April 29, 2013
Ad-Hoc Homelessness Steering Committee
4:00 - 6:00 p.m.
Ayars, Parker, Saldana, O’Bryon, Sohl, Hopkins-Powell, Lewis, Rohde, Reid (Staff), Marsh (Council)
Winter shelter program coordinators and volunteers
Agenda Item #1: Call to Order
Hopkins-Powell called the meeting to order at 4:10 p.m.
Agenda Item #2: Approval of Minutes
Saldana/Parker m/s to approve the minutes as presented, Voice Vote-Motion passed one abstentions due to absence.
Agenda Item #3: Welcome and Introductions:
The Winter Shelter Coordinators and Volunteers introduced themselves.
Agenda Item #4: Winter Shelter:
Debrief from this year’s shelter efforts-Reports/numbers:
Ruth Coulthard reported on the Presbyterian Church Winter shelter program (Monday night shelter): This year the Presbyterian Shelter volunteers hosted 26 nights of shelter (there was one more shelter night before the end of April; the night of the meeting so it would be 27 in total). Twenty-two regular shelter nights and five emergency shelter nights (one of which was held at the Grove). The shelter hosted 362 guests, which was approximately 50 people less than last year. Coulthard was concerned that opening the other two shelters would deplete the pool of available volunteers but that was not the case.
Russ Otte reported on the Trinity Episcopal shelter program (Wednesday night shelter): Trinity offered 22 nights of shelter, hosting 283 guests (235 Men, 48 women and 37 dogs.) Trinity had 19 different volunteer hosts. Otte reported that the volunteer list filled up quickly; noting that 14 of the volunteers were Trinity members and 5 were community members. Otte stated that the biggest surprise for him was the amount of donated food that appeared at the shelter; from volunteers, community businesses and from the guests themselves. He learned that some guests just come to socialize and do not stay the night. Trinity has board games and the guests enjoy playing the games, it seemed to calm some guests who may have been agitated by being indoors or around so many other people. Many volunteers commented that the lighting at Trinity helped to set a calm and peaceful environment and also allowed those who wanted to go right to sleep a place for that while still allowing others enough light to play games and socialize. Otte reported that this initial winter shelter program at Trinity has been a wonderful experience and that he will be presenting these numbers to the leadership group to gain approval to operate the seasonal shelter again next year.
John Wieczorek reported on the Pioneer Hall (Thursday night) Shelter Program which is a partnership between the Universal Unitarian Church, Temple Emek Shalom and the City: Pioneer hall started a little later than the others so there were only 16 shelter nights that hosted 208 guests. On average the shelter hosted approximately 13 guests a night. No dogs were allowed in the shelter. The Unitarian Universalist Church partnered with Temple Emek Shalom who provided breakfast burritos and fruit to help get people up and moving in the morning. Wieczorek also learned that the guests come for a sense of community, whether it is derived from a sense of safety or to get warm. Wieczorek expressed appreciation for the partnership with the City for a space to hold the shelter; Wieczorek felt that Pioneer hall was a good space for that purpose. Wieczorek stated that he hoped that the Pioneer Hall shelter program can continue next year, he felt that the Universal Unitarian church would be willing to continue and hopes that Emek and the City will want to as well. Wieczorek also thanked the Committee members for all of the work they did to get the shelter programs together for the winter.
Councilor Voisin asked if there were any issues at Trinity and Presbyterian with pets. Trinity reported that they had zero issues with dogs; dogs entered on leashes and would be taken off leash once inside then would either go to their usual spot and lie down or stay with their owners. They had two potty accidents. Presbyterian reported that they have always allowed dogs in the shelters since they started offering a no frills shelter in 2007 and have never had an incident. Most of the dogs owned by homeless people are better behaved than housed people’s dogs because they are always in public.
Hopkins-Powell stated that she felt the biggest issue to be the lack of shower and laundry facilities. By the end of the season, the lack of shower and laundry facilities was becoming all too apparent in a confined space for a long period of time. One volunteer commented that he thought some people were taking advantage of the access to hot running water at the shelter facilities by sponge bathing in the bathrooms.
One volunteer commented on how he was impressed by the community of volunteers and the support from the community. He liked the trust and simplicity of the process and how well the shelter worked. It seemed to him that before people volunteer they think of all of the problems and issues that could come up, but when you volunteer you see how simply and easily the shelter comes together, how relaxed the atmosphere is and that problems just don’t arise. When he volunteered he felt compelled to bring food and approached some of the local restaurants about getting some food donations and was amazed at how eager and supportive the businesses were of the shelter program. He was overwhelmed by the food donations.
Another volunteer commented that the guests have pride to, just thinner skin and sometimes the less experienced volunteers are not aware of that.
All of the shelter coordinators commented on how there were no police calls from any of the shelters.
Parker asked about the need for food. All of the coordinators agreed that there is always plenty of food and that the food is really appreciated after the 20th
of the month when guests’ food stamp accounts start running low. One of the coordinators stated that the guests really appreciate the higher nutrition foods and when the weather is really cold having something warm to eat is really valuable.
One audience member asked “was it hard to staff the shelters with the one male, one female volunteer a night rule?” Otte stated that Trinity only had one night were there were two women signed up to volunteer, one of them felt a little uncomfortable and commented about it to him loudly enough that the guests could hear. He said that immediately several male guests approached the volunteers and stated that they would make sure nothing happened to them. The volunteers were reassured and everything was fine.
