Two weeks ago, Clackamas County Volunteer Connection Center and RSVP brought 35 community members together at an event called “Stepping Stones to Addressing Homelessness.” The goal of the event was to educate the community on (1) Understanding: Who is homeless in the county and why; (2) Hope: What is already being done by public and non profits in the area; and (3) Opportunity: How individuals and groups could help improve the community.
Homelessness is a growing issue in Clackamas County. Oregon has a high unemployment rate and our county is geographically very large and diverse – mixed urban areas contiguous with the Portland metro area, small cities, rural towns, remote hamlets and vast national forest. It has traditionally been a landscape horticulture and logging/milling economy. All but one of the mills is now closed. Cheaper housing is available in areas farther out, but that in turn creates a transportation challenge for low income families and individuals in accessing services.
The county conducts a biennial homeless count, completed this year in January with the help of 150+ community volunteers, which clearly quantified what service providers already knew. We have seen a rise in homeless families; 42% of those counted are children, including unaccompanied youth, and 10% are veterans.
Clackamas County has developed a Ten Year Plan for Addressing Homelessness. An integral part of this plan is increased citizen involvement through volunteerism. RSVP will be involved in outreach through Community Cares Days and in the newly formed Speaker’s Bureau. We know that a key to breaking the cycle of poverty is education, so RSVP will also be recruiting and training mentor/navigators for homeless children and youth identified through the McKinney-Vento Act Homeless Liaisons in our school districts.
The Stepping Stones event was the kickoff to our recruitment for mentor/navigators and involved participation from local service providers and local government officials. The event was planned and executed through an RSVP leadership volunteer, Nicki, who has a professional background in event coordination and marketing. Since January she has organized 3 events for us including our display for national volunteer week and RSVP’s presence in a county-wide wellness fair.
Out of this gathering there is new engagement. Most notably new churches participating in the Backpack Buddy Program, which provides weekend food for homeless youth, and new RSVP mentor/navigators who will be trained and will serve through the Homeless Liaisons in each school district.
Our community really came together in a heartfelt exchange over this issue. We built civic energy to make a difference over the next year!
Clackamas County Connection Center is a HandsOn Network affiliate and a RSVP sponsoring agency. To help address homelessness in your community, keyword search: “homeless shelter” “social services” “soup kitchen” “job readiness”