Corvallis Housing First apparently will get the opportunity to operate its men’s cold weather shelter this winter.
The Corvallis City Council voted 7-1 late Tuesday night to tentatively approve Housing First's proposal. The vote, which favored Housing First's plan instead of a competing proposal from Community Outreach Inc., came during a five-hour, 15-minute council session at the downtown fire station.
The vote is tentative because Housing First is required to appear at the council's Sept. 19 meeting to outline how it plans to partner with other service agencies in town and how it will vet those who will be staying at the shelter at 530 S.W. Fourth St.
“Corvallis Housing First must bring back information on their collaborations with other agencies and other commitments to make good on their intention to mitigate negative issues experienced by their neighbors and downtown businesses,” said City Manager Mark Shepard in a Wednesday interview.
“The ball is in CHF’s court. The council will listen to what they have to say and they may say it is good enough or that they should add this or that. They also could say no, but I doubt that that will happen.”
Ward 9 Councilor Hal Brauner made the motion to favor the CHF proposal. He was joined by Bill Glassmire (Ward 7), Frank Hann (Ward 8), Joel Hirsch (Ward 6), Zach Baker (Ward 3), Mike Beilstein (Ward 5) and Barbara Bull (Ward 4). Roen Hogg (Ward 2) was the lone no vote. Penny York of Ward 1 was absent.
Hogg, whose ward includes the Fourth Street shelter, made an impassioned plea to councilors to accept the Community Outreach proposal.
“We should be listening to COI, we should give the money to COI,” Hogg said. “The city has a responsibility to all neighborhoods in Corvallis. We should not give money to an organization that makes the city less safe. The city has failed the neighborhood and has thrown it under the bus. The neighborhood has gone through four years of hell.”
The standing-room-only crowd of more than 75 people applauded Hogg’s remarks, and the audience was admonished for doing so by Mayor Biff Traber, the second time in the evening the mayor had to silence the spectators.
Brauner, meanwhile, noted two key problems in Community Outreach's proposal: The group does not have a location secured for its shelter and the request included more money (more than $110,000) than the city has available ($47,000).
“I saw (the CHF proposal) as the only alternative at this point,” Brauner said Wednesday. “There was no site in the other proposal and that made it a nonstarter. There also was no money in the budget for the cost-differential. That was a minor issue. But if we didn’t make a motion for the proposal with a site we might not have a shelter for the winter and that would have been unacceptable.”
The council deliberations followed nearly two-and-half hours of presentations and public testimony. Representatives of Housing First and Community Outreach spoke, and 28 individuals either testified or yielded their three minutes to others. A total of 15 individuals supported the Community Outreach plan, seven favored the Housing First proposal and six offered essentially neutral testimony.
Topics covered included withering criticism of Housing First's accountability and past practices, widely divergent views on the clientele that has been served by the Fourth Street shelter and whether Corvallis is a “magnet” for homeless individuals from other states.
Individuals who have volunteered at facilities of the two agencies also spoke, as well as social service agency representatives Jim Moorefield (Willamette Neighborhood Housing Services), Andrea Mhyre (Jackson Street Youth Services) and Martha Lyon (Community Services Consortium) plus current political candidates Neil Goudriaan (Corvallis City Council) and Paul Cauthorn (Benton County commissioner) and a former councilor, Jeanne Raymond.
“It was not a surprise to me that the issue produced significant public input and strong feelings on both sides,” said Shepard, who added that “the options the council had were fairly limited because of where we are in the season."
Shepard and the councilors also noted that using the Fourth Street building for this winter is a temporary fix and not a long-term solution.
“My sense of the council is that it would like a different solution moving forward than the Fourth Street shelter," Shepard said. "But that’s just my sense.”