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Annual homeless count shaping to be most accurate yet

COOS BAY — Coos County is currently conducting the 2018 Point in Time Count, a nationwide event where volunteers from communities come together to count local homeless populations.

During the three-day count, information about the homeless population is recorded all across Coos County. On Tuesday, the count took place in Bandon and Coquille, Wednesday the count was in Coos Bay, North Bend and Charleston, and today homeless will be counted in Powers and Myrtle Point.

Folks who come out for the count are given a free lunch, some hygiene products, and a blanket.

Point in Time counts are done in January because it’s the coldest time of the year and most homeless folks will make their way to shelters if they’re able.

Director of the Nancy Devereux Center Tara Johnson said, “The Point in Time Count is reported back to U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development. The numbers we get back from the county are super important because that drives some of our ability as a county to access services on the state and federal levels.”

Local nonprofits that work with the homeless like Oregon Coast Community Action and the Devereux Center were surprised with last year’s count, as they felt it didn’t properly reflect the number of homeless people they were servicing.

“Something happened somewhere because we know there were more homeless people then what was actually reported,” Johnson said.

In an effort to get a more accurate read of the amount of homeless people this year a committee of agencies who help the homeless was formed.

“Multiple agencies got together and said ‘we want to make sure that this count is the best count possible.’ We don’t care about the numbers if it was less people than last year and we felt was accurate then that would be great, but we don’t think it will be less than last year's, and we don’t think last year’s numbers were accurate,” Johnson said.

Recruiting volunteers was a priority for the committee. Their efforts to enlist the help of volunteers throughout the community resulted in four times as many volunteers this year than there were last year.

“Last year we probably had 20 volunteers and this year we trained over 80 volunteers,” Johnson said.

Many different organizations and individuals offered up there time to be help with the Point in Time Count. The Coast Guard had the most volunteers which according to Johnson was 16. Many bank workers from U.S Bank and Banner Bank volunteered as well.

Local retiree Mark Stephens said, “I decided to volunteer because I walk my dog everyday on the Coos Bay Boardwalk and see homeless people every day… I’m interested in the plight of these people. The stories you hear from them are truly eye opening.”

Volunteers do more than just tally the number of homeless folks that show up. The count forms are anonymous, requiring the person to give only their first initial of their first name and the first three letters of their last name. Then the person is asked a number of questions about their living situation, how they became homeless, and reasons why they have had trouble maintaining housing.

“Connecting with these people so we can understand how to help them is our responsibility as a community,” Caitlin Vanwagenen, a volunteer from The Coos Drop Youth ERA said.

According to ORCCA Board vice chairwoman Anna Huit, a number of the homeless people in Coos County have jobs.

“Some of these people do have jobs, but they can’t find affordable housing,” Huit said.

One interesting thing organizers for the county’s count did this year was to send volunteers out looking for homeless encampments. Some encampments can be hidden or off the beaten path. Sometimes to find homeless encampments volunteers would stop seemingly homeless people on the street and ask them about nearby camps. 

Sixty-two-year-old Rodney Vogtsberger, who spends his days around the Fred Meyer recycling center said, “I think the problem with the homeless is that these people don’t get a living wage and can’t afford to live anywhere decent … Really the thing of it is there’s no place for the homeless to go.”

Vogtsberger has schizophrenia, and has struggled with housing off and on for most of his life.

“It was a very humbling experience to be able to walk around and do this. We went through Empire and I got see a lot of people I actually used to camp with,” volunteer Paul Gonzales said.

Gonzales is turning his life around after spending three years on the streets of Coos Bay addicted to heroin. Through the Fresh Start Program he’s 10 months sober and has gotten his kids out of foster care.  

 “We’re not doing this because we’re homeless. We’re doing this because we’re passionate about the community and think we can make a difference. These people are people too,” Alternative Youth Activities executive director Scott Cooper said. 

FBI clashes with Trump, has 'grave concerns' on Russia memo

WASHINGTON — In a remarkably public clash of wills with the White House, the FBI declared Wednesday it has "grave concerns" about the accuracy of a classified memo on the Russia election investigation that President Donald Trump wants released.

