Recent Focus newsletter articles on social issues
Jimmy Jones, Ph.D., director of the Arches Project of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, conducted in-depth interviews with members of over 1000 households (some were individuals, some were couples or families) living in the Salem area (Polk and Marion Counties) without housing. Dr. Jones said that HUD requires funds to go to the people who have the most need, but it can be difficult to find them and difficult to engage them and keep them engaged. His 50-question interviews were intended to find out the problems that homeless people are trying to deal with; the information will help in obtaining future funding.
Dr. Jones' survey found that we have a large homeless problem (the count includes people in shelters): 43.4% of our homeless have high needs; they are chronically homeless with a disabling condition (health, substance abuse, and/or mental health issue). 39% have felony convictions (probably related to substance abuse). 49% have no income; 51% have some income, usually a disability check, but their income is generally too low to afford an apartment without using 80% of their income. Families with children are 23% of the homeless in our area.
Oregon has the second largest homeless rate in the U.S. Salem has about 500 high-need homeless, but Shangri-La has only twenty apartments. Our high-need population is so large because we haven't applied for available money to deal with their issues. Marion County currently receives only a third as much funding as the Eugene area receives, so our county needs to go after sources of funding.
Ron Hayes, director of the Community Resource Trust, is the lead person on the development of 180 low-income homes in north Salem. He said that Marion County has 57,000 people below the U.S. poverty line; 28% of them are children. Part of the problem is that wages are lower in Marion County than in other parts of the state; the median income in our county is about $4,000 less than for the state as a whole. Families who rent have an average income of $29,000, while families that can afford to own their homes have an average income of $61,000.
A complication is that Marion County has a 1% apartment vacancy rate. To allow for the usual amount of movings, the vacancy rate would have to be 4%. Our too-low vacancy rate encourages apartment owners to raise rents and to choose the best tenants, so it's hard for homeless people to qualify for an apartment. Mr. Hayes' recommendation is to help the people in the middle by subsidizing affordable, market-rate housing so that people don't fall into homelessness.
United Way did a study called ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) that showed that Oregon needs at least 165,000 affordable housing units to meet the needs of the growing number of individuals and families who are working at above poverty-level jobs (often in the service sector) which do not pay enough for families to afford the basic necessities of housing, food, child care, health care, and transportation. Marion County needs 16,000 affordable units. We would need to build 600 units per year here in order to meet the need within twenty years. We're building only 180 units at a cost per unit of $141,000. (The cost is higher in Eugene and Portland.) At this rate, there won't be enough money made available to solve the homeless problem.
Mr. Hayes showed part of a short video taken in Russia where two men and a large 3-D printer built a small house for $10,000. The printer layered coils of polymer concrete to build walls (similar to how potters build a vessel without using a potter's wheel). Mr. Hayes emphasized that we need creative solutions if we are to solve our homeless problem.
Q&A: Could mobile homes be used for homeless people? Mr. Hayes said mobile home parks are a possible element that should be looked at, but there are zoning and density issues. Some parks have gone out of business and others are in bad shape with old trailers and RVs. One park behind Home Depot is used by low-income people and is full. Salem doesn't allow ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units, also known as granny flats, in-law units, secondary dwelling units) but Keizer does allow them.
Judge Abernethy reframed the issue: Poverty is a failure to be able to provide for oneself and one's family due to lack of education, mental illness, and/or drug abuse.
Scientific study has shown that when children are abused or neglected, brain damage occurs (what Judge Abernethy called "funny brains") that lasts for life. Children who are abused or neglected have educational problems, higher likelihood of mental illness and drug abuse, and heightened likelihood of criminal activity.
Parents who are high on meth for days, then crash and sleep for days are neglecting their children. The children develop "funny brains." Parents who have to work three jobs usually have to leave their children with the least skillful caregiver, often an older child; these children also show signs of neglect by developing "funny brains."
As a society we try the latest new thing (silver bullet), and, when the grant money runs out, the program ends and we're back to cynicism that the government can't do anything.
Judge Abernethy suggested that we think of the situation as a public health issue that can affect the whole society.
