The transition is all but complete. After months of discussions, workshops, work sessions and wrangling, Corvallis and Benton County have put a new system in place to address homelessness.
The new Home, Opportunity, Planning and Equity (HOPE) advisory board has passed its final legislative hurdles. A program coordinator, Julie Arena, has been hired, and the board’s first meeting likely will occur in November.
HOPE is replacing the Housing Opportunities Action Council (HOAC), the second iteration of the city and county’s 10-year-plan to work on homelessness — the Homeless Oversight Committee was the first.
HOAC was a group of social-service providers with no real authority, while HOPE will move forward via decisions made by the Corvallis City Council and the Benton County Board of Commissioners.
Councilors passed the intergovernmental agreement and bylaws on Monday night and the commissioners followed suit Tuesday afternoon,
“We’re fully committed to a public/private partnership in this endeavor,” said Dawn Emerick, the county Health Department director who will oversee the HOPE board. “I think it’s part of our responsibility to ‘lean in’ on this one. This is a good day for our community.”
The deal between the city and county runs through June 30, with each entity required to give 90 days notice if they want to pull out. Arena’s salary and other costs of the HOPE board will be shared by the city and county.
The board will be led by a seven-person executive committee. Three members have been appointed, Benton County Commissioner Xan Augerot and Corvallis Councilors Jan Napack (Ward 1) and Charles Maughan (Ward 2). A representative of the Community Services Consortium, a business person and two other appointees will comprise the executive group, which will select 14 more members for the final 21-member board.
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Arena will serve as staff support for the group and will not be a board member.
“We will have clean year-over-year timelines and action plans and a solid vision,” said Augerot, who served as co-chair of HOAC along with Corvallis Mayor Biff Traber. “Workgroups will be formed, and we have a living, breathing plan, not just a document on a shelf. We haven’t had a clear enough vision about where we want to go.”
“The bylaws were the missing ingredient that HOAC was missing,” Emerick said. “There are still a lot of moving parts, but we’re setting ourselves up for success.”
A new approach option was felt to be necessary because of concerns from within HOAC as well as the community at large over how the region’s homelessness challenges were being handled. HOAC brought in facilitator Ari Basil-Wagner for a retreat and several work sessions in an effort to help the council work on its processes, structure and future.
The revisioning, which eventually led to the decision to create HOPE, came after a bruising spring and summer on 2018 in which plans for the men’s cold weather homeless shelter and other social services were proposed and ripped up in dizzying fashion.
Augerot noted that the IGA could be expanded to include Philomath, Adair Village and/or Monroe.
“It’s not only a city issue,” she said. “It’s an issue in the rural parts of the county as well. It looks different depending on where you are.”