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With Budget Issues, Can Ore. Legislature Fix Housing Crisis?

Oregon's big budget shortfall could hinder efforts to fund homelessness service programs. (Oregon Food Bank)
Oregon's big budget shortfall could hinder efforts to fund homelessness service programs. (Oregon Food Bank)
May 4, 2017

SALEM, Ore. -- In the midst of a housing crisis, state lawmakers are looking for a way to provide relief to Oregonians.

There is no shortage of stories from people pushed onto the streets and going hungry in Oregon's current housing market. Annaliese Koehler, public policy advocate for Oregon Food Bank, said her organization is championing two programs that help Oregonians facing homelessness: the Emergency Housing Account and the State Homeless Assistance Program. But lawmakers have to balance a big budget shortfall as well.

"I think many legislators support those programs and other kinds of homelessness prevention or affordable-housing programs,” Koehler said. "It's just a question of whether or not the Legislature has the funding."

Sandra Barton lives in Bandon. In 2015 and 2016, she, her daughter and two grandchildren experienced homelessness after her husband left. She said being homeless leaves you unable to do so many things, like find a job or feed your family.

"The first week or two you go into this, kind of like a state of depression because you're struggling every single day,” Barton explained. "OK, what am I going to do today? Am I going to be able to eat? Am I going to be able to feed my family? Can I get enough gas in the vehicle to even go get something to eat?"

Koehler said housing, or the lack of it, is one of the root causes of hunger. She said the housing crisis is the main reason people in Oregon are going hungry right now.

"A lot of the reasons why people tell us that they are visiting food pantries and emergency meal sites right now is because of housing and not being able to find affordable housing and being forced to live on the street,” Koehler said.

Barton implored lawmakers to listen to the stories of people like her who have been pushed out of housing and onto the streets. She said there are many misconceptions, and helping people who are homeless would be easier if we understood their situation.

"They label us as thieves, as drug addicts, as alcoholics, as people who don't care. But that's not the case,” she said. "If somebody would just say, 'What is your story? What got you here?' Sit down and listen. That's all you have to do."

The state currently faces a $1.6 billion budget gap. The EHA and SHAP help low-income Oregonians with transitional housing and shelter to prevent homelessness, as well as services within those facilities.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR