Forest Grove City Council formalizes homeless shelter policies
As Forest Grove and Cornelius' homeless shelter provider faces a funding setback, the Forest Grove City Council adopted two ordinances that formalized seasonal and severe weather shelter policies at its meeting Monday, Sept. 23.
The decision comes days before a critical fundraiser for local shelters, the 2019 Run or Walk for Shelter.
The Forest Grove United Church of Christ has offered temporary shelter for more than 20 years. A few years ago, UCC partnered with Sonrise Church — now called Old Town Church — to run shelters on two set nights per week. Last year, the partnership expanded to include a shelter run by the Emanuel Lutheran Church in Cornelius on Wednesdays and Thursdays for up to 21 individuals and three families.
While Forest Grove has provided funding for the Forest Grove Temporary Emergency Shelter in recent years, city code didn't include policies dictating how shelters could operate or who could run them. The city awarded the shelters two grants worth $15,300 through its Community Enhancement Program for the 2019-20 year. It also awarded a $6,600 grant to the nonprofit Community Connection for a mobile shower trailer.
As of Monday, seasonal shelters can legally operate for up to 45 days, from Nov. 1 to March 31. Only 501(c)(3)-designated charitable institutions in the town center and the commercial zoning districts can open a shelter. Institutions also have to apply for an annual temporary use permit.
Additionally, severe weather shelters can open on days outside the five-month seasonal period. Severe weather is defined as two days or more with temperatures forecasted at 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below, snow accumulation exceeding three inches, a heat index of at least 95 degrees and other severe weather that could be a substantial threat to life or health.
The City Council passed the ordinances unanimously with nobody testifying in opposition. After multiple people who help run the shelters testified in support of the proposals at the City Council's meeting two weeks ago, only one person spoke in support of the ordinances Monday.
Kenneth Pinkerton, an unsheltered person, said the shelters are a critical service.
"They actually do good for those who actually want to get off the streets and actually improve their life and do better for themselves," Pinkerton said.
He said he came to the area in 2017 and started volunteering at the UCC shelter.
"And when I did that I ended up realizing that I felt better when I did, and not only that but it gave me a chance to help others," Pinkerton said.
Celeste Goulding, sheltering service director at the Forest Grove Temporary Emergency Shelter, sat with Pinkerton at the meeting.
She said the city's decision is important as her organization faces a substantial reduction in state funding.
A recent change in the way the state allocates funding to counties for homeless shelter services reduced the amount of money shelters in Forest Grove and Cornelius received this year by more than $100,000.
Goulding said the shelters will be able to provide traditional shelter services such as a place to sleep and meals. But the reduced funding will prevent shelter staff from doing outreach and helping unsheltered people secure transitional and permanent housing, which she said is crucial to reducing the number of people experiencing homelessness.
"Our ability to provide stabilization services to guests doesn't exist in our current budget," she said.
She hopes the city's decision to codify a shelter policy will bring attention to what she called the "desperate need" for support ahead of a key fundraiser.
The 2019 Run or Walk for Shelter will begin at 9 a.m. on Oct. 5 at Forest Grove High School. The event is free, but people will have the opportunity to donate to the shelters at the event.
"It's like the most important thing," Goulding said. "The amount raised during the Run for Shelter is going to directly dictate the amount of paid staff hours we have."
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