Local homeless alliance manages millions in grant funds

A recent satisfaction survey by the City of Salem revealed that homelessness has become the most important issue facing voters. The number of voters listing homelessness as the most important issue facing the region rose from 7% to 58% from 2016 to 2021.

Keizer is better-positioned to face these challenges than many other communities, and that’s largely due to the efforts local leaders such as Keizer Mayor Cathy Clark and Salem’s Chris Hoy have been making to address the problem.

Clark formed the Mid-Willamette Valley Homeless Alliance in 2016, which evolved into the Mid-Willamette Valley Homeless Initiative, a task force which ultimately led to a regional Continuum of Care (COC) organization managed by a regional board of directors and implemented by three part-time administrators. Salem Mayor Chris Hoy joined shortly after it was formed, and serves on the alliance’s board of directors along with leaders from all over the region.

The current organization works with government agencies such as Housing and Urban Development in acquiring and distributing grant money to agencies and organizations devoted to assisting the homeless. The alliance informs local members when a grant application is due, helps them submit it, and then works to get the money to where it most needs to go. In 2021, they were awarded $9.8 million in grants, and another $3.7 million in 2022 as part of a part of a youth-focused initiative.

The money collected and distributed by MWVHA goes toward micro shelters, warming centers, mental health services, transition and permanent housing, temporary housing, job coaching and health services.

MWVHA is one of only 77 communities across the nation to have the Continuum of Care designation, making it the official OR-504 organization for Marion and Polk Counties.

Janet Carlson, Board Administrator for MWVHA, said the Continuum of Care designation is a federal program developed by HUD in 1994. In 2011, HUD updated the requirements from the program, tightening restrictions around grant approval and forcing COC members to demonstrate their programs were having a measurable improvement.

“The idea is to identify needs through a coordinated, community-based process,” she said. “We’re expected to build a system of housing and services that addresses those needs.”

Carlson said the three-person team of administrators handle the entire set of grants for the region, but that’s not their only job.

“We get the members together to share best practices, look at collected data, do evaluations of current systems, and identify unmet needs,” she said.

By addressing the issue now, said Carlson, the community can be better-positioned for future challenges.