Keeping in touch: Notes from the Mayor

Mayor Lucy VinisThis blog aims to nurture our conversation and understanding of the issues before us. Every week, I will provide a weekly update on the activities in the city government, my activities as mayor, and brief reflections on progress, opportunities and challenges. You are invited to respond with reactions, insights and questions. We do this work together.

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Dec 10

December 10, 2021

Posted on December 10, 2021 at 6:42 PM by Niyah Ross

City Council had only on work session this week – a joint meeting with the Lane County Board of Commissioners. The session was devoted to an update on several facets of our shared work to address homelessness.

Much of this work is rooted in the ten recommendations from the Homeless Service Assessment and Shelter Feasibility Report that City Council and Lane County Board adopted in 2019, commonly referred to as the TAC report. A couple key background notes of interest:

First, close to 90 percent of the people who are homeless in Lane County in any given month are unsheltered. Nationally that percent is 35 percent. We have historically lagged behind in the provision of housing and services.

Second, even though the pandemic increased the visibility of homelessness, the actual annual number of people has not increased significantly over the pre-pandemic number in 2019.

You will remember that because of the pandemic, our number of congregate shelter beds – places where larger groups of people can stay together – dropped in half; and in the case of Egan Warming Centers were reduced even more drastically. The City and County have continued to replace those lost shelter beds with alternatives and now offer a total of 907 beds. This reflects a nearly 30 percent increase in the number of beds we provided in October 2020.

Significant progress on the TAC report is underway.

The low barrier shelter and navigation center is under construction, due to open in June 2022. The onsite management of this new facility is still to be determined.

The Coordinated entry system through which the County guides people into housing and services is being expanded and improved to connect people more quickly to appropriate services for their level of need. And programs to engage landlords, increase outreach teams to coordinate with the navigation center, and coordinate “rapid rehousing” are all in motion.

As I have commented before, the capacity of our provider organizations is stretched thin and the staff highlighted the opportunity to invest American Rescue Plan funds in supporting behavioral health services, outreach teams, and administration of nonprofit providers.

In addition to the 907 shelter beds and TAC implementation is the City’s commitment to creating 500 safe sleeping sites for vehicles and tents. I toured the first of those sites at 3rd and Garfield on Thursday. It is laid out in a way that all commercial RV campgrounds are designed, with adequate space for campers and second vehicles, access to water and sewer, and good drainage to keep sites dry. Residents share access to three bright red cabins that host office, living room, and dining/cooking areas. It is quiet – many of the people who live there go to work every day; and the next amenity to be included will be showers to help them get their days started well. The next step will include on-site services with providers to help people take the steps needed to move into more permanent housing.

City Councilors and Lane County Commissioners alike expressed a desire to consider additional policies beyond the TAC recommendations to guide our next steps, and a strong interest in bringing Springfield leadership into the next phases.