Shawn Collins

Shawn Collins, new project manager for homeless issues in town, says his time will be split between the office and public meetings. He was interviewed Wednesday at his office at the United Way of Benton & Lincoln Counties.

Former HP Inc. research management veteran Shawn Collins has taken the new position of project manager with the Homeless Opportunities Action Council.

Collins, 52, a 14-year Corvallis resident, is charged with overseeing the work of the council, which is trying to ease homeless problems in the county. He started Tuesday.

Collins was hired by the United Way, but his position, which is budgeted through June 30, is being paid for by matching contributions of $20,000 from the city of Corvallis and Benton County.

Collins described his position as a person “who can chase the details, making sure the meetings are happening and the minutes distributed, follow up on action items and keep the community informed.”

When asked about the challenge of the homeless situation Collins said, "I keep coming back to that this is a complex area,” he said. “None of these problems are going to go away quickly. It’s a community problem, and not any one social service agency is going to solve the problem.”

Collins, who has volunteered with Sage Garden and the South Corvallis Food Bank, said the homeless challenge is linked to a variety of issues.

“Food insecurity and housing insecurity usually go hand in hand,” said Collins. “And it’s not just a shelter issue. Do we have jobs in the community that provide a living wage? Do we have health care and mental health care to meet the needs of people?

“I know people who have come to that edge, how a change of income or dramatic medical bills can send people off track. It’s not that hard for me to look at people and say ‘but for the grace go I.’ ”

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Collins, who left HP in May, said “it was time to do something else. I was looking for a nonprofit, a different environment and a different type of problem. At HP I attacked big problems, but they were abstract, divorced from real lives. Wrestling with these problems changes lives and that appeals to me. This is a good fit.”

What constitutes success for the HOAC?

“We’re working on that right now,” he said. “Over the next couple of weeks I am going to be working with the governing board and stakeholders to understand what success looks like.”

Collins said the HOAC plans to develop metrics to measure progress.

“Some problems aren’t solvable, some are just manageable,” Collins said. “Chronic homelessness is a good example. It won’t just go away. But there is a lot you can do to change the situation and make it less of a problem.”

Corvallis Mayor Biff Traber, who co-chairs the HOAC with Benton County Commissioner Anne Schuster, said “I think Shawn’s role is critical. It will help the HOAC with structure and follow-through. I think the group’s effectiveness will be much enhanced.”

Collins reports to Jennifer Moore, the executive director of the United Way of Benton & Lincoln Counties. Moore said she consulted with the city and county to “ensure alignment of expectations for the position.”

“He has a long history of involvement with local nonprofit organizations in a variety of capacities,” Moore said of Collins. “He has a care and concern for using both his skill set and personal experience for making a difference in a complex issue.”

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Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9542. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.