A group of women leaders in East Multnomah County came together Saturday afternoon, Jan. 12, to talk about homelessness with the Gresham branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW).
The featured speakers at the annual luncheon, hosted at M&M Restaurant & Lounge, 137 N. Main Ave., were Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, Rep. Carla Piluso, Metro Councilor Shirley Craddick and Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann — all of whom are members of AAUW.
"Right now we have a critical mass of women leadership in the state," Stegmann said. "And when women decide to get something done — look out."
The discussion was centered on homelessness, with the featured speakers discussing the problems Oregon faces and solutions that are in the works.
Craddick explained that the problem with housing supply began during the Great Recession, when no housing was being constructed as hordes of people continued to move into the state. That left a scarcity of options for people.
"We are talking about families," Craddick said. "People are living in RVs, sleeping on couches — they are desperate for a place to live."
All four were optimistic about the programs to support homelessness in Oregon, though they cautioned there is work to be done.
"This is a very complex issue, and in Oregon its becoming a culture of homelessness," Monnes Anderson said.
Metro regional government has a fund it can use to support the construction of affordable housing across the region, with support from local municipalities and nonprofit organizations. The Legislature is working to improve the application processes for developing new affordable housing and seeking other ways to increase availability.
One option could be "tiny homes," because they would allow more people to live comfortably on a single property. The solution wouldn't just support the chronically homeless, as Monnes Anderson has heard from constituents who would like to build one for their mother-in-law being priced out of her home. The city of Gresham has started to explore these options by updating its code for accessory dwelling units, and at the state level they are examining regulations to ensure the quality of the housing.
Both Piluso and Monnes Anderson vowed to find solutions for veterans struggling to find housing, while Stegmann spoke about the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office's Hope Team, which serves large portions of East Multnomah County. The team of two officers works to connect homeless people with services.
"They know the folks who live here," Stegmann said.
The AAUW advances equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy and research. The local branch, established in 1971, has more than 65 members working to provide programs on issues facing women and girls, community projects and women's outreach activities.
They give an annual $2,000 tuition-assistance scholarship to Mt. Hood Community College, and a trip for college sophomores and juniors to attend the National Conference of Women Student Leaders at the University of Maryland.
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