Efforts by the city of Roseburg to open a one-stop homeless shelter hit a roadblock Wednesday when the deadline for submissions from agencies wanting to run the shelter came and went, and not a single group bid for the contract.
“We have checked our mail and we have also checked our email, but we have received no applications for our request for proposals for the navigation center,” City Recorder Amy Sowa said via Zoom on Wednesday, just a couple of minutes after the bids were supposed to be opened.
And just like that, it’s back to the drawing board for city officials as they seek to open a shelter with accompanying services, also known as a navigation center, intended to assist some of the hundreds of homeless people in the area.
Following the meeting, city spokesperson Suzanne Hurt sent out a brief statement on behalf of Sowa.
“The city is disappointed but still hopeful that someone will come forward with a proposal. The city will discuss what we need to do as our next steps, which could include putting together another request for proposals. The city will consider all of its options,” Sowa said in the statement.
Wednesday’s somber news is indicative of the problems city officials have had in addressing the issue, which the City Council identified as a priority in early 2020. There have been some successes — most notably the $1.5 million state grant awarded to the city to get the navigate center up and running — but often those have been offset by setbacks.
The $1.5 million grant was included in state legislation passed this year that provides funding for six navigation centers across the state. The other cities getting this funding, ranging from $1.5 million to $5 million, are Eugene, Salem, Bend, Medford and McMinnville.
Thus began the search for an agency to get the shelter off the ground, run it and help generate revenue to pay for its continued operation.
That process officially started July 29, when the request for proposals for “Navigation Center, Shelter and Support Services” was released. There was an optional conference for those interested in submitting a proposal scheduled for Aug. 26.
The last day to submit a proposal was initially scheduled for Sept. 9, but after the conference, city officials decided to push everything back about a month, making the new deadline to submit proposals Wednesday.
The funding comes with a tight timeline: language in the grant calls for the navigation center to be up and running by July 1 of next year, or the city might have to return the grant.
In order to meet the parameters for how the money can be spent, Roseburg will need to have at a minimum a low-barrier shelter with restrooms that is open daily and provides access to services for those staying in the shelter. Additional preferred services include trauma-informed peer-to-peer counseling, food, showers, laundry, lockers or other secure places for tenant belongings, and an area for pets.
But just what form that shelter will take — such as one large building where people sleep in a shared space, individual rooms, tiny homes, or urban camping with tents — has yet to be determined.
The selected contractor — assuming one eventually emerges — will also be expected to provide data to the city on the operations at the navigation center. That data will include things like the number of shelter beds provided, number of clients served, occupancy rate, number of clients accessing health care services and the number of clients accessing public benefits.
LITTLE PROGRESSCity officials have made the issue of homelessness a priority, but have struggled to make meaningful progress in addressing it.
In January, the City Council created a Homeless Commission to spearhead efforts to help the homeless. The commission held its first meeting on Jan. 25 and announced that its immediate priority was setting up a warming center so the homeless could have somewhere to go when the temperatures dipped below freezing.
But eight days later the commission called a special meeting and declared that the push to open a warming center was off, and the focus instead would be on helping the homeless shelter in place. Commission members said they had learned that setting up a warming center could take a month, and housing so many individuals in a confined space could spread COVID-19.
Then in June, the City Council created the Immediate Needs Ad Hoc Committee. As the name implies, the committee was set up to help determine and address the most pressing needs of the unhoused, such as water, showers and places to stay cool during a hot spell, such as the one the area experienced this summer.
However, the following month the committee was disbanded after city officials said its work overlapped with the work of the Homeless Transition Action Group.
HTAG, as it is known, has been around about seven years but never incorporated and does not have any staff, a building or funding. The group meets monthly and city officials attend, but the meetings are held in private.
The Homeless Commission has not met publicly since Aug. 23; its last scheduled monthly meeting, which was supposed to be held Sept. 27, was canceled. Its next meeting is scheduled for the morning of Oct. 25. The City Council is scheduled to meet that evening.
In another move marred in controversy, Roseburg police and city staffers over the last several months have conducted cleanup sweeps at several homeless encampments in the city. City officials have applauded the cleanup, noting the tons of trash, including spent needles, wooden pallets and human waste that has been removed, much of close to ecologically sensitive waterways.
But critics of the sweeps say they do little to address the fundamental causes of homelessness, and simply strip those in the camps of their belongings and shelter without providing any place for them to go.
A January 2020 survey found 845 people in the county who were identified as unhoused, including 183 under the age of 18, but those numbers are considered low. The survey for this year was canceled due to concerns over the coronavirus.