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Homeless summit – Governor in Silverton for ‘listening’ sessions

By James Day

Oregon Governor Tina Kotek visited Silverton on June 22, making two stops. One was to discuss homelessness and housing issues; the other to engage with agricultural and natural resource officials in a luncheon at The Oregon Garden.

Our Town attended the homeless session. Media were not allowed at The Oregon Garden session.

Kotek, 57, a first-term Democrat from Portland, arrived about 2:30 p.m. at the Sheltering Silverton shelter complex at the city’s Public Works compound. The modular building and four pallet shelters eventually will be able to accommodate up to 20 people, using $564,000 in state money that is part of Kotek’s $130 million emergency appropriation for housing and homelessness from earlier this year.

Megan Smith, program director for Sheltering Silverton, gave Kotek a tour of a pallet shelter and the modular. Construction and remodeling work on the modular is scheduled to begin in the next few days. Smith said the group hopes to finish by the end of the summer.

Key work to be done includes plumbing, adding a kitchen and a bathroom, electrical work and fire sprinklers as well as Americans With Disabilities Act compliance modifications. 

Sheltering Silverton officials said they will spend $300,000 on the modular, with the remainder of the state funds paying for the hiring of case managers and expanding service hours.

The tour then shifted to City Council chambers for a 3 p.m. roundtable on rural homelessness that included Sheltering Silverton officials along with one of their clients, Stacy Palmer of the Silverton Chamber of Commerce, Silverton Councilor April Newton, Kotek and Beth Wytoski of the govenor’s regional solutions staff.

Sheltering Silverton programming director Megan Smith, wearing a “House the People” T-shirt, moderated the 45-minute session.

“Congratulations on your journey, we’re glad you are here,” Kotek said of Silverton’s efforts to date. She noted that the city is six or seven years ahead of some communities.

Sheltering Silverton officials praised the partnerships that have allowed efforts here to make progress, mentioning the Silverton Police Department, the Legacy Silverton Medical Center, the Silver Falls School District and the faith community. Sheltering Silverton uses school district boundaries to determine its service area, which includes 42,000 residents.

Newton, who chairs the city’s task force on housing and the homeless, said getting a chance to work on the issue was one of the reasons she ran for office last November.

“The big picture is overwhelming,” she said, “but I can make a difference in this community. Affordable housing is a huge issue and it’s one of the council’s major goals. It’s not something in which we can wait for someone else to be doing something.”

Jordan Sims, a Sheltering Silverton client, spoke emotionally about his struggles with homelessness.

“It hurts when people shut you out because you are different,” he said while holding hands with care coordinator Lacy Wellesley. “Violence is not the way to go. People need to understand and not be so judgmental. This is my home.”

Roundtable participants agreed that the presence of the hospital was a huge asset for Silverton because local homeless people do not have to travel to Salem for medical care. 

Kotek also praised the presence of Palmer representing the chamber at the meeting, noting “that’s not the norm.”

Palmer said that the local successes “are because of the work Sheltering Silverton has done. It’s not a quick fix. To have happy businesses and residents you have to invest.”

Palmer expressed caution about the future, noting concerns “about the sustainability of the program.”

It was a piece of the puzzle shared by Kotek.

“Until we get more housing we have to continue to do things to meet our goals,” she said, adding that continued funding is essential. 

“Marion and Polk have been doing a good job. Our emergency order required people to act. Everybody has to be part of the solution and not everybody is happy about that.”

Kotek’s Marion County swing, the 16th edition of her Oregon Listening Tour, also included a breakfast visit in Aumsville with city officials battling with the high cost of a required replacement of its water treatment plant and a visit to Detroit to talk with those affected by the Labor Day 2020 fires about the challenges of recovery and rebuilding. 

Her day ended with a general media briefing in Woodburn.

Media were not invited to attend the Aumsville and Detroit stops and the general public was excluded from all six events. 

A Kotek spokesperson said a key goal of the approach was to “make sure the conversations took place in an environment in which the people would feel comfortable.”

The safety of the governor also was a key concern, the spokesperson said.

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