Our Opinion: After 'season of giving' comes the rest of the year
In December, we highlighted several Washington County nonprofit organizations as part of our "Give Local" campaign.
Giving to charitable causes is a time-honored tradition during the holiday season. It's a way to spread the Thanksgiving spirit, the Christmas cheer, the light of Hanukkah and all other seasonal well-wishes to people in need. We are happy to support that giving and put a spotlight on the good works that are happening here in our community.
Now, the calendar has turned to 2020. The Christmas trees have been hauled away. The icicle lights have come down. The inflatable snowmen and Santa's reindeer have returned to their bin in the shed.
Yet need remains.
You may have noticed that many of our recent front pages have prominently featured stories about homelessness and inequality. We intend to continue telling these stories in the New Year. Although they're not always easy to read — or to report — they provide a look into oft-misunderstood, marginalized aspects of our community.
Likewise, we intend to continue reporting on the charities, churches and other groups working to bridge the divide between the sheltered and the unsheltered populations, provide food and warm clothing for people who need it, and champion the rights of the underserved.
As you may have noticed, it's been very cold this week. In parts of Washington County, snow actually fell Monday morning.
For those of us with warm beds, soft blankets and central heating, cold snaps mean we spend a little more on electricity and have a little tougher time convincing ourselves to get up and get dressed in the morning.
For those who don't have any of those things, cold snaps can be — at their worst — life-threatening. It is difficult, to say the least, for unsheltered humans to thrive with temperatures in the 20s and 30s. People in our area depend on warming shelters, especially during the winter months.
One of those shelters is the so-called temporary emergency shelter that operates during the winter in Forest Grove and Cornelius. The shelter came about as a way to protect people from the elements on particularly cold nights when they had nowhere else to go. It has become a four-days-per-week shelter, rotating location between the Forest Grove United Church of Christ and Emanuel Lutheran Church in Cornelius, from November through March.
Homelessness is indeed an emergency. The question is, how temporary is it?
Despite years of effort by Washington County leaders to end homelessness, the needle has barely budged. While Portland has become infamous for its highly visible homeless encampments — on sidewalks, at trailheads, alongside freeways — there are thousands of people who live without stable housing in the suburbs, too, and even in rural areas.
This is a persistent issue that leaves far too many of our neighbors in need. We've written before on these pages about the many different causes of homelessness, and the unfairness of lumping all homeless people together, as though all of them choose to be homeless, or all of them are on drugs, or all of them are mentally ill, or all of them are criminals. At the end of the day, though, everyone who lives without shelter in our community is a person whom the system has failed.
It takes concerted action to change the system, and it requires the participation and effort of government. It's similar, in that sense, to climate change — which we have also decried as a genuine issue that will take dramatic action on the part of our leaders to solve. But there are groups and individuals doing what they can to help, and they can use your support.
One of our lead stories this week is about Celeste Goulding, one of the few paid staff working to provide shelter services in Forest Grove and Cornelius during the winter months. Goulding has put in time far beyond what her compensation because the shelter often operates without a full team of volunteers. The shelter's most consistent ask is for people to give up a few hours of their time to help, even if it's just for one night.
There are similar shelters elsewhere in Washington County, including in Hillsboro, that also need support. There are also groups like HomePlate Youth Services, which recently opened a new drop-in center in Aloha, that rely on donations and volunteers to serve people in need. There are organizations like the Meals on Wheels People and the Oregon Food Bank that are a source of affordable meals for people in need — that food doesn't come out of nowhere.
It's easy to think of poverty and homelessness as a seasonal problem, or indeed not to think of them at all. Yet need remains. It's not the "season of giving" anymore, but your support could still make a world of difference for your less fortunate neighbors.
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