'How we respond to homelessness ... goes right to the heart of who we want to be as a community.'

There is danger in assigning any one group of people a single story. Appearance and narrative have limited threads of truth, particularly with respect to people at risk or experiencing homelessness today. The personal stories we encounter are from people that experience just how fragile life can be with the loss of a job, a spouse, or a home, or discharged prematurely from a medical or mental health institution or by protective services. Everyone has a story, and the symptoms we see are rarely what they seem.

The very question of how we respond to homelessness in Forest Grove goes right to the heart of who we want to be as a community. I believe we could agree on providing for the basic needs and restoring community to people going through some of the most challenging times of their lives. As someone who has lived in our community for over 20 years and administered a shelter for two seasons, I've witnessed shared aspiration.

The circumstances for those experiencing of homelessness simply appeal for compassion, and not succumb to a single narrative. We have more clarity of the populations we serve. I'm referring to many people who are experiencing homelessness for the first time or in episodes, people under-employed, striving for a living wage, and unable to find an affordable home or suffering from a disability.

The benefit we hope to achieve is restoring community to those displaced by social and economic hardship. We encounter families with toddlers, seniors, veterans, women escaping domestic abuse, and people suffering from disabilities and mental health. People experiencing homelessness deserve to be helped. For most, homelessness is their current experience, not their identity.

We've experienced outstanding civic engagement in our community through the support of Washington County, Community Action, Pacific University, the Forest Grove/Cornelius Chamber of Commerce, the City of Forest Grove and the faith community. All have been essential partners in providing safe, welcoming shelter, while expanding services and removing barriers to helping individuals and families out of homelessness and restoring community to those displaced by social and economic hardship.

Local programs aim to help those seeking a safe place, social services, permanent housing and employment. Providing support is the difference for people successfully navigating the system to access eligible services they seek.

If you have interest in supporting our homeless community, there are several programs in the local area that operate year-round. We can help you connect with those programs as they provide day shelter, clothing, personal items, and food. Please reach out to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or our websites, for additional information. Also reach out with interest in participating in a community response to homelessness.

Together we can provide community to everyone, and in particular restore community for vulnerable but capable people who deserve to be helped.

Brian Schimmel is outreach director of Old Town Church and serves on the Forest Grove Sustainability Commission. He lives in Forest Grove.

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