A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Dark topic on a sunny day: On homelessness

Written July 29th, 2019 by Hasso Hering

Mayor Sharon Konopa at Periwinkle Place, a housing development she helped start in the 1990s.

By definition, ending homelessness means having people find a roof over their heads. But as Albany Mayor Sharon Konopa has learned over more than 20 years as a volunteer working on housing, this is far more challenging than just providing a roof.

In the Democrat-Herald last week, I read about an Albany coalition that wants to tackle the homeless issue by establishing a village of “tiny houses,” which are huts with utilities and about 150 square feet of living space. The story reminded me of another project, the estabishment in 1995 of Periwinkle Place, a cluster of (formerly) mobile homes off Southeast Queen Avenue.

To check my memory — that Konopa was involved in that effort — I contacted the mayor, and we met at Perwinkle Place on Monday. Konopa corrects me: She joined the project just after it was completed. It was started by Helen Burns Sharp, Albany’s then-planning director.

Periwinkle Place is owned by a non-profit, the Albany Partnership for Housing and Community Development, which has several other projects totaling about 130 units. Konopa has been volunteering as its board president for years.

The 30 trailers at Perwinkle Place are about 700 square feet each, with two bedrooms, a kitchen and bath. The residents are more or less permanent just like tenants anywhere. They pay below-market rent and meet income eligibility standards. There are carports and a well-maintained interior courtyard and playground. An on-site manager and a part-time maintenance man look after the place.

The mayor does not think that setting up tiny-house villages to provide temporary shelter is the answer. She has checked out villages in Portland and Eugene and was not impressed. Pictures she took show some of the units surrounded by stuff just like transient camps elsewhere.

Konopa shot this view at Kenton Village in Portland.

Running any housing project, even of tiny huts, is a challenge because of the ongoing work required — funding, administration, maintenance, cleanup, complying with the landlord-tenant laws, and so on. The challenge is enormous, the mayor says.

Albany, and particularly Konopa, has been trying to do something about homelessness for many years, and yet the problem is getting worse. Konopa says one of the Albany shelters made 15 more beds available and they were quickly filled by transients from Portland. It sounds as though the more we try to help transients, the more transients show up.

As we are talking, on a sunny Monday at Perwinkle Place, there don’t appear to be any easy answers. There is a hard answer. The hard answer is that yes, people need housing, and it’s up to each person to look ahead, starting when young, not screw up, stay away from drugs and booze, and make sure they always have a place to stay. (hh)

14 responses to “Dark topic on a sunny day: On homelessness”

  1. Mike quinn says:

    Hate to say it but the mayor really isn’t up to speed for housing needs at all levels she talks the talk but can’t walk it’s all about income for the city. No incentives and she thinks her ideas are best she’s a nice lady
    But out of touch with today’s problems with housing

  2. birdieken says:

    It seems from the outside it’s all carrot and no stick. If you need help, you have to give back. Get a job, counsel other, but earn your keep. At some point you need to stand on your own, help should not be permanent. Homelessness should be a transition, not a way of life. Throwing money at the problem is like giving out fish.

  3. Jim Engel says:

    That’s a very interesting photo about the looks of the tiny house project – Kenton Village – in Portland. Just take a peek at any transient camp around Albany & those homeless surround themselves with “junk” they collect. There would be no end to the trashy looks of those places should Albany put up some. They have no “skin” in the deal as I do with my yard so why keep up the looks?? Bus ’em back to Portland I say! Put a “No Vacancy” sign at the entries to our town

    • Craigz says:

      Local Police need to enforce any and all law violations, arrest warrants etc. Those remaining…I agree a hot meal and a bus ticket to San Francisco would be cheaper for the tax payers here. This cant be solved at the local level, it takes Legislation to deal with it and I doubt our State Legislature can or will do it.

      • Jason Y. says:

        Whether you’re kidding or not, it is just cruel and speaks volumes of your character, to suggest “buying a bus ticket”, solves the problem.
        If you’re not part of the solution (genuinely engage in problem solving), you’re part of the problem.

  4. Craigz says:

    Maybe we need to see what IS working, and it is not providing housing. See the Documentary “Seattle is Dying”. A City back East was successful in their homeless problems by dealing with 2 main issues: Addiction and employment training. THAT is the problem. A vast majority of the homeless are alcohol or drug addicted. Lack of housing is not the issue it is a result of the real issues of addiction and non employability. Too many just want to give them free housing and other services. If anything, that stops them from becoming successful and traps them in the vicious cycle they are in. But lets give them more free stuff and draw more of them here. Maybe the City should be applying for grants for addiction programs AND pushing the Legislature to deal with the real issues of addiction and jobs training.

  5. Richard Vannice says:

    We have become a society of GIMMIES. Gimmie a place to stay – free, Gimmie something to eat – free. We send food and aid to foreign countries free – and what thanks do we get? Nada. Yep, I’m a grumpy old man who was born during the depression and know what is like to have a skimpy meal three times a day; but my father never gave up and instilled in four children the need to work, regardless of how little you might be paid, and do the best you could for your family.

    • Albany YIMBY says:

      Only because you made it, it doesn’t mean that everyone has the same ability to do it. That’s called survivorship bias (In summary is what makes rich and successful people believe that they are smarter or more hard-working than the rest, when most of the times, the were just lucky).

      Many of our homeless are veterans that are not able to adapt to civilian life after the trauma they suffered. Many are mentally ill, or people that was physically and sexually abused at home. There are also homeless kids that don’t deserve to be jumping from place to place and missing school just because their parents are addicts or alcoholic.

      Just with the money allocated for the rich in the latest Republican tax scam we could have solved the problem of homelessness in America. Think about that, would you have preferred for the ultra-rich to buy a new yacht and you to have $50 in your pocket or solve homelessness in America?

      • Bryan says:

        Oh jeez, that’s a stretch. How would throwing more money at the problem have solved it? Provide them free housing? Then just like periwinkle plaza you would have to pay for someone to maintain and manage their homes. There’s a lot of money and programs to help out veterans, assault survivors, etc. The problem is not everyone can be saved and not all want or will be helped and some people just cant accept that.

      • Jim Engel says:

        Dear YIMBY . You sing the time worn Liberal Democratic claims. Being a vet myself I’m tired of that one claim. Haven’t met one yet in Albany. Fake vets -YES! Say..a perfect “homeless” spot would be Polosi’s gated & guarded estate in Calif.!!! But wait, she’s not a “rich” Republican is she ;), ;), ;)

        Bless your heart anyway… My real name is listed.

  6. Mike Patrick says:

    This is a problem that has plagued man for centuries and will never be solved. Other than a few individuals most of the street people are there by choice.

    Quit spending resources on something that can’t be solved. Let the non profits and soup kitchens do there thing!

  7. Katherine says:

    Does the mayor have a count of Albany’s homeless? Is everyone drug addicted, alcoholic or mentally ill? Do we have homeless families that maybe need a leg up? What can we do to build affordable housing for hardworking folks who have faced homelessness. I hope you will do some research on this. The mayor says she knows the homeless in this community. I would like to know more and see if we can help .

  8. Gerald R Berndt says:

    What is wrong w/Periwinkle Place? Maybe a step in the right direction taken many years ago & still working today.

    There are other great success examples of non profit or government agencies successfully converting/running older manufactured homes communities into transition housing.

    Try Snohomish Housing Authority in Everett Washington.

    Just an idea.
    Jerry Berndt

  9. Geno says:

    When I die I want to come back as a homeless person in Albany!


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