ONTARIO — The ongoing issue of homelessness and how to combat it has been something the City of Ontario has continued to explore. At the Aug. 20 City Council meeting, discussion was held surrounding a Permanent Supportive Housing Pilot Grant, which was on the agenda. This proposed initiative was described as a sort of anti-homelessness package that includes access to city facilities and mental health services. City Manager Adam Brown wanted to emphasize that the program being proposed is different than constructing a homeless shelter and is comprised of individuals belonging to “that buffer group that finds themselves in that position.”
Councilman Freddy Rodriguez asked, “Who’s taking the lead on this?” Brown replied that Lifeways is the applicant for the grant. Rodriguez said he had thought the grant applicant was going to be Community in Action. Brown indicated that Community in Action had previously worked together with Lifeways regarding this project.
Questioning what the criteria is for being included in this project was Mayor Riley Hill. Brown explained that the criteria was something for program administrators to determine on a case-by-case basis.
The need for a site to implement this program was brought up during the meeting, prompting Councilman Norm Crume to suggest exploring the possibility of seeking some of the “burned-out houses” in the city for donation. “There’s a good half dozen of those around the city.”
The council instructed Brown to keep moving forward. and come back with more information about the grant in September.
In a recent phone interview with Liz Johnsen, executive director of Business Excellence at Lifeways, more insight was given as to how the approach to homelessness has been evolving. She explained how Lifeways, in conjunction with Community in Action, has formed a task force to address these concerns. Johnsen also said how the Oregon Community Housing Authority is lending support on the state level to this ongoing project.
Johnsen stressed the need to recognize that there are several different components to solving the problem of homelessness. The services that she is describing are tied to the need for housing, but there are “significant gaps” in providing options to the community for housing. Johnsen said that what is being explored right now are what grants to pursue for each component of this issue. She said what’s needed is to bring mental health, peer services and addiction treatment into a “housing complex setting.” With this type of arrangement, she said families who are needing assistance can more easily access what they need.
The wraparound services that Johnsen covered bring a spectrum of options to treat individuals who are currently homeless. She said it is important to make “strong cases for rural communities” in response to the state recently allocating funds for permanent supportive housing. Johnsen said this was an initiative driven by Gov. Kate Brown.
Johnsen concluded with saying how she and the task force want to secure a “portfolio of funding” for each piece of this network, get letters of support signed and find someone to manage the grants and their subsequent allocation.