A person arrested on a misdemeanor who has a child under the age of 5 is given the opportunity to volunteer for Project BOND. Under that program the parent receives parenting classes at Family Building Blocks (FBB) and her child is placed in a therapy classroom at FBB. One of the parenting skills taught to mothers at FBB is how to interact with her child. Judge Abernethy said that girls who weren't played with as children don't know how to play with their kids. Postpartum depression as well as drug abuse can also cause a mother's lack of responsiveness to her child.
Judge Abernethy began TOT (Ten on Tuesday) for pregnant girls. They come at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays to a class to help prepare them to become parents. To be poor, pregnant, and using drugs is a big weight for a young woman. Many have lost older kids, don't have a supportive boyfriend, are illiterate. In spite of these obstacles, some of them manage make their lives work.
Reading for All is a program to buy books for young mothers to read to their toddlers. Reading fosters a relationship between parent and child and also, of course, helps prepare youngsters for school.
Reading Wranglers will be available in places where a parent has to go, such as the Self-Sufficiency Office, where kids wait with their mothers. Reading Wranglers are volunteers who will read to the kids while they wait.
Reach Out and Read is a program to put books into pediatric clinics so that mothers can read to their youngsters while waiting to see the doctor.
So, Judge Abernethy concluded, there are some good things happening.
President Rose Lewis introduced the Unit topic by saying that several local Leagues in Oregon have projects to assist homeless youth, and she hopes LWVMPC (or perhaps an interest group) will find a project on which to work.
Jean Lasater is the Homeless & Runaway Youth Coordinator with the Oregon Commission on Children & Families (OCCF). She said that LWVOR helped pass House Bill 2202 in the legislature to require reports to the legislature and leading to the authorization of $1 million to the Children & Families Commission for pilot projects. Because this effort was intended to be the beginning of state-wide resources for runaway and homeless youth, the projects have been called roll-out sites. They are in many cases fledgling resources in rural communities which would otherwise not be able to meet the needs of these youth. The funds have been used to set up eight roll-out projects (out of twenty grants requested by Oregon counties) with the hope that future legislatures will continue to fund them as well as roll-out projects in other counties that want them.
Services that may be included in the eight roll-out projects are outreach to homeless youth, drop-in centers (such as HOME Youth and Resource Center in Salem), short-term shelter (HOST), group shelter (HOST), long-term shelter for youth 16-21 (primarily federally funded), and follow-up evaluation. (A federal grant has been used to provide training and evaluation methodologies for these projects.)
Each county develops its program to meet its community's needs, including prevention of homelessness and efforts to keep runaways in their own communities because, if a youngster goes to an urban area, he or she may become a chronically homeless adult; 33-55% of chronically homeless adults report being abandoned, having run away, or being homeless as adolescents. Chronically homeless adults end up needing extensive services and supports and often take up the bulk of the funding available to help the homeless over time. Keeping young people supported and safe in their own communities goes a long way in preventing future homelessness.
The average age of all homeless people is 9 because of all the children who are homeless with their families. The average age of unaccompanied (without a parent) homeless youth is 15. The majority of teenagers run away because their home life is tense, possibly dysfunctional due to neglect or abuse or drug use, and running away seems to them like a solution to an unmanageable problem, so life on the street seems like an improvement. The parent may be a single mother who may be struggling with low or unemployment, may have mental-health or substance-abuse issues, and have minimal parenting skills. She may have a succession of live-in boyfriends, which can create other problems. She is not supported in parenting and overwhelmed by life's challenges, unable to provide quality parenting.
Homeless youth are typically split evenly between male and female. The girls are more likely to seek out help, which makes them vulnerable to older males and subject to sexual abuse, trading sex for food or shelter, and even prostitution. The boys are likely to stay with a variety of friends on a temporary basis. So long as they have a roof over their heads, even if it is the roof of a tent, teens tend not to think of themselves as "homeless." It is both critical and challenging to find appropriate shelter or housing for homeless youth who have been living on the streets or in homeless camps. The longer they are immersed in the street culture, the more difficult it often becomes to convince them to go into the structured environment of a shelter or Job Corps.
Human trafficking is on the rise in Oregon. Portland has a booming sex industry, the largest per capita in the nation. Most of the victims are women; over 50 percent of the victims are children. Again, young runaway girls are particularly susceptible and defenseless to older males offering love, money or an apartment. It is a very secretive crime, but the staff at HOME who work with runaway and homeless youth have become familiar with young girls caught up in it. Staff from the Women's Crisis Center have received training on Human Trafficking and often accompany HOME's staff on outreach to educate and support young girls.
