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GFU professor and church elder weighs in on goal of transitional housing at NVFC

My husband had hip replacement surgery in March, a long-needed procedure to alleviate pain caused by degeneration. Hours after a new hip was installed we were back home, where he continued to recover for several weeks until he could walk without assistance again.Mock

There were aspects of this experience we took for granted. Having good medical insurance meant the procedure wouldn't cause us financial hardship, and owning our home provided my husband a comfortable place to rest while he healed.

Not everyone in our community has similar resources. Nearly 10% of Americans have no medical insurance and many are one illness away from insolvency. Those experiencing houselessness and who undergo significant medical procedures are also disadvantaged. It's exceedingly difficult to recover from a hip replacement or a multitude of other procedures if you lack stable housing.

Like most places in the United States, Newberg is undergoing an affordable housing crisis, one that is disproportionately impacting the working class and poor. Because being sick or disabled is costly, those requiring extensive healthcare may find it more difficult to access the help they need alongside access to affordable housing, a vicious cycle that can further disadvantage those already on the margins.

Through a years-long visioning process, North Valley Friends Church (NVFC) imagined one small way they could help people seeking medical care and who need stable housing. In partnerships with Newberg High School, NVFC received two tiny homes that could be used as transitional housing for those seeking care at Providence and who needed a place to stay while continuing their healing process.

The beginnings of Peace Trail Village were formed. In the next few years, and through generous funding from a federal grant, NVFC is hoping to build a total of eight or nine cottages on their land. A partnership with Providence will provide wrap-around care for those staying in the village, helping people find the stability and well-being they need to transition back into this community.

Misinformation about this project is compromising these efforts, most notably through the "Newberg Kids Not Camps" initiative, which would ban homeless camps within 1,500 feet of school buildings. The petitioners are using the project at NVFC, and negative portrayals of those experiencing homelessness, to spread distrust in the church and in its Peace Trail Village project.

Supporters of the initiative argue that those experiencing homelessness might threaten children's safety. In particular, those opposing the Peace Trail Village at NVFC assume that inhabitants of the cottages might suffer from substance addictions and mental illness, thereby putting children who attend nearby Veritas School at risk.

This is flawed thinking. It assumes that those who lack housing stability will by their very nature have mental illness or suffer from addiction. It assumes that those with mental illnesses or addictions are a threat. And it assumes that people struggling with addiction and other mental illnesses are not already living in our neighborhoods, in homes they rent or own, some of them no doubt close to schools.

The Newberg Kids Not Camps petitioners have argued they don't want Newberg to become like Portland, which they believe has become an unsafe city in part because of its homeless population; and that a program serving those experiencing houselessness will somehow invite more "vagrants" to our town.

While I reject the premise that Portland is no longer a lovely city, this claim points to the importance of a resource like the Peace Trail Village, which intends to help get people off the streets and into secure housing, so they can recover from sicknesses or medical treatment and be on their way to healing and stability.

Why wouldn't Newberg citizens want to support a creative program that collaborates with local organizations to help make this a city where its people can thrive? The Peace Trail Village intends to do just that.

Melanie Springer Mock is a professor at George Fox University and an elder at North Valley Friends Church


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