A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Albany’s approach to the homeless: ‘Solutions’

Written July 24th, 2019 by Hasso Hering

Somebody’s belongings in the bus shelter at the Albany Post Office on July 15.

Since April, Albany has been taking a new approach when police are called to respond to a problem with someone living on the street. You might call it the “shoe leather” system that gets people a path to being helped immediately and on the spot — “curbside” if you will.

Casey Dorland, the administrative lieutenant of the Albany Police, used those words when he and Public Information Officer Marilyn Smith described the program to the city council Wednesday.

It works this way: Police get called to deal with an apparently homeless person causing or being in some kind of trouble. If the person agrees, the responding officer will call someone at CHANCE, a regional organization based in Albany that helps people in crisis. The officer waits on the scene until CHANCE gets there to make a curbside assessment of what kind of help the person needs — whether it’s related to mental illness, addiction, or whatever — and then follows through.

No more telling troubled people on the street they can make an appointment at such and such an office and hoping they’ll remember to show up.

The system is voluntary. But since April, some 33 persons have been referred in this way and got various kinds of help, from emergency housing to treatment support.

Nobody knows how many homeless people live rough in Albany — in the parks, under bridges or in improvised camps along brush-covered riverbanks. But an attempt at a headcount earlier this year came up with 158, the council was told.

Albany has a long history of cleaning up the trash left at vagrant camps, and trying to get homeless people into housing. But the camps kept coming back. This spring, Dorland and Smith organized what they now call the City Solutions Team, and the Dorland’s “shoe leather” approach is the result.

There’s a long list of organizations and agencies taking part, including the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, other county agencies, the Albany fire and parks departments, and Albany General Hospital. But CHANCE, now headquartered downtown in what used to be the Pizza King restaurant, is the key. Dorland called it the “navigator” that makes the approach work. (You can read about CHANCE at its website, which has testimonials from people who lived on the street and have turned their lives around.)

From City Manager Peter Troedsson, Dorland and Smith got letters of commendation for their work on the Solutions Team. Homeless men and women who beat their addiction or other problems and get back to a better life will have reason to thank them too. (hh)


18 responses to “Albany’s approach to the homeless: ‘Solutions’”

  1. Albany YIMBY says:

    Homelessness is such a complex problem. Albany, please show compassion when dealing with those that fall through the cracks of our capitalist system. Universal Basic Income, or “The Freedom Dividend” as Andrew Yang calls it may be an answer to fight poverty in America.

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      The War on Poverty was launched by LBJ in 1964. So far over $15 trillion has been spent fighting this war with minimal results.

      I suppose a giveaway like the one Yang proposes will motivate some folks to support his candidacy. But will it fight poverty and reduce homelessness? Over 50 years of government spending on the problem gives us the answer.

      Reactive government programs where a situation causes a cop and a social worker to respond are done with good intentions, but are limited in what they can achieve.

      Let’s keep it real.

      This “new” program is a comforting band-aid, not a solution.

      • Marcia Spurlock says:

        So, what’s your solution? Are you doing something better or are you just naysaying those who are actively attempting to do something positive?

      • ean says:

        I don’t know that I have ever heard what your suggested solution to this problem is Gordon. I’d be interested to hear your perspective on it.

        • Gordon L. Shadle says:

          I’ll take whatever works. We clearly haven’t found it through government.

          And I’ve lived long enough to learn that there are no solutions when we talk about government. There are only trade-offs.

          Over 50 years and trillions of government “investment” across thousands of programs have resulted in a negative trade-off. The problem has gotten bigger, not smaller. Only in government is a negative benefit considered to be worth any cost, however large.

          Perhaps it’s time to look at the other side of the coin. Let’s explore how government policies make the homeless problem worse, not better. Then eliminate the policies/programs that negatively impact family structure, make worse the availability of housing (ex: zoning), and create dependency on handouts (welfare). These alone would be a welcome start towards a “new solution” for homelessness.

          Unfortunately, it appears the trend is for expanded government, more taxes/fees, more centralized bureaucracy/regulated behavior, and less freedom.

          Which means more money (borrowed and taxed) thrown at the homeless problem while it continues to spiral out of control. There is a word for the current “solution” – insanity.

          • hj.anony1 says:

            LOL. When one ends with a sign off that reads “insanity” … well that says it all.

            Surely it discredits all previous posts!

      • J. Jacobson says:

        I’m with this person. Wouldn’t it ultimately be less costly to simply escort these unfortunates to Benton County and drop them off.

  2. H. R. Richner says:

    It’s not complicated. The more you help you offer, the more customers you get. The same is true for our illegal immigrants.

    The $15 trillion we have spent on the War on Poverty may well have had “minimal results” but even for those we destroyed the traditional families, caused by the unintended incentives keeping fathers away. That’s what our money buys.

  3. CHEZZ says:

    I hope you have it in your heart to be kind to another, in any way; our seniors, our children, our less abled. I never thought there would be a day where one had to talk about kindness…..

  4. CHEZZ says:


  5. centrist says:

    A cousin does street-level outreach daily to vets for the VA. Other organizations are on the ground in the same area. They network to try to match a contact with a provider.
    Pretty much any piece of sidewalk is a shooting gallery.
    Tough thing to grasp is that this is the neighborhood where my paternal grandparents raised a family. Things change over 90ish years.
    I frankly don’t know how she does it, bailing against the tide. Progress is measured in tiny increments.

  6. Sidney Cooper says:

    Gordon, these folks are dealing with a small town problem on a local level. I commend them for trying. It’s more than what I hear disgruntled old farts doing in this comment forum. 15 trillion, indeed. Shoe leather was the key word in the story. Keep it real.


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