28 September 2021
‘Finish line’ still far away
Where does Eugene and Lane County stand on their homelessness plan?
Tatiana Parafiniuk-Talesnick Eugene Register-Guard | USA TODAY NETWORK
In the beginning of 2018, the city of Eugene and Lane County invested $84,000 in a roadmap aimed at lowering the number of people camping along local streets and in parks to zero. h In 2019, the Eugene City Council threw their support behind 10 recommendations from the Technical Assistance Collaborative, a Boston-based consultant, which called for the construction of a 75-bed low-barrier homeless shelter and hundreds of additional units of supportive housing, among other recommendations. hThe consultant calculated there would be no or very few people living unsheltered within three years if all the recommendations were implemented, the entire plan was meant to take place over five years.
Michael Carrigan, right, joins more than 150 volunteers in January 2020 for the annual Lane County effort to count homeless people. Eugene and Lane County are using an additional method to assess the number of homeless in the area, called the Homeless By-Name List.
ANDY NELSON/THE REGISTER-GUARD FILE
Two and a half years — and a global pandemic — later, the finish line seems far away. Many of the TAC goals have been delayed by the pandemic, but others have been prioritized, according to Sarai Johnson, the housing strategist for both Lane County and the city of Eugene.
“Identifying Safe Sleep sites is absolutely something that I can’t imagine would have happened in this short amount of time if (city staff) weren’t compelled because of the circumstances that COVID brought about,” Johnson said. “I would also say that we have a lot of community energy that we didn’t necessarily have before on this front.”
Here’s where the major TAC goals stand:
Expand and coordinate street outreach
Street outreach, a program where city workers establish relationships with people experiencing homeless, was launched in 2020. The county has two, soon to be three, coordinated outreach workers and one person on a rural team, with three positions open.
The city of Eugene piloted an outreach program, but is now planning to contract that work out through the county. Springfield and east Lane County have also contracted outreach workers.
The TAC recommendations call for a minimum of five outreach workers and one county outreach coordinator.
Rapid rehouse, which provides short-term rental assistance and services, has not yet been expanded as the TAC report calls for. “Service providers have hit major capacity limits in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, while skyrocketing rents and extremely limited availability of units in Eugene/Springfield and Lane County as a whole have made expansion of rapid rehousing a very tough prospect for a provider,” according to the latest report on TAC progress submitted to Eugene City Council and Lane County Board of Commissioners July 28.
350 units of permanent supportive housing
Supportive housing is a model that combines low-barrier affordable housing, health care and supportive services. The Commons at MLK opened in late 2020, providing 51 units. The Market District Commons provides 15 units. In September, the Keystone project provided 15 more. The Nel will create 45 by July 2022. Bridges on Broadway, currently used to house wildfire refugees, will have offer 50 units in the future. That leaves the city and county 174 units short of their goal.
The TAC report recommended that the city and county construct and operate its own 75-bed low-barrier shelter for single adults that operates year-round.
Officials hoped to have the shelter up and running by the end of 2020. In a meeting with city and county officials Johnson shared that COVID-19 delayed the building of the shelter, which wasslated to be done by this year, already later than planned.
Now, the shelter is set to be completed for opening by July 1, 2022.
“Although we had a slower start to it than expected, I think we’ll make up for lost time,” Johnson told officials.
The move-on strategies were to help households move past permanent supportive housing. Work on these strategies was delayed due to “other priorities during the pandemic,” according to the latest TAC progress report.
A program that would incentivize landlords who provide low-cost housing to people at risk of becoming homeless was said is would launch soon at the beginning of 2020, but at a joint council and board meeting, Johnson said this project hasn’t been started yet and necessitates more staff.
Some of the other goals
Tenancy support: This recommendation is focused on supporting people in keeping housing once they are in a unit. This has begun, but is expected to be expanded in the next fiscal year.
h Coordinated entry changes: A Coordinated Entry and Outreach Supervisor was hired to help coordinate between nonprofit, service provider and local government efforts. h Best practice training: “Some elements” of the TAC recommended trainings were implemented in 2021, according to the report.
Hiring a point person: Sarai Johnson was hired as the housing strategist for Lane County and the city of Eugene a few months before the pandemic began.
Expand diversion and rapid exit strategies: ShelterCare was contracted to do this work in 2021.
Johnson added that while the TAC recommendations are “valuable,” they’re not a straightforward plan. They were calculated using the Point-In-Time count, an annual count of people who are unhoused. But now local government and nonprofits rely on the monthly Homeless By-Name List, which tracks people who are unhoused and receiving services from agencies in Lane County, for an accurate sense of the problem.
In 2019, the PIT count found 2,165 people experience homelessness, but the HBNL counted 4,211 people, which is still considered an undercount as it only accounts for those who used services and can’t count people who don’t. “If I could say I’ve done anything in the last year and a half, which I want to be able to, it’s probably helping reframe this reality for our elected leaders and for our city staff and county staff,” Johnson said. “To me it’s a yes… this is helping us (and) we have to start talking about this in a much bigger way.”
Contact reporter Tatiana Parafiniuk-Talesnick at Tatiana@registerguard.com or 541-338-2454, and follow her on Twitter @TatianaSophiaPT.
“Identifying Safe Sleep sites is absolutely something that I can’t imagine would have happened in this short amount of time if (city staff) weren’t compelled because of the circumstances that COVID brought about. I would also say that we have a lot of community energy that we didn’t necessarily have before on this front.”
Sarai Johnson, Housing strategist for Lane County and the city of Eugene