The FBI's short and sharp statement, its first on the issue, laid bare a Trump administration conflict that had previously played out mostly behind closed doors in meetings between top Justice Department and White House officials.

"As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy," the FBI said.

Further complicating the memo's release, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee said late Wednesday that his committee's vote to release the memo was now invalid because it was "secretly altered" by Republicans who wrote it. California Rep. Adam Schiff said in a letter to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes that committee Democrats had discovered changes that were made after the panel voted Monday to send it to Trump for review.

"The White House has therefore been reviewing a document since Monday night that the committee never approved for public release," Schiff said in the letter.

Schiff did not detail the changes, and a spokesman for Nunes did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Trump has five days from the vote to review the document, and if he doesn't object then Congress can release it.

Schiff called for Nunes to withdraw the memo from the White House and for the committee to hold a new vote next Monday.

The memo is part of an effort to reveal what Republicans say are surveillance abuses by the FBI and the Justice Department in the early stages of the investigation into potential ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.

The FBI's stance on the memo escalates the dispute and means Trump would be openly defying his hand-picked FBI director by continuing to push for its disclosure. It also suggests a clear willingness by FBI Director Christopher Wray, who in the early stretch of his tenure has been notably low-key, to challenge a president who just months ago fired his predecessor, James Comey.

The FBI statement came the day after Trump was overheard telling a congressman that he "100 percent" supported release of the four-page memo.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday night placed the blame on House Speaker Paul Ryan, saying that if Ryan "cares about the integrity of the House or the rule of law, he will put an end to this charade once and for all."

Democrats have called the memo a "cherry-picked" list of GOP talking points that attempts to distract from the committee's own investigation into Russian meddling in the election that sent Trump to the White House.

The drama comes as special counsel Robert Mueller also is investigating whether the Trump campaign improperly coordinated with Russia during the campaign and whether Trump sought to obstruct the inquiry by, among other actions, firing Comey.

Under the House committee's rules, the president has five days to object to the memo's release, which the panel voted to authorize Monday. But Trump himself already has urged the release, and it could come sooner. By late Wednesday, it had not yet been settled whether the White House or the committee would handle the actual release.

Earlier this week, Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made a direct appeal to White House chief of staff John Kelly not to release the memo, warning that it could set a dangerous precedent.

But the president has been undeterred.

Television cameras captured Trump, on the House floor after the State of the Union address, telling South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan that he backed the release. When Duncan implored him to "release the memo," Trump said: "Oh yeah, don't worry. 100 percent."

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told CNN Wednesday that a legal and national security review of the document was continuing. Trump had not read the memo as "as of last night prior to and immediately after the State of the Union," she said.

White House chief of staff Kelly said Wednesday on Fox News Radio that he expected the memo to be released "pretty quick."

Trump has been telling confidants in recent days that he believes the memo will validate his concerns that the FBI and Justice Department had conspired against him, according to one outside adviser familiar with those conversations.

The president also has told allies that he believes the memo bolsters his belief that accusations of collusion between his campaign and Russian officials are false and part of a conspiracy to discredit his election.

On Wednesday afternoon, Nunes fired back at the law enforcement agencies, calling the FBI and Justice Department objections "spurious."

"It's clear that top officials used unverified information in a court document to fuel a counter-intelligence investigation during an American political campaign," Nunes said. "Once the truth gets out, we can begin taking steps to ensure our intelligence agencies and courts are never misused like this again."

Myrtle Point man arrested for kidnapping, assaulting mother

COQUILLE — A Myrtle Point man was arrested early Wednesday on kidnapping, assault and other charges after allegedly tying up his elderly mother.

According to a Coos County Sheriff's press release, at 12:14 a.m., deputies were dispatched to the Coquille Valley Hospital regarding an assault. Deputies were told Ronald E. Schuler, age unknown, had assaulted his mother, Betty E. Harris.

