Editor's Note: Over 50 residents of Washington County representing an ecumenical spectrum of the faith community
attended today's September 5th, 2006 morning session of the Washington County Commission to hear testimonials about homelessness and witness a check of $7200 collected from the Bridging the Gap campaign given to the 4 county shelter directors. This is the latest evolution of a county wide faith-based grassroots movement to address the issues of homelessness and housing insecurity.
Below is the full text of RAD's testimony:
We come before you today as a group of concerned citizens of faith, organized to address the devastating problem of homelessness experienced in this community every day by families and by children in this community.
We wear the number “12” to alert all that the estimated age of a homeless person in this County is 12 years old. The face of homelessness in Washington County is the face of our young people, not the stereotypical derelict on the streets. Last May a small group of Washington County residents from the faith community organized a town hall - "Putting a Face on Homelessness". The meeting attended by over 90 county residents took place May 13 on a sunny spring Saturday morning on the campus of Pacific University.
Directors of the 4 homeless shelters shared information on homelessness in Washington County and the importance of passing the upcoming Public Safety levy in November that includes support for shelters. We also heard moving testimonials from those who had been helped by the shelters in their journey out of homelessness.
As a result of this town hall meeting, we formed an action committee, name-by-name and church-by-church; to put our concerns to work realizing that addressing the needs of the homeless will take a community-wide response.
We began by committing to help the shelters restore a portion of the $90,000 in program cuts they took voluntarily July 1, 2006 to allow them to stay open until the vote on the public safety levy.
To that end, we launched the “Bridging the Gap” campaign, a church-based county wide ecumenical “offering” in the faith community to raise funds for the shelters.
We have also been fortunate to have the chance to share what we have learned about the reality of homelessness with local newspapers, our friends and neighbors across the county.
We partnered with the Community Housing Fund as our fiscal agent for donations. Today we are proud to present to the 4 shelters the first installment of the donations that have come from our campaign. We are optimistic that there will be more, and we thank all those who have responded to this call.
But there is much more to be done. In that sense while our current focus is on homelessness, persons of goodwill in the faith community and beyond must address the larger of housing insecurity in our county.
We have learned that homelessness is a serious problem in Washington County. Existing shelters have a 110-bed capacity. Results from the 2006 homeless count in January found more than 1100 homeless individuals in the county, including 346 children.
Homelessness in Washington County
• As said above - the face of the homeless is a 12 year old child not the stereotypical male derelict on the street;
• Results from the 2006 homeless count in January found more than 1100 homeless individuals in Washington County, including 346 children;
• 1 in 10 Oregonians live in poverty - in Washington County this means @ 45,000 of our neighbors are one catastrophic illness or lost job away from the streets;
• Since the 4 homeless shelters have only 110 beds, only one out of ten of the homeless (1000) will be served.
As said above, homelessness is increasingly a family experience. If you are homeless in Washington County you have only a 1 in 10 chance of getting into a shelter that provides transitional, not permanent housing. The most haunting statistic is that the estimated age of a homeless person is 12.
Homelessness is not reserved to individual men on the margins of society we often think of when that term is used. Homelessness casts its shadow on families in crisis when the family bread winner(s) is/are at risk of losing a job or suffering a catastrophic health crisis.
Homelessness is the most obvious example of our housing insecurity crisis. But the shelter funding crisis underscores the need for more affordable rental housing for those who earn 50% or less of medium family income @ $33,000 per year for a family of 4.
Currently, there are over 5000 people on the Housing Authority’s wait list. These folks face a 3-year wait to get into Section 8 or Low Rent Public Housing. If you can’t get off the waiting list – you end up spending more than 30% of your monthly income on housing, cutting back on health care, clothing and/or food. And you are a major illness or job loss away from being on the streets.
With the rapidly increasing population of our county – these statistics will only get bleaker for the most vulnerable among us – the working poor, single parent families, the elderly, persons with disabilities and/or migrant farm workers.
