Government leaders across Clatsop County appear supportive of naming a homeless liaison, if the position and how much it will cost can be better defined.

Astoria Police Chief Geoff Spalding broached the idea at a recent meeting of the city’s homelessness solutions task force, noting a 300% increase in calls this year related to the homeless, likely tied to increased awareness of the issue.

‘We’ve reached a boiling point’

Government leaders may hire a homeless liaison.

The police chief used the example of a similar temporary position added by Gresham and said he’d like to bring a recommendation to the Astoria City Council by the first quarter of next year.

Members of the task force warmed to the idea, seeing it as a way to help the homeless, make residents feel safer and reduce pressure on police, parks and other agencies that often interact with the homeless. But because of the cost and transient nature of the homeless population, it became clear the task force would need buy-in from governments across the county.

Spalding and members of the task force brought the idea to a roundtable Thursday evening between county, Astoria, Seaside, Gearhart and Cannon Beach leaders to gauge their interest. Representatives from Warrenton, which has one of the highest concentrations of homeless people, were not at the meeting.

The police chief summed up the need for a liaison with a quote from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, which has pushed for communities to move from a collection of individual programs to a coordinated, data-driven approach.

“Some of the things we see this person doing would be coordinating all the efforts of all the different agencies,” Spalding said. “ ... The other part of this is collecting data. We don’t necessarily have really good data on the individuals and what their needs are.”

A subcommittee of the homelessness task force has been researching the position and cost. Spalding estimated the potential salary at between $50,000 to $60,000 and said Clatsop Community Action has offered to host the position. Some have raised concerns that there would need to be multiple people in such a role.

Underscoring the difficulty in tracking the homeless population, leaders quibbled briefly over the homeless count across the county.

The closest to a countywide figure is Clatsop Community Action’s Project Homeless Connect in January and the U.S. Census next year. But leaders noted the shortcomings of trying to count homeless people who may move to warmer climates in the winter or not participate in surveys.

Social service providers have estimated there are roughly 1,000 homeless people in the county.

“Merely to bring this to, say, our City Council or the county commission, we don’t necessarily have to have an exact number,” Astoria City Councilor Joan Herman said. “I could foresee just asking our local bodies, ‘Would we be open to considering sharing funding for such a position, or perhaps two positions?’ Because we’re all paying for it now, in police response and various other responses.”

Edward Stratton is a reporter for The Astorian. Contact him at 971-704-1719 or estratton@dailyastorian.com.

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(4) comments

Barry Plotkin

Creating this position would be a "game-changer" in our dealing effectively with the various aspects and consequences of homelessness across the County. Currently, and for the past few years, there has been no effective coordination among the various groups and individuals - volunteers, churches, governmental agencies, et al. - with the result being nothing more than an unreliable and flimsy patchwork. That is not to say that all these efforts were not well-intended. They were, and everyone who contributed worked very hard. But from year-to-year, and season-to-season, no firm foundation was laid, thus requiring repeated "re-inventions of the wheel." A stable, well-funded, permanent coordinating position - or positions - is a necessary pre-condition for us to gain traction and make actual progress. Chief Spalding, Councillor Herman, and everyone else who is backing this idea should be congratulated and encouraged to make it real. Practically speaking, the idea should be to have one coordinator plus one administrative support person. If there is only one person, then the path to burnout will be rapid. If the workload can be spread between two people, the likelihood of success will increase dramatically. One approach might be for the principal position to be a separately identified professional with appropriate qualifications, and the administrative assistant position be a person seconded from year-to-year from either the cities - Astoria, Warrenton, Seaside - or the County. That would be a form of cost-sharing if the idea were to make this a County-wide approach. Chief Spalding has only the resources of the City of Astoria within his reach. But as the article points out, the problem is county-wide, and I do not understand why Warrenton was not represented at the discussion.

Barry Plotkin

I want to add to my previous comment the following; (1) To reiterate, this is a County-wide problem and demands a County-wide solution. (2) County zoning rules and municipal zoning rules must be "harmonized" and made consistent with respect to all the various aspects of homelessness; (3) With the exception of one or more daily drop-in centers, and enough beds for everyone who needs one, all the services required to address the multiple issues of homelessness are currently provided by a dedicated, but patchwork, group of volunteers and agencies. (4) The new "coordinator" should not try to replace what is already working, but rather try to insure that existing services are given a viable foundation so that they don't have to re-invent the wheel each year. (5) "Coordinating" services, which sounds very bureaucratic, should be understood to mean "integrating" services, which would insure that every person identified and counted as "homeless" was directed as quickly and efficiently as possible to the services most appropriate for that individual. (6) We must always remember that the "homeless" are not an homogeneous group or category or type; instead, they are individual human beings, each of whom has become homeless for a set of reasons particular to that person; there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Barry Plotkin

The article legitimately raises the question of cost, but as Councillor Herman points out, quite correctly, a great deal of money is already being spent - some unnecessarily, some unproductively, some counter-productively - meaning that one of the "coordinator's" first tasks will be to put all this explicit and implicit spending together and shine a light onto it to make it evident. The obvious next task will be to figure out what it will take financially to hold the existing patchwork together for about a year so that the new coordinator can set about the necessary task of planning without the distraction of having to put out fires daily. The rest of the job then falls into place relatively quickly, although getting everything done that needs to be done should be viewed on a 5-year horizon. If there is adequate political will, minimal infrastructure funding, and a county-wide sense of purpose and commitment, then this heretofore intractable problem will evolve into the shape of a solution. While there is no "silver bullet," we can - and should - find that addressing the issues of homelessness is no more complicated than delivering other essential services to keep our community whole, safe, and pleasant.

Jessamyn West

Excellent points, thank-you.

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