) program has been successful in its trial period, and is now poised to expand. The focus of the CORE team is the safety of the person experiencing crisis, the public, and the staff who is providing mental health care. The Corvallis Police Department officer on the CORE team has undergone specialized crisis intervention training and also serves in a public safety capacity. The county’s mental health service professional on the CORE team provides mental health assessment and intervention, and together the team can de-escalate a mental health crisis situation. The CORE team can spend the necessary time with the individual and make the appropriate service referrals or follow-up. I believe this is the best approach, and has reduced the need for incarceration or trips to the emergency room. So while one of the CORE team members is a uniformed officer, the city is still working towards “decriminalizing” mental health issues and homelessness by making fewer arrests and connecting people with the resources they need to stabilize.

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 seems like two separate questions here – one is financial and one is about providing managed camping space. Yes, I believe the city has a responsibility to maintain the city’s public parks and spaces in a safe and sanitary state for the enjoyment and use of all Corvallis residents. The city posts and clears camps that are on public property in areas that are restricted from camping due to safety concerns such as flooding, public health, sanitation or waste contamination in riparian zones. Clearing camps to maintain sanitation and safe public access is expensive because there is often a lot of leftover refuse, medical waste, and human waste remaining in riparian areas that must be mitigated and it’s costly to dispose of properly. Regarding whether the city could consider working with homeless service providers to create a managed camp or sanctioned area, yes – I think the city has looked into that option. It’s my understanding there were also exorbitant costs associated with that proposal that were prohibitive. If we were to revisit the conversation, I’d want to understand the full costs of a managed or sanctioned camp – including staffing, security, waste management, laundry and shower facilities, insurance, environmental impacts and potential site clean-up before voting on it. Either approach is costly.

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?

Similar to my answer for No. 4, I do think this proposal is worth exploring – as long as the decision is data-driven and we have an understanding of the true costs and environmental impacts to each park after its rotation. I do believe that addressing homelessness is a community effort and, as many who testify at City Council remind us, the people experiencing homelessness are part of the community. While some people experiencing homelessness may need temporary assistance or services, they are also capable of contributing to the community in a meaningful way. If a managed rotating camping plan is established, I would expect more from the nonprofit providers and volunteers than just assistance moving from one site to the next. I would expect the residents of the camp to be self-managed – and that includes maintaining a clean environment and making sure garbage is collected and put into appropriate containers (which the city could provide), etc. The proposal for a rolling moratorium that I read described the full presence of service providers who are doing case management, delivery of services, and referrals for the people who are camping there. If the idea of a rolling moratorium is to just provide a place for people experiencing homelessness to camp in peace and not be in fear of sweeps – but no other case management or service delivery – then I’m not sure what good that will do other than concentrate people into one place and trample one park at a time around the city. The drawbacks would be the loss of use of whatever park is in rotation by anyone who is not camping there at the time, as well as the costs of cleanup after a park is used for camping. The main drawback would be that this would be a Band-Aid, expensive, and we would be no closer to a permanent solution to addressing homelessness.

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