The announcement of a new plan to house the men’s cold weather shelter and other social services at a building on Southwest Second Street has drawn strong reaction from the community.
More than 30 people met Thursday night for a 90-minute discussion organized by downtown business owner Catherine Mater. The session was free-wheeling but largely constructive.
Mater suggested that it would be difficult to alter plans by the Stone Soup meal service and the Corvallis Daytime Drop-in Center to relocate to Second Street and that the opposition should focus its efforts on delaying the move of the shelter operation.
Should the shelter open for the winter season at the new site on Nov. 1 as planned, it would mark the third spot for the overnight refuge for homeless men in three years. Last year the shelter used the remodeled Hanson Tire Factory building on Southeast Chapman Place after four controversial seasons at a building on Southwest Fourth Street.
The Hanson facility is not available this season because Devco Engineering, which owns the building, plans to relocate some of its operations from the headquarters on Northwest Conifer Boulevard.
“Our options are limited, and these are time-sensitive issues,” Mater said.
Options suggested by those in attendance included:
• Raising money for a potential lawsuit.
• Raising money to assist the shelter operation find different quarters to lease or purchase.
• Encouraging the Corvallis City Council to no longer fund the shelter. The city and Benton County have both been contributing $60,000 per year, with grants and donations making up the rest of the shelter’s budget of approximately $150,000. The $60,000 for 2018-19 is in the proposed city budget that will be the subject of a June 4 public hearing.
Audience members also raised concerns about how the new plan was communicated to the community. Leading the way were two members of the city’s Downtown Advisory Board, chair Ken Pastega and Elizabeth Foster, the Downtown Corvallis Association representative on the board.
“We were blindsided,” Pastega said. “We didn’t have any input. Why are we even in existence?”
Meghan Karas, representing the Avery-Helm neighborhood just south of the Second Street site, agreed.
"There is just too much deja vu," she said. "I was not contacted. That is offensive and shocking."
Mater also noted that the City Council went on record in 2016 indicating that it did not want to spend any more public money on the Fourth Street shelter. Doesn’t that decision apply as well to this downtown location just two blocks away, Mater asked?
Audience members agreed that the operation of the shelter at the Hanson site led to far fewer livability problems than was the case at Fourth Street, and many said they hoped that that will continue if the operation moves to Second Street. Others, though, were adamant that hosting all three social service operations at the same site would inevitably lead to challenges for residents and businesses in the neighborhood.
Shawn Collins, project manager with the Housing Opportunities Action Council, which oversees the shelter, responded by noting that the co-location model is one that is becoming the trend nationwide and that concentrating the services gives agencies a better shot at the case management necessary to lift individuals out of homelessness.
Collins also noted in an email to the Gazette-Times that he expects "thorough and careful review of all building plans by Development Services, the fire marshal and the (Benton County) Health Department as appropriate. This is not something (we) take lightly. It's important that the neighborhood understand the plan, the commitment of each organization to be good neighbors and to be as transparent and engaged with the neighborhood as possible."
Corvallis Police Chief Jon Sassaman, interviewed earlier Thursday, agreed with the meeting consensus that the Hanson experience represents an improvement.
“This last year the location made a difference,” Sassaman said. “But we have to wait and see what happens with bringing it back downtown. And we’re going to focus on the behavior of individuals. We respond to community needs and the behaviors that are in conflict with the law.”