Deputies contacted Harris, 79, of Myrtle Point, in the emergency room of the hospital where she was being treated for injuries sustained in this incident. During the course of the investigation deputies learned Schuler had become suicidal earlier in the night and had tied his mother up with his belt because she would not provide him a firearm so he could take his own life. Harris sustained injuries on her wrists, bruises on her shoulders and scratches on her neck and back. In the confusion of the incident, Harris was able to wriggle free and flee to safety at a neighbor’s home.

Other members of Harris’ immediate family provided a safety plan for her. Mr. Schuler is believed to suffer from mental illness and narcotics use. He was not located and probable cause was put out for his arrest. Schuler turned himself into the Coos County Jail on at approximately 12:30 pm. Wednesday. Mr. Schuler is being held at the Coos County Jail on the above charges with a bail amount of $312,500. The investigation is continuing.

Audit: Oregon foster care needs more money, culture fix

SALEM — Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson says an audit of the agency that oversees the foster care system found overwhelming staff case loads, fewer foster homes and children spending weeks in hotels.

Richardson said Wednesday that such children "need secure and appropriate placements with well-supported foster families."

Oregon doesn’t have enough foster parents, its child welfare workers are severely overworked and often burn out, and agency leaders have chronically failed to take adequate steps to improve the system, the audit said.

That leaves the daily average of 7,600 children in Oregon foster care in constantly shifting and potentially high-risk situations, the audit determined, with the state paying out $39 million in legal settlements since 2006 for cases of child abuse and neglect.

The critical 59-page audit, done over the course of a year, had been a campaign promise from Richardson, a former foster parent himself and a longtime critic of the system.

According to the audit the Department of Human Services and Child Welfare has a "dysfunctional" culture that contributes to high staff and executive turnover and a lack of accountability. The probe also found that available foster homes had declined by 15 percent since 2011.

Auditors recommended changing the agency culture, increasing the number of case workers and adding more resources.

Compounding the problems: The Department of Human Services lacks crucial data on how many foster placements are needed and the capacity of current foster homes, the report said.

Jamie Ralls the principal auditor, underscored that point when asked by a reporter what was driving 11,000 children into the foster care system.

"Statewide, there's an opioid crisis, and DHS is not tracking the data that they need to, to be able to determine that," Ralls said at a news conference with Richardson.

She said a judge in southern Oregon has seen children, even babies, coming into the system addicted to opioids, and found an alarmingly increase.

"If you start studying the statistics of whose coming in and what makes up the characteristics of those children coming in, you could get some answers, but DHS doesn't currently have that data," Ralls said.

In 2016, caseworker turnover was 23 percent, meaning that those who remained on the job had to take on more work until replacements could be found.

About one-third of Child Welfare staff members are in their first 18 months on the job.

The leadership of the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) has issued the following statements in response to Wednesday's release of an audit of Oregon's child welfare system:

"We appreciate the audit's recommendations and the attention it helps bring to such important issues, said DHS Director Fariborz Pakseresht  "Under Gov. Brown's leadership, DHS is already moving forward in many of these areas to improve outcomes for Oregon's children, and we have made significant progress in the last six to nine months since the audit research took place.

"The report highlights the impact of chronic understaffing, one of our agency's greatest challenges, which has led to high turnover and other problems in the agency. It also emphasizes the need to improve management practices and change our agency culture to one of empowerment to do our best for our children and our communities.

"When I started in my role as DHS director in September, the governor made it clear to me that she expects every child in foster care to be safe. As part of that, she has directed us to focus on recruiting and retaining foster parents and case workers, and to create a better culture of support for them. She expects results and outcomes and we will be reporting to her on those monthly.

"We are tackling the root cause of these issues, not just the symptoms. Data is a key part of our efforts, both leveraging existing data to highlight areas of improvement, and arming our caseworkers with the ability to interpret it. We are improving our systems and the management of those systems. As we respond to issues articulated in the audit, we are also building the foundation to deliver sustained outcomes and results according to our vision of safety, independence and health for all Oregonians."

There are more than 11,000 children and teenagers in Oregon's foster care system.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report