A year ago at this time the Corvallis men’s cold weather homeless shelter was “temporarily” operating at the old Hanson Tire Factory building on Southeast Chapman Place.
The Corvallis Daytime Drop-in Center and the Stone Soup meal service, meanwhile, were providing assistance to homeless individuals and others at area churches.
That was last year.
This year Stone Soup remains at St. Mary’s Catholic Church and First Christian Church, although it has added food service to the men’s shelter. The drop-in center, meanwhile, moved five times after June 30, landing, finally, at a building on Southwest Fourth Street that once housed the men’s shelter. The four-year shelter run on Fourth from 2013-17 bitterly divided the community, and there are many in town who fear that some of the same livability challenges will occur with the presence of the drop-in center.
The men’s shelter, meanwhile, tried to move to a building on Southwest Second Street in a co-location strategy that would have included Stone Soup and the drop-in center.
But community opposition, particularly from downtown business interests, scuttled that plan and the shelter, ultimately, moved back to Hanson (see timeline on Page A4 for the key dates).
So here we are in 2019, with the homeless/social service dilemma continuing to produce sparks. Some issues have been settled. Some remain controversial. And some we probably don’t even know are issues yet.
Here is a look at the major players and issues as we move into the new year:
The move back to Hanson for the five-month season (Nov. 1 through March 31) was made possible because downtown developer Rich Carone bought the building from Devco Engineering for $1.5 million. Carone opposed the Second Street plan while admitting “I’m biased” about the Second Street location. “It’s not a favorable spot with businesses I am associated with downtown," he told the Gazette-Times.
His dream project was to co-locate the shelter, Stone Soup and the drop-in center at a property in northeast Corvallis at the corner of Walnut Boulevard and Belvue Street. The $4 million project also would have included space set aside for a garden, basketball courts, computers, medical and workforce facilities and transitional housing.
Neighborhood opposition scuttled that plan as well, with Carone telling the newspaper in December that the Walnut-Belvue plan was “dead.”
Moving forward Carone said he guessed that the men’s shelter will remain at Hanson for the 2019-20 season but that that time period also “will be a planning year for 2020 and 2021.”
Across the street from the Hanson property is the south store of the First Alternative Natural Foods Co-op. Year one of the Hanson experiment was a challenging one for the co-op. The Corvallis Police Department answered 32 calls from the co-op during the five-month shelter season, with key problems, General Manager Cindee Lolik said, being theft, disturbances in the parking lot and a decline in co-op café dinner customers because shelter clients were hanging out there while waiting for the shelter to open.
Lolik did not raise concerns last season because “it was supposed to be a one-and-done” at the Hanson site. This season, she said, the situation has improved.
“This year I'm happy to say that we have established a good harmony with our neighbors,” Lolik said. “The fact that the shelter is welcoming the men earlier in the day (they open the gates at 4:30 p.m.) has mitigated the co-op being the waiting area for them and that has relieved a lot of pressure on our late afternoon staff. “
The co-op also raised $1,800 on “Buy Local First Day” and donated the money to Stone Soup to use in providing meals at the shelter. Also, the co-op is donating to the shelter the food from its hot bar that otherwise would go to waste when the deli closes.
Corvallis Police Department service call records show that officers were consistently engaged at both the shelter and the co-op during last year’s season. In January, February and March there were 33 calls for service at Hanson and 25 at the co-op. Approximately two-thirds of the Hanson calls were medical (21 of the 33). The calls to the co-op, as Lolik noted, involved, trespassing, shoplifting and suspicious activity.
Chief Jonathan Sassaman put the shelter issue bluntly: “When these facilities are not in operation we have no calls for service. When in operation there are.”
Interestingly enough for the co-op, July matched January with 10 calls for service, even though the shelter was not in operation.
After a stop at one church, a brief stay at the parking lot of another church, a temporary billeting on Second Street and another church stint, the drop-in center opened Thanksgiving Day on Southwest Fourth Street after the building was purchased for $498,000 by downtown property owner Hugh White and his wife Elizabeth.
