Community Perspective: What I’ve learned as OCP’s executive director … and where the community needs to go

Community Perspective piece by Sam Nickels

As I wind down my 5.5 years as executive director at Our Community Place, I reflect on where we’ve come as a community over that time. (OCP just hired a new director who will start on July 3.)

Five years ago Mayor Deanna Reed was beginning to hold forums on homelessness—causes and solutions. Two years later Faith in Action (now Valley InterFaith Action) focused on getting our local governments to establish a Housing Trust Fund to address what the city discovered, through a consultant survey, was a major housing shortage, especially for the lowest income members of our community. 

Sam Nickels

OCP was a key participant in these actions. We worked for two years through monthly meetings with other homeless service providers and the city and county with the goals of a permanent year-round shelter and more housing. Ironically, thanks to all the federal funding from the pandemic, the city has access to millions of dollars that is about to be channeled into a year-round shelter and a variety of affordable housing projects. 

This is tremendous, but where do we go from here? Public-private partnerships have a role to play, but they have limited ability to meet the needs of those who are very low income. There is a need for nonprofits to be more involved in housing. Habitat for Humanity can’t do it all–for example, they don’t serve the lowest income people in our society or take HUD vouchers. 

New nonprofits need to be established that will jump into the ring to develop and build new housing that will be accessible to very low income people, including people on the sexual offenders registry who cannot get vouchers, people with eviction and incarceration histories who’s applications are often screened out by landlords and property management companies, people with emotional support animals, and so on. 

OCP has been serving hot meals to the community for 31 years (and we will keep doing this daily and much more in our community center!). We’ve been doing intensive case management for four years, placing people into housing for three years, providing supportive case management to keep people housed for two years, and buying and renovating property and managing the property for over a year now. 

The city is working very hard and admirably to get the year-round shelter established–the latest is a likely opening perhaps in the early months of 2024. It’s preparing a request for proposal for city land that will be offered to developers to build affordable housing. 

Our community needs to keep evolving. The city and county need to step up now and establish the Housing Trust Fund and fund it on a permanent basis, not just with temporary federal funds. Many of the funds need to be targeted to nonprofits as an incentive and support for them to be involved in building and managing properties that will meet the needs of our lowest income citizens for housing, organizations that will take both Housing Choice Vouchers and provide low-cost rent to those who cannot obtain vouchers due to ineligibility. 

OCP is about fostering community, providing opportunities for empowerment and service, providing a friendly hand to those at the end of their rope–trying to make love real. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it, working with people all the way until they achieve their own place to live! With our volunteers and donors and housing investors and community members (clients) themselves, we make it happen every day. The city and county have an important role to help OCP and other agencies venturing lightly and nervously into housing. You can empower us too!  

Sam Nickels, has served as executive director of Our Community Place since February 2018. He announced in April that he was stepping down, and the OCP board hired Matt Tibbles as Nickels’ successor.

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