Peggy Kahan is the founder and director of HOME Youth & Resource Center, which opened in 1994. HOME, located at the edge of downtown, is a day shelter open Monday through Friday from noon to 7 p.m. for youngsters age 11 through 17 (18 if still in school). HOME offers lunch, snacks, dinner; showers; clothing; toiletries; laundry; phone; and caring adults. In addition, HOME provides connections to school and other services. Peggy said that not all the youngsters who come to HOME are homeless. At home there may not be food because, even if employed, the parent may use the available money for tobacco or drugs.
HOME received a Children & Families grant to hire outreach workers and case managers. There are two outreach workers, one of whom speaks Spanish. They go to the bus terminal, mall, schools--the places where kids hang out. The outreach workers contact runaways (or other kids who know who the runaways are); they carry backpacks and offer water, snacks, band-aids, etc., as a way to let the young people know they are there to help.
The case managers pick up police reports of runaways and then call the parents to offer help. If the youngster has returned home in the meantime, the parent believes the problem is solved and will refuse help. After several episodes of running away, however, some parents will accept help. HOME offers parenting classes (although they are called "parent support") and also offers mediation to help parents and children who are willing to participate. As described earlier, parents are exhausted by their own lives, and it's hard to get them to invest the time and effort needed to change their lives so that their teenager will want to come home.
It can take a long time to get a young person to trust an adult, a program, and be willing to do the work necessary, to follow the rules, to be motivated enough to be successful at acquiring the skills needed for a successful adulthood. Programs are structured, however, so that kids who leave can come back and try again. The community needs to adjust its expectations of what is success for the kids. They will probably never go to college, but they may have a job and a child; they are satisfied with their progress.
The community needs to provide support for the services necessary for intervention with kids and their parents.
During this recession and the 2009 legislative session, the Oregon Commission on Children & Families has had its funding reduced by an average of 22%, including the runaway and homeless youth initiative. These young people are not bad, they're sad and vulnerable. They and their families need help in becoming healthy and skilled members of our society.
What can the League do?
Jean said that, since League members helped get the legislation passed that provided the $1 million in funding for the roll-out projects, she hopes that League members will let our legislators know that funding needs to be continued and increased; some states put much more money into helping youngsters grow up to be healthy adults.
The following article is from Modern Slavery in Our Midst: A Human Rights Report on Ending Human Trafficking in Oregon, June 2010, prepared by the International Human Rights Clinic at Willamette University College of Law under the leadership of Professor Gwynne Skinner.
Human trafficking is a crime with transnational, state, and local implications. This crime, usually committed by individuals, small businesses, gangs, or family networks, is increasingly perpetrated by sophisticated, organized criminal enterprises. According to the United States Department of Human Services, trafficking in persons is now the second largest criminal industry in the world. Hundreds of thousands of people are trafficked internationally every year, and tens of thousands are trafficked annually in the U.S.
The Portland metropolitan area emerged in recent years as a main hub for sex trafficking. In the last two years Portland ranked second for the greatest number of children found in forced prostitution among all U.S. cities participating in a nationwide federal law-enforcement sting.
Oregon, like other states, is struggling to respond effectively to the adverse impacts of trafficking within its own borders. This rapidly growing problem not only plagues big cities like Portland, it also occurs in small towns and rural areas in Oregon.
Although trafficking in persons has been addressed primarily as a crime with national laws and international treaties that criminalize trafficking-related activities, it is equally important to recognize human trafficking as a human rights issue. Traffickers deprive their victims of fundamental rights to freedom and violate myriad other human rights in compelling or coercing labor and services. Victims of such involuntary employment--which many experts call modern-day slavery--suffer unconscion-able physical, sexual, and psychological abuse.
Oregon has become a magnet for human trafficking for a variety of reasons. First, the state has lax trafficking laws compared to those of Washington and California as well as relatively permissive interpretations of the state constitution's free speech protections for commercial sex enterprises. Involuntary servitude and trafficking of persons in Oregon are designated as only Class C or B felonies, while adjacent states designate human trafficking crimes as Class A felonies with higher sentences and penalties, including state forfeiture of traffickers' assets that are then used to compensate victims. These differences in law contribute to Oregon serving as a relatively safe haven for traffickers.