There were some challenges for volunteer executive director Aleita Hass-Holcombe and her staff. The heat pump needed to be replaced. The gutters weren’t “functioning well” and a new dishwasher was brought in. Volunteers power-washed the building, and the center still is working on an outside fenced-in area with a canopy for smokers.
“It’s coming together,” said Hass-Holcombe, who held an ecumenical blessing at the new location Dec. 9. “We’re feeling more settled, and the numbers tell how important and critical we are. Even with all the moving around our numbers stayed the same. We served 75 to 100 people a day at the churches and we’re starting to see that here.”
On the day the Gazette-Times visited the count was at 79 with 30 minutes left before closing time. Key services provided by the center include phone and mail, housing guidance, veterans services, medical counseling from Samaritan Health Services, screenings from the Benton County Health Department, emotional support, documents and identification and clothing and bedding.
Guest Delmar Krebsbach said he liked the new location because it is “close to other organizations and close to the library. And it makes us feel secure in the fact that it’s going to be here and we’ll have a place to go.”
Ken Carter agreed. “This is something great. This is amazing,” he said. “Hugh White deserves a lot of credit. The place was vacant. It’s a no-brainer. Everything works so good, it’s out of the way and doesn’t put pressure on the town. This is one of the greatest towns to be homeless. Free buses. The drop-in center. Most towns don’t have a drop-in center.
“Everybody is having a tough time, not just the homeless. We need to help each other and work together. It’s like a light in the midst of darkness.”
Hass-Holcombe said she still is hoping for co-location of homeless services.
“I would like to see it someday, but there is no clear path,” she said. “Rather than replay the past, I prefer to focus on the future and reflect on the remarkable community support that has been given to us throughout the journey. The CDDC intends to continue working in solidarity with the people we serve to provide a strong and viable resource for meeting significant needs.”
The Homeless Employment Launching Project, an offshoot of the drop-in center, tackles jobs issues for the homeless. Formerly housed inside the drop-in center HELP now has its own small office on Southwest Fourth Street, with its entrance accessed via the alley off of Madison. White owns the building and provided the space.
HELP has two paid employees, Sarah Ligon and Amru Lafi, who are the only paid staff of the drop-in center.
The service is largely paid for with grant money, said Grant Carlin, HELP’s volunteer executive director. HELP pays $14 per hour, with $2 going to taxes, worker’s compensation and liability insurance. The main customers are nonprofits who need workers, with Carlin noting Habitat for Humanity, Corvallis Housing First and local churches. HELP takes calls from those who need workers and tries to arrange a match with one of their clients.
HELP helped 33 individuals in 2018, with 3,000 work hours recorded. “We put 12 people into full-time positions,” Carlin said. “That takes them off the streets and into housing.”
“There is a misnomer that homeless people are not skilled,” Ligon said. “We have people who work in construction. The people that come in here want to work. We try to place people where there is the best fit. Most of our workers are jacks of all trades. They are willing to do anything.”
The service extends beyond matching a potential employee with a potential employer.
“We also do basic skills training,” Lafi said. “We’re trying to connect people to long-term jobs. We teach them resume writing, job search activities and skills training.”
HELP provides hygiene kits to make sure their clients present well in interviews. Work clothes and transportation are provided and Lafi also offers assistance with documents, Social Security and other resources connections.
During the Gazette-Times visit Mike Reigstad, a HELP client for two years, arrived to pick up his paycheck. Reigstad usually works in landscaping but is also known as a fix-it man for electronics and computing.
“I’m fine with hard work,” Reigstad said. “I’ll do anything. I’ll get down in the dirt. Different clients want different things done. I’ve moved furniture for people. This program has been really good to me without a doubt.”
Reigstad has progressed so well that he does some landscaping work on his own. Lafi said other HELP clients also have been finding work independent of the program.