Another audience member asked whether coordinators and volunteers have seen an increase in the population. Coulthard stated that over the course of this season the population did not seem to grow, that you see the same core group of guests with the occasional new face, maybe someone who is traveling through. Coulthard stated that in prior years there was a smaller core group of guests, that this winter was milder than in previous winters so that may have been a factor as well. Another coordinator stated that there is better information now out in the community about the shelters rather than having to put out flyers about the shelter the day of, especially with the regularity of the shelter nights. One audience member commented that he wondered about whether the shelters would be a draw for homeless outside of the Ashland area, but reported that he too saw a core group of guests at Pioneer and did not see an influx of guests from other areas. Wieczorek stated that his numbers did not show an increase in guests from other communities. Similarly, a volunteer at the Presbyterian shelter who also works with homeless populations in Medford stated that he tried to persuade some of the Medford homeless to come to the shelters in Ashland and they were not receptive of the idea.
Otte reported that over the course of this season Trinity saw two guests, a male and a female, get into permanent housing. The male approached him one night and asked him if they might have an iron that he could use to press the wrinkles out of his clothes because he had a job interview in the morning. They did come up with an iron and made sure that the man was able to have enough time to use it the next morning before it was time to close the shelter. The next week the man reported that he got the job and a couple weeks later he came back to let the volunteers know that with the help of St. Vincent De Paul he was able to get into permanent housing. Similarly a female guest was eventually about to get into housing though not in Ashland because she couldn’t find something local that she could afford.
One volunteer who has been volunteering at Presbyterian for several years but was not able to volunteer as much this year shared how she has run into shelter guests on the street who asked her if she was okay since they have not been seeing her at the shelter lately.
One volunteer commented that she volunteered for one shelter night this season and found the experience to be very rewarding. She felt very welcomed by the guests, and enjoyed the conversations. She really felt that people were honoring each other’s space.
Otte stated that the volunteer list needed to get out into the community more. Wider communication was needed to solicit volunteers either through the City’s utility mailer or through the offering volunteer trainings again next year.
The back ground checks were an issue for the Pioneer Hall volunteers. The APD background checks were very expensive in comparison to other organizations background checks and there was a lack of communication between APD and the State. Some volunteers received other people’s background checks in the mail which were incorrectly addressed, and the number of background checks that APD could do at no cost to the volunteers was very limited. Two questions that were asked were; how long is a background check good for, and can the process be streamlined and made less expensive. Reid will look into it. Hopkins-Powell commented that the Parks department does free background checks for the listening post volunteers. Parker stated that at the Ashland School District she would get background checks for a reduced rate for non-profits, but the results come back to the sender (the non-profit).
Dorita from the Methodist Church stated that this year the Church has seen a rise in the incidents of people sleeping on their property overnight whereas in prior years they have had no instances where people were spending the night on church property. Trinity reported that they too have had guests sleeping on church property on non-shelter nights. Wieczorek had a theory about these incidents stating that Ashland Christian Fellowship (ACF) has recently completed some landscape work which included removing some bushes along the Creek and he was told that in past years ACF has had several incidents of homeless individuals sleeping in the bushes and on the ACF property, however this year they didn’t have one incident of homeless individuals sleeping on their property.
One Coordinator stated that there are a few people who are sleeping legally in their cars in the church parking lot on shelter nights stating that some people prefer their own space. The coordinator reiterated the need for a legal place for these individuals to park on non-shelter nights with access to bathroom and garbage facilities; stating that the proposal to offer an overnight parking program at the police station would be perfect for this population. One shelter coordinator stated that there are some negative impacts to every church that offers services to this population; that the neighborhoods around the churches may not be open to the impacts of an overnight parking program.
One coordinator commented that one of the problems with the higher numbers of regular shelter guests and the food is that there is less time to visit with the guests and get to know them. Others commented that having three volunteers, one to help with the food at least at the beginning, was really helpful.
Best Practices-What could be done differently next year
It was suggested that a column for a third volunteer, a food prep volunteer get added to the volunteer signup sheet.
Schedule trainings for next year, the trainings were helpful, but they should start earlier and at mid-season
Earlier background checks.
Earlier sign-up, broader promotion
Utility mailer, post on City website with a link to Google docs
Agenda item # 5:Next Steps:
Item Not on the Agenda: Agenda for the Joint Housing Commission Homelessness Steering Committee Meeting
Committee members added a goal of establishing one more regular shelter night for next season.
Outreach to elected and appointed officials- Councilor Marsh invited volunteers to compile and share any stories that they had of their experiences and send them to the staff liaison, Linda Reid.
All three coordinators and their sites are hoping to continue their respective programs next winter.
See if the City will grant some space for an additional shelter night next year.
Next meeting: May 8, 2013 4:00-6:00 P.M.
Update on vet court.
Councilor Marsh would like to look at the merger
It was suggested that at the joint meeting the two groups discuss:
Willingness to work together
Individual Commission/Committee Goals
Education about one another’s Committee/Commissions
Set a schedule with targeted goals for merging the two entities
Respectfully Submitted by Linda Reid, Housing Program Specialist