Klamath Tribal Health & Family Services to open transitional emergency shelter

Klamath Tribal Health & Family Services to open transitional emergency shelter

Homelessness is an epidemic affecting Americans in great proportions. Over the past six years, the number of people experiencing homelessness in Oregon has increased by 63 percent to 14,655. Locally, it is estimated that more than 300 American Indian people are homeless.

In 2021, the Klamath Tribes approved a resolution outlining a plan and strategy for creating a homeless services initiative. The initiative is all-encompassing to help struggling tribal members become self-sustaining – providing housing and direct access to mental health, substance use, medical, dental, and pharmacy services, thus enabling participants to regain their dignity and become self-sufficient. The location of the shelter will be located at 310 S. Fifth Street in Klamath Falls.

Chanda Yates, the Health General Manager for Klamath Tribal Health and Family Services, is tasked with setting up and maintaining the program. After securing grant funding from the Oregon Health Authority, she began hiring in Nov. 2022. She wrote the job description for the Klamath Tribes’ Homeless Services Director and ultimately hired Marci McComas in the position. From there, they began building the entire program, from concept to opening day.

“Ours is emergency shelter – from right off the streets,” said Yates, describing the broad concept of the program. “We provide intensive case management to individuals to get them stable enough to go in to housing, whether it’s community housing, or individual studio units, or whatever might be available, so that they can successfully remain housed.”

The capacity will be from 12 to 20 individuals any night, and Yates anticipates that most participants – the term KTH&FS prefers to use for individuals in its program – will be men because that is the demographic applying for shelter.

“Our program is going to be based on demand and first come, first served,” said Yates. “So, if we happen to get a lot of of applications from women, they’re going to be considered in the order in which they’re received plus their circumstance.”

There are specific eligibility requirements that are designed to be “low barrier” in order to help those in greatest need.

Homeless Services Director Marci McComas said that priority will be given to people coming out of detox or medical facilities. Participants applying have to be at least 18 years old, a Klamath tribal member or descendant, and they have to meet certain criteria on a background check.

“That being said,” said McComas, “there is the opportunity for adjudication, depending on what offenses they have, because we are a low barrier shelter. So, we understand that our participants are going to have backgrounds.”

Showers and restrooms are provided, as well as breakfast and dinner. “We don’t provide lunch because we want to encourage them to get out into the community and socialize,” said McComas. “They can go to our Engagement Center. We serve lunches there and will always feed our participants if need be, but we’re trying to encourage them to get out, move around, and be active in the community.”

The transitional emergency shelter is the first shelter the Klamath Tribes has ever operated, and to the Tribes’ knowledge, the first of its kind in Klamath County.

Donations will help forge a bond between the Tribes, other community partners, and community members. Donations are a way for individuals and communities to bring awareness and positively make a difference. McComas said that there are two ways in which people can donate or be involved. One, donations are accepted at the Engagement Center at 633 Main Street. Travel-size toiletry items, clothing, shoes, gloves, hats, and socks will be appreciated. And two, a meal train will be activated: community members can sign up for different days of the month to provide a meal for up to 20 people at the shelter.

“One of the biggest things we’re wanting to do is we’re wanting to give these tribal members their dignity back,” said McComas, citing the program’s mission. “We’re wanting them to be able to build a life and be successful. We’re kind of coming alongside them, helping them address whatever barriers they have, and just getting them able to integrate back into society.” The Klamath Tribes calls this to be in good health again.

Integrating participants back into society will require major collaboration to succeed. McComas noted that her program will be collaborating closely the Youth and Family Guidance Center, or YFGC, run by Klamath Tribal Health.

“And YFGC will provide a lot of support to our participants in the sense of like substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, and other coaching/counseling,” continued McComas. “But we will also probably work very closely with a lot of other community partners within our community, because basically, our case managers in a lot of ways are sort of like resource brokers. We obviously can’t provide all the services that our participants will need. So, for things like medical and dental, we’ll work very closely with our clinics within Klamath Tribal Health. And basically, we’re there to align them with the services they need, if that’s within Klamath Tribal Health, that’s great; but if not, wherever need be.”

Yates stressed the importance of building trust with the participants and elaborated on some of these individuals’ backgrounds. Because this population is in transition on a regular basis and their family are other people who live on the street, building trust faces some obstacles. Yates further stated that potential participants usually don’t have any identification because it’s been lost or stolen.

“We have to help them fill out the application, help them get their tribal ID, and help them get their identification card,” said Yates. “The whole goal and the whole emphasis of this program is intensive case management. So, we’ve found through our research and best practices in the homeless arena that you can put a homeless person in a shelter and say, ‘This is your house, this is your room.’ You can go to it nine times out of 10 and they’re never there, because they want to be with the society that they’ve created and feel safe with, which is those that are on the street. And it takes them a really long time to build trust that this is my unit and this unit is my home. And when they build that trust, they’ll start coming back to their unit more.”

They can come to their unit under the influence, explained Yates, so long as they’re living and behaving within the rules of the program. “And we’re doing that because no other program is taking that low barrier of trying to bring stability and trust back into their lives, to bring some normalization back into their lives. No matter how simple and small it may feel, we want to make sure that they have that. For example, to engage them, we’re asking them to come to the Engagement Center and at Halloween to carve pumpkins. It may seem ridiculously simple, but they have not had that opportunity to be welcomed anywhere: to come in, to have something warm, to plug in their cell phone, if they happen to have one, and to get something to eat. And to do an activity that’s just social, there’s no expectation of them to do anything except be there with others.”

Staff will be on-site 24 hours a day, which is very important to a program like this. Staff is currently going through intensive training to ensure they are well-equipped to deal with crisis and de-escalation.

As of this writing, some positions are still open, and anyone interested can go to the Klamath Tribal Health & Family Services building at 3949 S. Sixth Street to fill out an application or online. McComas stressed that they will have a case manager and a peer support specialist assigned specifically to shelter participants: “The case management piece is really, really what makes these types of programs work.”

The property of this program will be a gated community. A vinyl, aesthetically pleasing fence will be installed around the entire perimeter of the property to provide privacy for the neighbors as well as the residents of the program. No visitors are allowed unless accompanied by a staff member.

The transitional emergency shelter program is established with a clear, defined set of rules and policies. Although participants are not required to be clean and sober to enter the program, they are required to participate in regular case management that will address any barriers they may have. This includes an invitation to receive care for substance abuse and mental health conditions. There is a very strict no Drugs and Alcohol policy in place that will be strongly enforced. Drugs and Alcohol being brought onto the property will result in an immediate exit.

For neighbors concerned about the impact on the neighborhood, programs similar to this have proven not only to improve the appearance of local neighborhoods but are also statistically proven to reduce the amount of emergency calls to police in the residing areas. “We are here to support the neighbors, address any of their concerns and to help homeless people that may be congregating near their homes,” said Yates. “We are bringing solutions to the neighbors they previously did not have.”

For individuals seeking shelter and who meet the requirements, applications can be sent in via email to the homeless services department at [email protected] or dropped off in person at the KTH&FS Engagement Center at 633 Main Street, Klamath Falls 97603.