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'When a problem is so complex it can be paralyzing, some give up. But others continue to take action...'

COURTESY PHOTO - Kristy KottkeyOver the past few months, our community has struggled with a problem that has become impossible for most to ignore: homelessness.

When life slowed down for many of us, we began to look at the world around us in new ways. For some, this change brought opportunities to spend more time with family, get outside on walks, and clean every nook and cranny of the house.

But for others, it meant continued struggle in the street, a doorway, a campsite, a car, or a friend's couch. Resources that were already scarce to begin with became even more so.

As people began to notice the camps popping up in full view of the commute home, the debate that arose highlighted a deeper challenge that we face as a community — one of human connection and empathy.

The reaction from the community has ranged from outrage to despair — from raging about the state of the world to weeping about the state of humanity. Discussions online and in articles and meetings were filled with both harsh statements or condemnation and inspirational stories of people with lived experience.

This — like all extreme situations — brought out both the best and the worst of us.

After years of attempts to provide a bridge to stable housing for those who need it, it sometimes may seem like we are making no progress at all. Chipping away at a problem, when the solution — and the comprehensive funding — seems nowhere to be found, takes grit, heart, ingenuity, and resilience.

When a problem is so complex it can be paralyzing, some give up. But others continue to take action to improve the system, the community, and the lives of people who need help.

Each week in Forest Grove, there are homeless outreach teams on the ground building relationships and connecting people with the supports and resources that are out there — and waiting lists for those are too long. There are faith-based communities supporting those efforts by coordinating food banks and clothing closets. There are nonprofit organizations connecting the dots to maximize the existing services, monies, and personnel. There are city services that are being maximized to support solutions, and our school district is working as a partner to support our students and families who don't have secure housing.

If you are watching these efforts, or you are having conversations about the camps, the conditions, or the response of local agencies, reach out first to learn more from a person engaged in coordinated efforts.

It's time for the community to pause and ask: Is my action I take today helping me understand what is happening? Are my actions building a relationship with a community member who is a part of the solution? At the end of the day, have I made the situation better — or worse?

Sometimes, it's a matter of not knowing where to start that prevents a person from helping; but if you aren't sure what to do, start with a phone call.

After a recent neighborhood focus group discussion, my friend Mike took the initiative to reach out to the Forest Grove Foundation to find out about the positive impact they are making in the community. That led to an opportunity to help with outreach in the city — which then led to him learning more about a woman who has been homeless since she was 13, a man who had to leave a house due to abuse, and a professional woodworker who was struggling to find affordable housing.

A real connection — that is what it takes to solve a problem.

After a particularly intense online debate about the local homeless camps, one option sprung up from Ashley, a community member. She asked online if there were community members who were willing to learn more about how to support the existing efforts in the city to help people experiencing homelessness. Over 30 people responded. A group of strangers to each other — but a group who shared a common goal of wanting to know more signed up to come to a meeting — FG Helpers. Open to anyone, with the goals of helping this community solve problems and build relationships.

Both Ashley and Mike are examples of the many people in this community who spend countless hours of their days and weekends helping others. We see it in our service groups like the Elks, Rotary, Lions. We see it in our Boy Scout groups, faith-based communities and veterans organizations. We see it in our schools, city volunteer commissions and our business community.

There are so many others who give all they can with the time and energy they have. But this problem of homelessness is going to need the sustained help of every one of us. In any capacity we can manage. And that starts with understanding and connection.

On Feb. 8, at 5:30 p.m., the Forest Grove City Council will hold a work session about what is happening locally with regards to housing insecurity. A work session — for those who don't know, because I didn't know before I got on council — is a time for the council to learn, discuss, and hear more about how we can work together as a city to help support existing efforts. This is one way our community leaders and staff can take a proactive step to better understanding — which can turn into meaningful action as we head into our City Council goal-setting on Feb. 20.

The work session is a public meeting and will be recorded, so you may share the discussion with friends, family and neighbors.

Kristy Kottkey is a Forest Grove city councilor. This commentary represents her own views and not those of the Forest Grove City Council or city staff.


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