Mens Shelter (copy)

Beds at the Corvallis Mens Cold Weather Shelter. 

You might have noticed the story in Monday's newspaper about the demise of the Housing Opportunities Action Council, the city-county group that had been charged with making progress on the Benton County's 10-year plan to address homelessness.

The council went out of business at the end of its May 22 meeting and is transitioning into a Benton County advisory committee. The new group hasn't yet been named and its first meeting has yet to be scheduled. A draft intergovernmental agreement and bylaws are in the works.

It sounds as if Benton County plans to use its own employees for staff support of the effort, so one result is that Shawn Collins, who has labored long and hard as the council's project manager, will be out of a job when his contract expires on June 30.

Just as it is throughout much of Oregon, homelessness in Benton County continues to be a particularly difficult problem to crack. As Collins noted in Monday's story, the "needs haven't gone away."

And neither has the anger and distrust that still can surround attempts to deal with the homeless population in the county.

It's been more than a decade since we first started talking about 10-year plans to address homelessness in Benton County. Most recently, the 10-year plan was updated in 2017, prompting a recent comment from Julie Manning of Samaritan Health Services (and a former mayor of Corvallis) that the community already has gone "a good distance toward identifying actions we need to take and identifying action. I don't want to give the impression that we have no plan."

Well, with all respect to Manning, of course we have a plan: After all, this is Benton County. We've got plans for everything. If we don't have a plan, we're in the midst of a process to create a plan. The question is this: What sort of progress have we made on this particular plan?

More than you might think. But a quick look at the plan's so-called "keystone strategies" for 2017-19 shows how much work remains. 

Judge for yourself. Here are some of those strategies:

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• Increase capacity to provide mental health treatment and detox services. Samaritan is breaking ground today on a detox facility in Lebanon, but no one is claiming victory in this area yet.

• Increase the affordable housing supply in Benton County. The urban renewal district in South Corvallis might be an important part of the solution, but this is an issue statewide as well. Legislative action this session may yet pave the way for additional affordable housing, regardless of whether Corvallis wants it. 

• Establish permanent locations for year-round emergency shelter for men, women and families. Mark this one "incomplete."

• Establish other temporary shelter strategies; legal camp site, scattered site tent and car camping, etc. Another "incomplete."

• Establish a permanent site for a daytime drop-in center and soup kitchen, with expanded hours. The drop-in center has a permanent location, but no such luck as of yet for the Stone Soup program.

• Facilitate entry into permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness or living in temporary or transitional housing; secure more permanent supportive housing for special populations. We have made some progress here, with facilities such as Partners Place and the Van Buren House, but we have just scratched the surface of this need. 

You can find the other keystone strategies, and a copy of the full plan, attached to the online version of this editorial. 

So, yes, we have a plan. It's also true that we have made a little bit of progress on some items in the plan, but we have stalled out on others. At this rate, we're not going to solve homelessness in the next 10 years; no one realistically thought that would happen.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep trying — and if the county's new group finds a way to pick up the pace, all the better. (mm)

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