While our current focus is on the homeless, the larger issue in the most affluent county in Oregon is housing insecurity among the families of the invisible poor, 1 in 10 Oregonians. At the current rate of adding 300 units of low income rental housing per year, assuming no growth in population, it will take us over 30 years to meet the current need!
To address the long term need will require people of goodwill in our county to work with existing county leaders, the Housing Authority and non-profit developers to leverage local, state and federal resources to build more affordable low income rental housing.
• The initial focus of our interfaith committee is the Bridging the Gap campaign - a church based “offering” campaign to raise bridge financing for the 4 shelters who faced a $90 thousand dollar shortfall in their projected 2006 budget;
• Our other goal is to actively support the passage of the Public Safety Levy which includes funding for the 4 shelters which assist victims of domestic abuse as well as needed support for our county corrections and justice systems;
Based upon the momentum of the Bridging the Gap campaign this effort will go on through December. So today’s check is the first installment, not the last.
• Additionally, we would like the County to appoint a citizens committee on Homelessness & Housing Insecurity to assess the challenges we face and make recommendations for future action;
• We support the efforts of the County and others to make good use of surplus lands for affordable housing and wish to encourage exploring other options such as land banking and local funding options to encourage investing in low income housing;
• We will continue expanding our faith based network as well as asking the corporate community to assist us in the Bridging the Gap campaign and developing other long term initiatives;
• We will be looking to collaborate with other groups in the state to encourage the legislature to put more funds into Oregon's Housing Trust Fund as well as supporting other sources of local, state, federal and corporate giving to address the housing insecurity crisis in our state.
Our belief is that individuals, children and families cannot pursue the American Dream unless they have a safe place in which to live. A safe and decent home is the linchpin of success in school, job security and ultimately family and community stability.
Without a place of one’s own, be it rental housing or home ownership, it’s hard to imagine how one can claim one’s birthright as an American – the pursuit of happiness.
While the numbers of the homeless in our county is a small percentage of Washington County’s population, we need to recognize that even a small percentage of homeless people and those at risk of being homeless compromise the quality of life for us all.
People who lack the basic necessities of life are less able to participate in our common life. More importantly, homelessness and housing insecurity reflect a failure to care for the most vulnerable among us. That erodes the moral and spiritual health of our community.
Our faith-based committee is committed to putting the American Dream in the grasp of all among us – here at home in Washington County and Oregon.
Editor's Note: Over 50 residents of Washington County representing an ecumenical spectrum of the faith community
By Russell Sadler
An announcement to readers. I am banning the word “moderate” from this column as a noun or an adjective.
Journalism is, by necessity, an exercise in writing shorthand. We don’t have the space to write out complex descriptions, so journalists label lots of things, especially in politics. But as time passes, the labels often lose their original meaning.
The noun “liberal” no longer means what it did 20-30 years ago, largely because of a concerted campaign by conservatives to change the meaning of “liberal” in the public mind. And today’s “conservatives” are certainly not the conservatives of Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon or even Barry Goldwater.
Arguably, the most abused word in the political lexicon is “moderate” used as an adjective or noun. Moderate is supposed to describe a politician who is in the center between the supposed right and left poles of our political spectrum. In practice, the word “moderate” is now being used to describe politicians just slightly to the center of the most extreme people on the political poles. “Moderate” is also being used to mischaracterize the few genuine political mavericks still around.
I have been uncomfortable with the term “moderate” for more than a year. I avoid “left-leaning” and “right-leaning” because it perpetuates the carefully cultivated myth that the right and left are the only positions in American politics and anyone in between must be a “moderate” or “centrist.” Sen. Joe Leiberman, (D-Conn.) is an ornery maverick, not a centrist.
This issue was brought to a head by the following communication from a former editor and respected friend.
“I'm sorry to see you join in the rightward shift of the word "moderate." If moderation is where Ron Saxton is, god help us. This is along the lines of the Oregonian's puff piece on Gordon Smith the other day, which falls all over itself painting him as a moderate, while quoting him uncritically as saying that ‘the Democratic Party are socialists.’”