Other reasons that Oregon has a high rate of human trafficking include:
At the Morning Unit Dr. Michael Huntington spoke on Health Care for All Oregon, an organization working toward a single-payer health care system. He urged support for the following bill before the Oregon Legislature:
HB3260--Requires the Oregon Health Authority to conduct a study (or to contract with a third party to study) and recommend the best option for financing health care in the state. The measure specifies criteria for evaluating options, and it requires a report to interim health care committees and to the 2015 regular session of the Legislative Assembly. Among the criteria for evaluation are providing universal access to comprehensive care; enhancing primary care; focusing on preventative health care; integrating physical, dental, vision and mental health care; integrating long-term care; allowing the choice of the primary care provider; and reducing administrative costs. Dr. Huntington said that in Vermont a similar study led to a state single-payer system. You can read HB3260 by clicking on the following web address: http://openstates.org/or/bills/2013%20Regular%20Session/HB3260/documents/ORD00008642/.
A recent article in Time magazine explained why health care costs so much in the U.S. Key reasons are high prices, especially for hospital care, prescriptions and medical devices, as well as high administrative and marketing costs. You can read that article at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2136864,00.html.
A short commentary on the Time article at http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/02/22/brill_on_health_care_steven_brill_s_opus_on_hospital_prices.html?wpisrc=newsletter_jcr:content recommends either that Medicare cover everyone (as in Canada) or that price controls be used (as is done in most European countries and Singapore) to keep the cost of health care down.
Mike Maryanov, Youth and Family Treatment Court Coordinator for Marion County since 2001, talked about Therapeutic Justice in Marion County at the Morning Unit meeting in May 2006. Youngsters who come before Drug Court have broken the law (but have not had a weapon or been violent) in addition to being addicted to a drug. Therapeutic Justice is intended to treat the underlying problems that brought young people to court so as to avoid detention and recidivism.
Mr. Maryanov explained that each youth attends drug treatment twice a week and meets with a parole officer (usually at school so the juvenile officer can work with the school's guidance counselor) to keep school work up to date. Each youth must appear before the judge every week.
The Drug Court team is composed of the judge, Mr. Maryanov, three parole officers, a drug and alcohol counselor, a police officer and a court deputy (both of the latter in uniform). The youngsters learn that all of these adults--even a judge and police officers--care about them; that message is very important to most of the young people.
The team works to determine the reasons a youth uses drugs, for example, abuse or neglect at home, mental illness, lack of friends who don't use drugs. The team helps each youngster identify the triggers that make him/her want to use drugs.
For young people it is not correct to say "drug of choice"; the correct terminology is "drug of availability." Mr. Maryanov commented that the youths he sees in Drug Court think that everyone uses drugs because the youths with whom they hang out use drugs. Meth is a huge problem because of the physical and mental damage it does. Among other damage, meth causes depression, which creates a vicious circle of more meth use to relieve the depression. TOT (Ten on Tuesdays), a program for pregnant teens on meth, aims to reduce the number of babies born with meth in their systems.
The youths also participate in a Wellness Program (run by HOST) in which they focus on nutrition, sleep, communication, conflict resolution, and other skills for physical and mental health.
The Drug Court program tries to break the cycle of drug use by helping each youngster figure out what is special about him (who he is, what he is good at, etc.). The program also encourages the youths to become involved in their community. One assignment is to go to the library and check out a book. They don't have to read it, but they learn that there is a library where they can borrow books and videos. Another assignment is to draw a community map to learn what is available in the neighborhood. "Do I live close enough to the Boys and Girls Club to attend?" For a girl who has been sexually abused, Mr. Maryanov will arrange for someone from the Women's Crisis Center to meet her at a coffee shop to talk about what is happening to her and how to get away from it.
Mr. Maryanov said that Marion County needs foster homes for teenagers, but the limited money available is used for younger children who need foster homes. A parent support group is provided so parents can learn how to help their youngsters learn to organize their lives. This allows the youths to continue to live with their parents and also be successful in the program.
