December 21st, the longest winter night of the year for the homeless. Newport pauses to take note and pray for an end to homelessness.
Those who have lost friends, relatives and other loved ones to homelessness, memorialized memories of them Friday at Don Davis Park in observance of National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day on this, the longest night of the year. The Winter Solstice.
Memories of homeless persons were vividly described by those who shared their pain, sorrow and grief over the passage of a sister, brother, father, mother, friend – fellow human beings – many of whom never got to live the full measure of their lives. They described the condition of many homeless people enduring the cold damp winter months, relief from which they could see through distant windows, but whose chances at experiencing that relief were between slim and none.
However, one homeless man said although it’s tragic to learn of a homeless person dying, many among the homeless feel a sense of joy for the departed, for he or she are no longer shackled to the Earth and to a life of misery, hunger and despair.
Others admitted that some of the homeless just don’t fit into what they called “society’s box,” preferring to live their years outside the mainstream, accepting their fate with calm desperation. “It’s the price of freedom,” one homeless person observed.
Those who spoke about the now departed lit a candle in their memory, candles reflecting on the lives of a sister who may have suffered a mental illness that was never treated, a man devastated at the failure of a marriage, a military veteran of the Iraq war suffering horrendous depression brought on by post traumatic stress disorder, a homeless man who came down out of the woods not feeling well, learning that he had terminal cancer and died two weeks later.
Speakers urged everyone to realize that all human beings are truly all one family and if we simply work together it will become clear there is enough love, there is enough compassion and commitment to end homelessness. It’s along road, but it must be traveled.
Earlier in the afternoon folks gathered at the Newport Performing Arts Center to review the latest “At Home in Lincoln County 2.0” report that updated the county’s ten year housing plan for Lincoln County. The report outlined what has been done to acknowledge and work toward ending homelessness but mindful of the few precious resources available to reach that goal.
To reverse growing poverty and homelessness in Lincoln County the report outlined a number of goals that include providing overnight shelters for single adults and families, including warming centers for cold winter nights. Reaching out to homeless teens and providing and sustaining a day labor program. Better inter-agency coordination to ensure what resources are available go to those most in need. Expand Drug and Mental Health Court programs. Explore the feasibility of non-traditional housing models such as single room occupancy and co-housing.
The report said Lincoln County was a low income community before the recession, and it’s even worse now. Today, the U.S. Census says over 16% of Lincoln County residents live in poverty; 23% of them are youth. These and other realities of life in Lincoln County foster poverty, lack of living wage jobs, low quality housing, domestic violence, untreated physical and mental health issues, substance abuse, and lack of transportation as well as child care.
The report outlines problem areas and suggests ways forward. But it also acknowledges that since the recession took down the economy in 2007, government has been left with fewer and fewer resources. And so today, it’s becoming very clear that the community, as a whole, must step forward and provide the resources to help end the scourge of homelessness and the life-draining mental health issues that come with it – for everyone, including the children.
Lincoln County’s Interfaith Community has begun stepping forward to educate itself on the “state of the street” and is taking steps to play a more supportive role in addressing the challenges of individuals, families and youth who are all under tremendous stress.
Those who would like more information on how they can help bring an end to homelessness in Lincoln County can contact Lincoln County Commission Chairman Bill Hall at BHall@co.Lincoln.or.us, Lola Jones at Info@SamFamShelter.org, or Benjamin Baggett at Info@CommunityServices.us