The two contenders to lead the new Benton County advisory committee tasked with addressing homelessness had their final audition Wednesday evening before an audience of about 40 people during a public reception at the Sunset Building in Corvallis.
Kate Veiga and Julie Arena are the finalists to become the project manager for Home, Opportunity, Planning and Equity, or HOPE, the successor to the Housing Opportunities Action Council, or HOAC, which came apart amid criticism of its efforts to implement the plan to address homelessness in Benton County. The county’s original 10-year plan to reduce homelessness was adopted in 2009.
On Wednesday, each was asked to give a 15-minute presentation outlining their approach to the job and what they hoped the county would look like in 2029, after 10 more years of working to resolve the problem of homelessness.
Veiga said her approach would include efforts to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place, expand the stock of affordable housing, increase the capacity for homeless people to become self-sufficient and eliminate the stigma surrounding homelessness.
She said the county needs a coordinated system for providing services and data-driven decision making. She also proposed a citizenship program for integrating people who have been homeless into the community based on the “five Rs” of rights, responsibilities, roles, resources and relationships.
“This citizenship is empowering the homeless and making them better neighbors and better citizens,” she said.
Arena said she would build on the work that has already been done to address homelessness in Benton County.
“What I can bring to the conversation,” she said, “is how to change our funding streams.”
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Arena identified several potential funding sources the county could tap into, including a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program that could be used to purchase land and rehabilitate buildings; substance abuse prevention and treatment block grants that could finance transitional housing and recovery residences; and Medicaid waivers that could help pay for case management services and residential treatment facilities.
She proposed setting up a comprehensive intake center and co-locating services such as a shelter, sobering center and daytime drop-in center on county land. She also cited a comprehensive data management system and universal assessment tool in use in the Portland area as something to be emulated.
“I see my role in all this as setting a tone,” Arena added. “Anything we build in any part of the community will affect everyone, so I think it’s really important that we be transparent and involve everybody in these decisions.”
Veiga, 32, lives in Charleston, West Virginia, where she works as a health promotion specialist for the American Lung Association. Prior to that she spent five years as the health equity coordinator for Covenant House, which provides services to the homeless.
She has a bachelor’s degree in international affairs from Marshall University and a master’s in international relations and globalization from the University of Salford in England.
Arena, 37, lives in Sacramento and has worked for the California Department of Public Health since 2016, most recently as a legislative, regulation and policy specialist in the Office of AIDS. Before that she spent three years as a governmental program analyst in the California Department of Health Care Services.
She has bachelor’s degrees in psychology and sociology from UCLA and a law degree from the University of California, Davis.