“Hint: in current political discourse, moderate means ‘very conservative,’ conservative means ‘extreme reactionary,’ right-wing means holding political views that should not be possible for a bipedal creature possessing frontal lobes.”
I’ll leave it to you to agree or disagree with my friend’s interpretation of the political lexicon, but he is indisputably correct that neither Ron Saxton nor Sen. Gordon Smith are “moderates.”
Saxton is the most business-oriented candidate that Republican voters have offered Oregonians since Vic Atiyeh, a popular and reasonably effective governor during the recession of the 1980s. But Saxton’s continuing attacks on public employee unions places him far to the right of Atiyeh, if you believe that the quality of working class life remains a left-right issue.
Smith has cultivated the image of “another Mark Hatfield.” I covered nearly all of Sen. Hatfield’s distinguished political career and Smith is no Mark Hatfield.
Hatfield was neither liberal, nor conservative. Hatfield was not a “centrist.” Hatfield was a genuine maverick, much like the late Oregon Sen. Wayne Morse. By maverick, I mean a politician who is not an ideologue and who votes unpredictably.
Hatfield was probably the most pious elected politician in Oregon’s post- World War II history -- he was a devout Baptist -- but he was never a reliable vote for the Christian Republicans and would not accept the political dogma of the Southern Baptist Convention which was becoming the unofficial established religion of government.
Hatfield married a Greek Orthodox woman and the couple was shunned by both families for years for marrying outside their religions. It was a soul-searing lesson in religious intolerance and Hatfield never forgot it.
Smith has been a reliable vote for Christian Republicans and Christian nationalists whose theocratic dogma was relegated to the “lunatic fringe” in the not-so-distant past.
The political “center” doesn’t move with the extremes of any political party. Polls show that more than half those polled believe “the country is moving in the wrong direction.” The implication is that the country is moving too far to the left or the right and needs to move back toward the center.
I suspect many of those poll respondents do not accept that interpretation. I suspect they believe the country is marching in a totally wrong direction, back to the 19th century instead of toward the 21st. These citizens -- they are probably not “voters” any more -- are frustrated and angry at the way politicians are obsessed by the partisan confrontations in Washington, D.C. at the expense of the real problems in their everyday lives at home.
If I am right, then the word “moderate” no longer has any useful political meaning to such people, many of whom I number among readers of this column. From now on, I will try to find some shorthand to describe politicians who understand that our problems are not of the left or the right, but rather that a wholly new direction is required. Any suggestions from readers would be welcome.
Editor's Note: As one who entered the professorship career as a political theorist only to be morphed over the years into an American government and politics guru RAD shares RS jaundiced view of the debasement of terms like liberal, conservative and "moderate." The former two seminal terms have a long history dating back to the 18th or 19th century in works by such luminaries as John Stewart Mill (on the liberal side) and Edmund Burke (on the conservative side). In more current times, Bill Clinton and his friends at the DLC managed to remove much of what was FDR/LBJ New Deal/Great Society liberalism from the Democrat's lexicon and Ronald Reagan took the GOP back to the Gilded Age of the 19th century Victorians or the Roaring 20s in the USA. As Richard Nixon once said, "watch what we do, not what we say." Good advice! As they say in war there are no atheists in fox holes, in government there are no moderates when they vote.
Tomorrow, September 5th at 10 a.m. an interfaith group of Washington County residents will present a check to our county commissioners to help bridge the funding gap for our 4 county homeless shelters. If you want to join us, come to the county commission meeting in Hillsboro in the public services buidling, across from the old court house. Here are some very sobering statistics on homelessness in the USA and Oregon:
- “More than 10,500 Oregonians are homeless at anytime and of those, 37 percent are children.”Governor Ted Kulongoski, April, 4, 2006, announcing an executive order to create a statewide council to eliminate homelessness.
