Chief: Homeless Coalition needs to be revamped

By Sean C. Morgan

Lebanon Local

Police Chief Frank Stevenson told the City Council Oct. 9 that Lebanon’s Homeless Coalition needs new leadership.

During the council’s regular monthly meeting he reported that the effort has grown “stale” and needs to be refreshed and led by someone other than law enforcement.

“We thought we had identified a new leadership that was going to be taking over the coalition,” Stevenson said. “However that did not work out, so as it stands right now Dave (Albanese, community services officer) is still in charge of the coalition.

“What is needed for the coalition really to continue and flourish is for the Police Department not to be the head of that. The reason being isn’t the fact that we don’t care, per se. The reason is because a lot of the individuals who are in need of the help don’t necessarily want the police coming at the front of it. They, more or less, see us as authoritarian. (We’re) going to make them follow the rules, etc., etc. They don’t really want to open up and listen to the help that is out there.

“It has become apparent that there is a need for new leadership made up of volunteers within the community. We are at a critical juncture and have realized that this is necessary in order for the coalition to remain successful moving forward.

“What it really needs is a member of the community who has passion, who has the connections, to really take the lead on the Lebanon Coalition for it to flourish.”

Lebanon Police Department plans to continue to lend support but in a non-primary role, Stevenson said.

The concept behind the coalition was to bring different agencies together to address the complex homeless issue, Stevenson said. The coalition prioritized prevention of homelessness and helping those on the verge of becoming homeless, Stevenson said, but that proved difficult and costly.

Through the School District and the Boys and Girls Club, resources are made available and families are monitored so their needs can be documented, with priority given in circumstances where children are involved.

The coalition partnered with the Linn County Department of Health Services Adult Services Team, Stevenson said, and “we have seen (the team) help people and families who are nearing homelessness by providing agency resources.”

Members of the team include a variety of entities, including Helping Hands in Albany, Family Tree Relief Nursery, the Linn-Benton Housing Authority, Senior and Disability Services and law enforcement agencies.

It continues to function, although not necessarily under the coalition’s name, Stevenson said.

The goal was to develop teams of people representing agencies that could combine materials and supplies and would go into areas where the homeless are staying to identify them by name and connect them with needed resources.

“We tried that once, again, with law enforcement being at the head of that,” Stevenson said. “Many within the homeless population are unwilling to meet with police officers and have a heightened sense of hesitancy to engage with law enforcement.”

“I know as soon as a blue suit walks up, everybody just shuts up,” said Mayor Paul Aziz, himself a former police officer.

“That’s been the biggest hurdle that’s been in front of us,” Stevenson said. “Even for the warming shelter. They see that it’s Lebanon Police, they think it’s a trap; therefore, they’re not going to come in. Even when we’ve gone out in plain clothes, they still recognize us as police.”

Councilor Karin Stauder, also a former police officer, said she supported Stevenson’s decision, noting that police have to also do enforcement: “I totally agree that we should not be in charge of this program.”

Stevenson said Albanese remains out in the city, addressing issues and talking to them.

It’s difficult for him to say, “I’m here to help you, but at the same time, I’m here to also cite you,” Stevenson said. “He becomes very conflicted on that. That’s not really the message I want to deliver to the ones that are in need of help.”

Albanese continues to patrol the parks, and it’s had a positive impact, Stevenson said.

“I can tell,” said Councilor Rebecca Grizzle. “From the times before he started doing that till now, the parks are much more family-friendly. You would have a mother and her kids who may not feel comfortable taking her kids to the park whereas now, and you can’t prevent it all of the time, but most of the time it isn’t necessarily an attractive place to loiter and cause trouble and do your drug deal or whatever it is.

“I agree. We just need to find some way to drum up the passion, find a group that’s appropriately passionate to go out and help people.”

