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More than 125 people turned out on a rainy night in Corvallis to talk for more than two hours at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library about homelessness.

A lot of heavy hitters and key stakeholders were on hand Thursday, from the political to social services to the faith community.

Corvallis Mayor Biff Traber and Benton County Commissioner Xan Augerot. Sara Power of Room at the Inn, Kari Whitacre of Community Outreach. Danielle Brown of the Benton County Health Department. And Jill McAlister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and Jennifer Butler of the First Congregational United Church of Christ. 

Several individuals who have experienced homeless participated and asked questions.

Good questions. And other people asked good questions. But many of the questions have been asked before in dozens of other similar community meetings on the issue, which has been percolating through the county’s politics and social service spheres since the 2007 discussions that began the work to craft a 10-year-plan to end homelessness.

A consistent question that moderator Steve Schultz asked the panelists was how do we make homeless rarer in 10 or 20 years?

Brown’s answer was stark.

“It’s going to take more than 10 or 20 years,” she said, citing the challenge that individuals face going back to early childhood events. “We have to do the primary prevention and work on mental illness and alcohol and drug addictions. It’s going take a long time.”

There was a lot of optimism in the room as well, with much of it coming, perhaps not surprisingly, from McAlister and Butler.

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“What is my relationship to my community?” McAlister asked. “Just look at home much money is spent on sports. It’s so complex. We have to help each other instead of blaming each other.”

Butler, a new participant at these forums, was thrust into the limelight when a homeless camp sprouted on church property, and she informed the crowd how she and her congregation, her neighbors, and Benton County officials worked to make the camp workable.

“We’re still figuring this out,” she said, then added that “there is a piece of moral imagination that is getting lost. It’s not just political will. We have the capacity to write a better story and create the community we want to be a part of,” comments that drew strong applause from the crowd.

In other highlights:

• Traber and Augerot, the first panelists to present, briefed the crowd on the Home, Opportunity, Planning and Equity (HOPE) advisory board, which will be the new city/county group to tackle homelessness. Augerot will be on the new panel’s executive committee as will Corvallis Councilors Jan Napack (Ward 1) and Charles Maughan (Ward 2). Napack and Maughan were on hand Thursday, as was County Administrator Joe Kerby, who will work closely with the new group.

• McAlister, whose congregation operates the men’s cold weather shelter, noted the “stability” of the operation, which will enter its third season at the old Hanson Tire Factory on Nov. 1. Controversy over plans to locate the shelter, and other social services, on Southwest Second Street in the fall of 2018 led to protracted political wrangling and the ultimate demise of the Housing Opportunities Action Council, HOPE’s predecessor.

• Power noted the addition of DeDe's Home to the Corvallis Housing First permanent supported housing offerings. The home houses four formerly chronically homeless women over 55 years of age.

• Some good suggestions came from the audience, including whether the city’s Neighborhood Empowerment Grants could be used to fight homelessness, and how to deal with homeless challenges in rural areas and for those who spend time in both Linn County and Benton counties.

• There also were questions about homeless individual being criminals and whether folks are flocking to Corvallis and Benton County because of the services available here. The panelists handled the questions well, but they seemed to be questions that we should have moved beyond by now.

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Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-812-6116. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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