- “The average number of homeless or at risk of homelessness persons seeking shelter assistance on any given night during the last year (2000), was 8,840. 37% or 3,236 of those were children age 17 and under. Of the 3,236 children age 17 and under, 67% were age 11 and under.” 2001 Report to the Emergency Board, Oregon Housing & Community Services
- “Today, 35.2% of persons living in poverty are children; in fact, the 2004 poverty rate of 17.8% for children under 18 years old is significantly higher than the poverty rate for any other age group (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2005)” June, 2006, National Coalition for the Homeless, “Homeless Families with Children” report
- “In 2003, children under the age of 18 accounted for 39% of the homeless population; 42% of these children were under the age of five (National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, 2004).” June, 2006, National Coalition for the Homeless, “Who is Homeless?” report
- “The poll revealed that almost half of the voting public believes that single men are more likely to be homeless than families and that only 25 percent of the homeless population is made up of families with children. In reality, over the course of the year almost 600,000 families with 1.35 million children experience homelessness, and 50 percent of the homeless population is made up of people who live in families.” Findings of a National Alliance to End Homelessness and Freddie Mac poll in May, 2006
- “In 2004, 168,094 Oregon children lived with low-income married-parent families; 167,931 Oregon children lived with low-income single-parent families.” January, 2006, The National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University
- 2002 Oregon County statistics: Washington County: 12,076 (rate worse than previous year). April, 2005, Children First for Oregon Policy Brief, Strategies for Fighting Child Poverty in Oregon
- “On January, 26, 2005, 1,020 persons who requested shelters were unable to be accommodated, which is a 54 percent increase from March 15, 2004. On the same night, families with 800 members requested shelter and were unable to be accommodated, which is a 60 percent increase from 2004.” December, 2005, The United States Conference of Mayors, “Hunger and Homelessness Survey: Portland”
- “Since more than half of all homeless children are under the age of 6 and not yet in school, a minimum of 800,000 children can be presumed to be homeless.” The National Center on Family Homelessness, “Homeless Children: America’s New Outcasts, 2006
- “The average age of a homeless person in the U.S. is 9 years old.” Macomb County Intermediate School District, Michigan (2000 data from Homes for the Homeless, The Institute for Children and Poverty, and The Better Homes Fund), 2006
- The Oregon Food Bank distributed 4.3 million pounds of food during the past year to more than 90 non-profit agencies in Washington County, 2005 The Oregon Food Bank, Washington County Services
- “Washington County is the second largest and the fastest growing urban county in Oregon. Washington County residents are the youngest, most affluent and most educated in Oregon.” Washington County, Oregon @ Everything2.com
- Portland’s poverty rate increased from 16.6% in 1999 to 26.6% in 2004. August, 2006, The Brookings Institute, “Kids in the City: Indicators of Child Well-Being in Large Cities from the 2004 American Community Survey".
FSN-NW aired its pre-season PAC 10 football preview tonight. It looks like a good year for Cal, the Ducks and maybe the Trojans (boo). Clearly the UW head coach Tyrone Willingham has a high road to climb to put the Huskies back on track of being a premier football program in the conference, let alone in the nation. However, watching his interview tonight, RAD [a big Husky fan] couldn't help see a similarity in Willingham's approach which demands excellence and raises the bar of high expectations to that Tiger Woods. Now don't get me wrong sports fans, I doubt the UW will win more than 4 games this season. But like Tiger who has gone through three swing changes in his brief but brilliant 10 year pro career - success depends on hard work and high expectations. Now if only the hapless Seattle Mariners could get a bit of the Tiger spirit. But that would require a change at the top - with GM Bill Bavasi exiting - fat chance of that. That's akin to asking Dubya to recant everything he's ever said about the war on terrorism. Anyone who heard the press conference today knows that ain't going to happen. So, while the Ms and Sonics seem to be headed down the road of the culture of mediocrity like the Blazers - RAD hopes the UW program is turned around and we Northwest fans will have 4 top notch programs to watch in the fall - and not be forced to root for SC. Argh... I have no idea, nor care about the Seahawks. Pro football is a circus act, not a sport.