It takes nine months of treatment and two years of follow-up to destroy the urge to use meth. Although meth causes brain damage, the brain can re-wire itself to overcome the damage, but it takes a long time. Anti-depressants or other appropriate prescription drugs plus counseling (to help youths deal with the violence they've see or experienced) are needed to end addiction. Private health insurance covers too little treatment time, especially for meth addiction.
The Drug Court program (which is voluntary) lasts about a year. During this time each youngster establishes a positive support system. Graduates get their criminal records dismissed, which is a very important goal for most of the youngsters.
Research has looked at whether Drug Court graduates have stayed clean and has confirmed that the program is successful, which is why the 2005 Oregon legislature for the first time provided $2 million for Drug Courts throughout the state. The federal government is also providing funding now.
Marion County is working hard to prevent drug use by youths, but teens' brains are still developing, and they don't consider cause and effect. For example, a teenager who is shown a picture of a young adult who has lost his teeth due to the effect of meth addiction will think the toothless person is old and won't get the message that "this could happen to me."
Mr. Maryanov commented that advertisements, TV shows, and movies give the impression that all adults drink alcohol frequently. To counter those media messages, society needs to talk about how to drink responsibly and in moderation.
Three panelists each discussed one part of this topic at the well-attended meeting on December 5, 2007, at the Salem Library.
Professor James Nafziger, Professor of International Law from Willamette University College of Law, said that most migrants leave their countries for work, education, family, curiosity, or to escape war. He reminded us that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants and that many came undocumented, including the first ones from Europe. He added that about every ten years people in the U.S. get upset about immigration, so the current controversy is not new. Between periods of anti-immigration sentiment, most Americans are supportive of immigration; a poll in 2006 showed 78% favor a path to citizenship for immigrants.
The U.S. government didn't regulate immigration until the 1870s when Congress passed laws against immigration by prostitutes, criminals, lunatics, and those who would be a security threat. Later, Chinese and Japanese people were added to that list after the nation no longer needed their labor to build railroads or to work in mining. In 1921 and 1924 Congress established quotas based on where immigrants came from; the largest quotas were for northern European nations.
Refugees: In 1951 the U.S. signed the Convention on the Status of Refugees; treaties are law under the U.S. Constitution. There are two categories of refugees. (1) Oversees refugees are lodged in camps under U.N. supervision. Very few are admitted to the U.S. The brunt of mass migration due to war falls on poor nations who have borders with the nation whose citizens are fleeing war. (2) Asylum seekers are people with a well-founded fear of persecution for various discriminatory reasons, such as political opinion; economic reasons are not included. Asylum seekers are few in comparison to the total number of refugees.
Since its establishment in 2003, the Department of Homeland Security has responsibility for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Other departments with immigration responsibilities are State for visas, Labor for prospective immigrant employment, and Human Services for health requirements for immigrants. States cannot interfere with federal powers over immigration when there is federal law regarding the issue even if state law would strengthen federal law.
The U.S. relies on classification of immigrants before they come here; certain classifications have preference, such as family reunification. Canada and Australia have pre-admission controls, too, but they have point systems that give points for education, skills, family, etc.; so several values are considered rather than just one as in the U.S. The immigration bill before Congress that failed last year included a point system.
The U.S. does not have national ID cards as other nations do, so we have to rely on birth certificates, Social Security cards, and similar identification, which can be forged. Further, the U.S. does not track visas to know whether people have left the country when their visas expire; although Congress mandated this some years ago, tracking visas is expensive and difficult.
Immigrants: There are two groups of immigrants:
Non-immigrants are admitted for business, pleasure, temporary work, or education. 30 million non-immigrants entered the U.S. last year. Many of them must receive visas to enter the country. Guest-worker programs, such as the bracero program for agricultural workers during World War II failed to protect the workers as the law required, and many of the workers did not return home as the law also required. Current guest-worker law invites violation because the law limits agricultural workers to 14,000 per year, far fewer than the jobs available, and the cost and red tape for employers is not worth the effort when undocumented workers are available.
