The city of Roseburg will pay $140,000 to hire a homeless coordinator for two years, in its continuing efforts to provide a shelter and services for the unhoused.
The Roseburg City Council approved the expenditure during its meeting Monday evening. The coordinator will assist the work of the Homeless Transition Action Group, or HTAG, which is taking a leading role in bringing together the various groups who are providing services to the homeless community. Aviva Health will oversee the new coordinator position, handling the hiring process and providing supervision, office space and supplies for the new hire.
The $140,000 from the city will cover salary and benefits for two years.
During a meeting of the Roseburg Homeless Commission Monday morning, Wayne Ellsworth, homeless outreach coordinator for South River Community Health Center and chair of HTAG, said the new position will help coordinate the efforts of agencies working with the homeless and give those agencies a stronger voice in those efforts.
“It would be something that would greatly benefit this community,” Ellsworth said in a document he had prepared for the meeting.
The new HTAG coordinator will also seek out funding opportunities to help pay for services for the homeless. The new position is considered key in helping the city get a shelter program with services, also known as a navigation center, up and running by next July. That’s the deadline for a $1.5 million state grant the city was awarded to pay for the navigation center. If the deadline is not met the city may have to return the grant.
HTAG has been around more than seven years but never incorporated and does not have any staff, a building or funding. The group is made up of representatives from many frontline agencies that conduct frequent outreach efforts in the homeless community, providing food, tents, clothing, counseling and other vital items to those they serve.
HTAG emerged in the last several months as a group that could help with the navigation center, as well as an emergency shelter during inclement weather, something the community currently does not have. Ellsworth said HTAG is putting together a proposal to present to the group that manages the fairgrounds to see if a warming center could be set up there.
He also said the current approach to the homeless has made it difficult to coordinate services and has often been counter-productive.
“People are being moved every day. The folks on the streets don’t know what to do and the supportive organizations are having a harder time coordinating efforts to offer their services,” he said in his presentation to the Homeless Commission. “Until we get the city or the county to let us have a place where folks can be, we are going to continue to throw away expensive items and time.
“It’s the reality going forward until we figure this out. It’s a full community partnership. Until we collectively crack this, we will continue to do the same things.”
A LONG ROADCity councilors Monday evening applauded the work of HTAG and the creation of the coordinator position.
Councilor Brian Prawitz said he was involved in the founding of HTAG and is happy to see the group grow in its role.
“This is a very significant moment for them and I think it gives their organization structure and credibility,” he said. “It’s great to see HTAG develop to a point where we’re talking about them like this tonight.”
Councilor Andrea Zielinski echoed those sentiments.
“This is super exciting,” she said. “HTAG has been amazing for our community. They’re really the boots-on-the-ground people that are helping the unhoused.”
The new coordinator position could be filled quickly. Christin Rutledge, vice president of community health at Aviva, said she is ready to post the opening immediately and hopes to have it filled before the holiday season.
“We’re ready,” she said. “I’m very excited.”
There is still much work to be done to get the navigation center off the ground.
About two weeks ago, city officials learned not one agency had responded to manage the navigation center. City Manager Nikki Messenger said the city will continue to look for an agency to fill that role, and may forego the competitive bid process since the last attempt yielded no proposals.
Efforts to secure a location for the navigation center have also proven to be a challenge. City officials have looked at a handful of sites but nothing has been locked down yet.
“There’s not a ton available, so it’s been a little bit challenging,” Messenger said of the search.
With so much to get done and the July 1 deadline looming, Messenger cautioned that whatever shelter the city creates by then may not be the final product.
“There’s a huge chance that we’re going to end up being in a lease situation initially,” she said. That would mean approaching the navigation center in phases, and possibly using an initial location for a year or so before moving to a more permanent location, she said.
In related news, Gregory Bingham, CEO of Adapt and Homeless Commission member, gave an update on the sobering center, which opened in mid-August. In the two-month period following its opening, the center has served 39 people, 22 of whom were from Roseburg.
“Word is getting out and people are getting engaged,” Bingham said of the center, which is located east of downtown on Diamond Lake Boulevard.
Bingham also said Adapt recently purchased the former Travel Inn Motel, located at 1627 SE Stephens St., to be used as transitional housing for individuals dealing with substance abuse issues. The property, which has 12 units and a total of 19 beds, is in the process of being renovated. The transitional housing program should be operational next month, Bingham said.