“Does it seem like we’re at the point where everyone thinks that someone else is doing something with this and really nothing is being done, so therefore we need to make it known that this is kind of splintered apart or that this is ready for a transition?” asked Councilor Jason Bolen.

“I think that’s exactly where we’re at right now,” Stevenson replied. “Make it known that we’re kind of stalling or stale. We just need some freshness to the coalition itself and more focus for Lebanon.”

Present at the meeting were Aziz and councilors Grizzle, Michelle Steinhebel, Bolen, Stauder and Robert Furlow.

In other business, the council reached a consensus to develop a public information campaign about how to respond to unwanted cats that wander onto private property.

Community Development Director Kelly Hart began researching what other communities in Oregon are doing with cats after a resident complained to the council in September about feline nuisance issues. Hart looked at state law and the policies of counties and other cities.

The state has no licensing requirements for cats and has no regulation on cats, she told the council. The city’s agreement with Linn County is for animal control services for “dogs only,” and the county has no regulations for cats.

If Lebanon wanted the county to begin providing services for cats, the city would need to negotiate an amendment to the agreement, Hart said. The county does not have the facilities or staffing to handle cats.

Enforcement is generally an issue too, she said. Photos are required to prove a violation, while only a portion of the cats at large are pets. Many are stray or feral.

Hart looked at 13 out of 36 counties, she said. Among them, just two have licensing provisions. One is voluntary and used to help find lost pets.

Multnomah County is the only one that requires licensing, she said, and about half of the cats in that county are actually licensed.

In the past year, the county has given a notice of violation to just one cat owner, Hart said.

Among cities, Baker City and Corvallis have staff dedicated to animal control, while Albany and Dallas have animal control programs but no dedicated staff, Hart said. Eugene budgets $1 million annually for contract services.

Multnomah County also runs the best information site in the state on dealing with at-large cats, Hart said. The website, multcopets.org, contains a variety of suggestions, from cat repellent to physical barriers.

Scents, like coffee grounds, may keep cats away, she said, while textures such as pine cones and egg shells also may work.

She said the city could look into educational resources to help private property owners dealing with cats, noting that the cost of an animal control program would be exorbitant.

Grizzle said there is no good way to enforce a program.

“So many people don’t have a cat but just leave some cat food out,” she said. When it comes time to take it to the vet or deal with a problem, they say it isn’t their cat. “There’s no way to track down who owns these cats.”

She said she liked some of the options available to deal with cats, and that’s “probably the best we can do.”

Aziz agreed that an an information campaign was probably the best option.

Councilors also:

• Approved an increase in pay of $1,000 per month, retroactive to Aug. 15, for Engineering Services Director Ron Whitlach, who is serving as the acting city manager.

• Accepted a bid from Pacific Excavation, Inc., for the A Street sewer replacement project for $253,125, the low bid. Six bids ranged as high as $342,935. The engineer’s estimate was $355,720.

• Approved an agreement with David Evan and Associates to pay for a new storm drainage master plan, which was last updated in 1989. David Evan and Associates was the only firm to submit a proposal.

Whitlach said staff negotiated the terms of the contract down from $332,655 to $296, 535. Funding includes $145,00 from the storm drainage utility, $75,000 from systems development charges and $79,000 from urban renewal districts.

• Appointed Michelle Nelson and Jane Turner to the Library Advisory Committee.

• Accepted a right-of-way dedication at the corner of River Drive and Mountain River Drive to move existing franchise utilities vaults and sidewalk access ramps for the River Road pedestrian crossing as part of the continued Build Lebanon Trails.

• Heard a proclamation by the mayor celebrating Founders Day. The city was incorporated on Oct. 17, 1878. At 5 p.m. on Oct. 17, the city will place a time capsule at the Northside Welcome Monument at Academy Square. The time capsule is scheduled to be opened at the city’s 200th anniversary on Oct. 17, 2078.

• Met the city’s new human resources director, Angela Solesbee.

• Approved wire transfers as a new method for the city to pay its bills.