Immigrants who are not "non-immigrants" are permanent residents (such as "green-card" holders) and are eligible to become citizens. There are several categories for admittance as an immigrant: Family-based (with 480,000 slots available each year), employment-based for unskilled, semi-skilled, skilled, and highly skilled workers (with 140,000 slots per year), refugees (who are technically admitted only so long as the threat of persecution in their home counties lasts, but most refugees stay in the U.S.), and diversity immigrants admitted to correct imbalances as a result of earlier quotas.
There are huge backlogs due to more demand by potential immigrants than there are annual slots available, so some people could potentially wait for 20-25 years for admittance.
It is estimated that there are 10-12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. This is the same number that was estimated thirty years ago.
About half of the undocumented immigrants came to the U.S. legally and overstayed their visas. As crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has become more difficult, more undocumented immigrants who came here to work stay here rather than going back to Mexico for part of the year.
Undocumented immigrants are spread throughout the nation more than used to be the case. For example, since American citizens dislike unpleasant jobs, such as killing and processing chickens, immigrants have moved to the Midwest to do those jobs.
Attempts at enforcement have not worked well. Raids on employers don't work for a variety of reasons. Border controls such as walls, for example, don't work since tunnels can be built under them. National Guard patrols are more effective.
Prof. Nafziger said that immigrants don't take jobs from citizens as long as work-force protections are enforced. Instead, immigrant workers usually complement rather than compete with citizen workers by doing the unpleasant or unskilled work, which frees citizen workers to do higher skill work. An example often given is the child-care work provided by immigrants frees mothers for paid employment. There is no correlation between undocumented workers and terrorism in spite of the fear stirred up by some broadcast personalities.
Brena Lopez, staff attorney for Marion/Polk Legal Aid Services of Oregon, said that she is not an immigrant but is married to one. Many immigrants live in extended families with mixed status; her family is an example.
All immigrants regardless of legal status are eligible for free education. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that children of undocumented immigrants have little control over their parents' decision to come to the U.S. and that to deny the children an education could create sub-classes of young people who could become criminals.
The webside http://www.NILC.org lists public benefits and specifics of which immigrants are eligible for each benefit. As a general rule, undocumented immigrants are not eligible for federal benefits except in medical emergencies including childbirth. Legal Aid cannot help undocumented immigrants except for domestic violence cases.
Oregon's governor recently issued an order that applicants for an Oregon driver's license (including a renewal) must supply a valid Social Security number (which will be checked). New applicants must supply a valid U.S. birth certificate or U.S. passport.
Recommentations: (1) Immigrants recognize the value of learning English, but there is a shortage of classes available, so there are opportunities for volunteers to teach English as a Second Language through Oregon Community Projects or Chemeketa Community College. (2) Get acquainted with people who are immigrants and hear their stories. You'll discover that they have the same hopes and dreams as do the rest of us.
Dick Hughes, Statesman Journal Editorial Page Editor, said that journalists, especially non-print journalists, have failed to give context to the issues surrounding immigration; some of them have deliberately stirred up controversy so that they will have listeners/viewers. In addition, interest groups depend on controversy to raise money.
Information intended to stir up controversy is often incomplete or even untrue, and it's important to get facts before forming an opinion. His suggestions for how to break the cycle of misinformation:
·Be skeptical (not cynical) in looking at news coverage.
·Don't take anything for granted; work to disprove your own theory.
·Be cautious of statistics, especially if you agree with them.
·Go to original sources (government reports and academic articles that include documentation). The Arizona Republic newspaper covers immigration from all angles and is an excellent source of information. Be aware that "common knowledge" can be wrong, however. The website http://www.SNOPES.com debunks urban myths.
·Be wary of pitchmen, people who stir up controversy as infotainment.
·Be way of labels. Immigration is a complex issue, so pro-immigration and con-immigration statements are oversimplifications.
·Look for common understanding. Listen to various points of view, learn from each other, and find the areas of agreement.
Mr. Hughes invited the audience to check out the discussion of immigration on the newspaper's web log (which he supervises) at http://www.statesmanjournal.com/immigrationblog.
Americans should learn from other countries. For example, the point system for potential immigrants works well in Canada since it takes a variety of factors into consideration. A point system was included as part of the comprehensive immigration bill before Congress last year, but it wasn't explained to citizens. Public education on immigration issues is needed.
Update: To read the League's new national position on Immigration, click on Immigration