“We want to help them be successful even though they don’t need us anymore,” Ligon said. “Sometimes people get full-time employment and we lose track of them.”
“The people who apply for work through HELP are not asking for charity,” Carlin said. “They just want to work, and we want to make a difference in their lives.”
An immediate challenge for the meal service when the Second Street project collapsed was misinformation about what it meant for Stone Soup.
“The immediate impact seems to have been confusion for our guests as we had a sharp drop in numbers over the summer,” said board member Sara Ingle. “When the Corvallis Daytime Drop-in Center left First Christian Church (in July) there was a presumption by many guests that Stone Soup was no longer doing meals there. They thought when Second Street failed, we would no longer be able to serve meals.
“The numbers are back to normal this winter, but it has taken a lot of comforting and reassuring that Stone Soup was not going anywhere and we are operating as usual.”
The co-location plan would included Stone Soup providing evening food service to shelter residents. It has kept that promise, with the help of local businesses such as Francesco’s and Clodfelter’s, who have been providing soup and University Hero, which has donated bread.
“A positive impact has been community awareness of Stone Soup,” Ingle said, “and increased financial support, for which we are grateful.”
“After a significant expenditures of time and money by Stone Soup, we are no closer to our dream of a single, accessible meal site, hopefully with co-located services,” Ingle said.
Not everyone agrees with the co-location approach.
“I do not think that co-locating all three services is in the best interest of the clients served or the community,” said Kari Whitacre, executive director of Community Outreach Inc., which operates emergency shelters, transformational housing and case management series on Northwest Reiman Avenue.
“In my opinion, Stone Soup should remain autonomous from the other two services as their mission is 'community volunteers feeding the hungry in Corvallis' and there are many men, women and children in our community that are experiencing food insecurity who are not a part of (and often afraid of) the chronic/transient population.”
COI took a new approach with its emergency shelter this season, opening it up to individual men and women as well as its traditional family component. The experiment began Nov. 1, with Whitacre noting in late December that 41 unique individuals (26 men, nine women and six children) had been served for a total of 239 bed nights.
Whitacre also said that 11 of the 41 individuals have moved on to COI’s transformational housing program.
COI has carved out a slightly different niche from other social services because it requires individuals to be clean and sober.
“The new emergency shelter policy has been going well,” Whitacre said. “We have had no major behavior problems, and everyone has been very appreciative of having a clean and sober shelter option.”
In 2017, Whitacre said, COI provided shelter and transitional housing to 278 unduplicated individuals. That number includes 80 children and 19 veterans. Whitacre expressed frustration that large chunks of the homeless population are not part of the larger debate.
“While chronically homeless men are very visible, 70% of the people in our community who don’t have an acceptable place to call home are families, children and men and women who are situationally homeless,” she said.
“Something has happened to leave them temporarily homeless, but with a little help from the community, they can be sleeping in a safe bed before too long. Until we change the tone of the conversation to include, not only the chronically homeless, but ALL those experiencing homelessness we have failed to adequately address the issue as a community.”
The Gazette-Times visited Klamath Falls in August to look at the community's ongoing efforts to come up with a social service "campus" that would include a new shelter run by the Klamath Falls Gospel Mission, a workforce development agency and medical facilities and a sobering center operated by Sky Lakes Medical Center.
The shelter opened Nov. 9, with Klamath Falls Gospel Mission executive director Kent Barry telling the Gazette-Times that 350 people were on hand for the ribbon-cutting and open house at the three-building, 20,000-square foot shelter complex. The Klamath Falls Gospel Mission raised $2.7 million to pay for the project, which is 1 mile south of its former downtown shelter.
Barry said that bed nights for women have risen from 8 to 15 in the new shelter, with the male client load remaining at about 20 per night. Barry said the main challenge for the operation has been finding enough storage space.
"Overall, it has been great to have a new mission, and we are very grateful for the support from the community," Barry said.