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Firsthand Stories of Homelessness Shared in Salem

PHOTO: More help is needed to combat homelessness.  Image attribution: Fray20 at en.wikipedia
PHOTO: More help is needed to combat homelessness. Image attribution: Fray20 at en.wikipedia
February 6, 2014

SALEM, Ore. - Today is Housing Opportunity Lobby Day at the Oregon Legislature. Advocates for affordable housing are making their case for an additional $2 million for 2014-2015, and bringing people to Salem who have experienced their own personal housing crises to share their stories.

Jessica Larson, housing advocate, Northwest Pilot Project, works with homeless people over age 55 in Portland. She said she thinks lawmakers will be receptive to their message - in part, because housing insecurity has become such a familiar concern in Oregon.

"I think it has reached demographics or income groups that once thought they were protected and safe from these kinds of decisions and this kind of scarcity. And now we, all of us, know somebody who has been impacted by the economic downturn," Larson said.

Even before the recession, rent prices had outstripped many people's ability to pay, she added.

Another facet of homelessness is seen in the network of emergency shelters for victims of domestic violence. Victim services specialist Kate Sorem said where she works, at Mid-Valley Women's Crisis Service in Marion County, there isn't enough money to help women with rent as they start over - so they have to stay longer at the shelter.

"We couldn't live with ourselves if we turned someone away and something happened," she said. "So, we are one of the rare shelters that will put people on the floor, the beds, you name it, just to make sure they're safe. And unfortunately, we're even running out of space with that. It's just dire."

Housing advocates say these types of problems can be solved, but faith and nonprofit groups are tapped out and need the state to step up and help as Oregon recovers from the recession. Some extra federal stimulus funding came to Oregon in 2009 to help keep families in their homes and expand shelter services for the homeless, but it was gone within two years.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR