Several city councilors believe Astoria could do more to support projects that help the homeless.

During an annual goal-setting session Monday, Councilor Joan Herman and Councilor Roger Rocka urged the council to include a daytime drop-in center for the homeless on a draft list of priorities for the year.

Helping Hands

Volunteers help prepare the Helping Hands facility in Uniontown in June.

Herman said it would be “significant” for the city to make a statement in support.

After some discussion, the City Council settled on an overarching goal that could include projects like a drop-in center.

The council asked city staff to write a goal to continue to help provide services to the homeless, “including supporting the recommendations of (the mayor’s homelessness solutions task force) and other community efforts to alleviate homelessness.”

The statement, and other goals discussed Monday, will come back for final approval at a future meeting.

The Lower Columbia Diversity Coalition hosted a discussion of the drop-in center idea on Sunday, a presentation Rocka and Herman attended.

Interfaith ministers Nelle Moffett and Rick Bowers have formed a loose group that includes members of a homelessness task force created by former Mayor Arline LaMear and others. They hope to create a facility that would give people a place to rest, socialize and access amenities like showers, but would also connect them with social services, classes and other resources.

Astoria has two makeshift drop-in centers now, Moffett told the audience Sunday.

“One is the library and one is the hospital,” she said, “but other than that, without paying money, there’s not a place for the homeless to be.”

Helping Hands, a nonprofit that offers substance abuse treatment and re-entry programs, opened a new facility in Uniontown last year. There are also clinics, food pantries and employment and mental health services located centrally in Astoria.

“But we’re still lacking resources in this community,” said Alan Evans, executive director of Helping Hands, who presented the drop-in center concept with Moffett and Bowers. “We’re still not in touch with the people who need us the most.”

The group behind the drop-in center proposal has yet to formalize.

Moffett and Bowers hope to create a nonprofit, but still need to figure out details like board members and funding. They have done some research into which commercial zones would allow a facility like a drop-in center, but have not identified property or a building.

For now, they are interested in community feedback, Moffett said.

Being homeless can have a huge impact on a person’s connections to the wider world, William E. Willingham Jr. said on Sunday. He had been homeless in Astoria for several years and benefited from the help of organizations like Filling Empty Bellies, which provides meals and other services. He has since secured housing and is a regular financial donor to Filling Empty Bellies.

“I could have used (a drop-in center) if it was here, but it wasn’t here and I had to do it on my own,” Willingham said. He added, “A drop-in center, we need it. Every community needs it.”

His comments were echoed by other homeless or previously homeless people who attended the presentation.

Vernon Hall, an advocate for the homeless who found housing before a city sweep of homeless camps in the woods on the east end of Astoria last year, has pushed for a drop-in facility for a long time. He encouraged Filling Empty Bellies to try to create a facility last year.

The nonprofit’s efforts stalled, but director Erin Carlsen said she is relieved to see a new group take up the idea.

She and Hall would love to see a center that also employed the people it served so they could gain skills and experience and build their own sense of self-worth and motivation.

A drop-in center was one of the things LaMear had hoped the city could support or help facilitate — a feeling expressed by others on the homelessness solutions task force.

For now, though, the task force has focused on other projects, including a program to help homeless people reconnect with family or friends in other towns and get transportation back home. A subcommittee is also discussing a forgiveness program for people saddled with debt from court fines.

On Monday, Rocka and City Councilor Jessamyn West said a drop-in center may help address other issues downtown. A previous homelessness task force identified a lack of public bathrooms as a major issue, and in recent years police have fielded numerous complaints about public defecation and urination. Merchants have been concerned about people loitering or sleeping in doorways, but a center would give them somewhere to be, West noted.

“We’re good at telling the homeless where they can’t be,” Rocka said, adding, “But we never tell them where they can be.”

Katie Frankowicz is a reporter for The Daily Astorian. Contact her at 971-704-1723 or kfrankowicz@dailyastorian.com.

(2) comments

Jessie Weis

I am so glad that people are doing more to help the homeless, to treat them like people, and display a growing trend to acknowledge their humanity! They do NEED safety, shelter, food, and validation by their humans.

What I am increasingly puzzled by is the number of comments I hear by folks saying, "Astoria has a larger number of homeless, because Astoria is a wonderful, giving place, so 'they all come.'" Do those who make those comments not have any contact with the outside world? Do they not realize that the homelessness problem is spreading country wide? I have lost count of the articles I read on Facebook about cities that have the same problem and have found a solution, which saves the city money and helps the homeless regain more productive lives. I have watched about six documentaries in the last few months about the homelessness problem in California cities, New Mexico cities, and New York cities. In most of those cities, the homeless population is greater than here in Astoria.
I heard someone say on another documentary I was watching the other day, "We have become a society of consumption, rather than production." I have watched our society make that change and have seen how it affects people. It drives prices higher and higher, and is turning the class of people who used to be middle class into "the poor." As that happens, homelessness grows, housing (when it is available, which in Astoria is not often, moves out of reach of family budgets.
It makes me sad that we talk and talk about homelessness, but still wear blinders so we don't have to "SEE" the people who make up the homeless community. These blinders block our understanding of their needs. It makes me wonder why we have so many schools that teach Maslow's hierarchy of needs as part of their social work, counseling, and psychiatry/psychology classes, yet so few people acknoledge the importance of safety, having food, and having dignity to other humans.
I do commend Astoria for allowing the Warming Center to function and the hospital and library for allowing ALL humans to take advantage of what they offer. I think it comes down to humans are going to need to acknowledge that other humans have the same needs and rights that they do before we can change the way things are. Knowledge is power and compassion is motive. Thank you, Daily Astorian for allowing this article to bring a bit of enlightenment to those who are ready to hear.

Lucy Delray

Today was a beautiful day in Astoria. The air was cold an crisp and the sun was at its most glorious. I decided to go down town for lunch and then walk around Astoria to take in all of its visual delights. As I walked along, walking in and out of shops and just gazing in windows I started noticing a person here, a person there...curled up sleeping among bags of what appeared to be trash, blankets, an occasional dog and what was obvious as that persons worldly belongings. Once I stepped over a reclining person warming themselves in the sun.
Suddenly my sun filled altered state of euphoria was jarred into reality and I started looking around...noting the occasional shopping cart overflowing with what again appeared to be some persons worldly possessions and then close by would be huddled the obvious owner of said shopping cart. The joy of this day was now hurled into revulsion and my perfect view of Astoria and the Pacific Northwest was now obliterated. Why could such a beautiful place on this earth be so marred by such sights? It is like looking at a beautiful work of art be suddenly defaced by a vandal rioting against beauty, social norms or whatever cause the vandal justifies his/her actions.

I am familiar with and accept those individuals who have been long time residents of Astoria's streets. I have talked with them and enjoyed sharing views on life, loves and even politics. They are members of our community and should be treated with dignity and respect. But what I see today, those people sprawled out on the sidewalk trying to warm themselves in the sun are not part of Astoria's community. They are strangers and many of them take advantage of OUR own community members of the street. And, that I take exception to.

It appears as though the word has gotten out that Astorians, as a whole, are tolerant and accepting people who will welcome anyone down on their luck to live on our streets. Altruistic? Maybe. But, here is the problem...
Walk through our parks. Walk along the river walk. You will find used needles just waiting for a bare-footed child to step on. Lose your way along a side alley and come upon areas where the homeless choose to defecate. Walk around any given day or evening and count the number of times a transient approaches you asking for money. I have observed homeless males offer sex in exchange for money to passing females.

None of this is acceptable and I have no solution to the problem. But this much I do know. Homelessness in Astoria and Clatsop County is a huge problem. And as touchy-feely as any reader wants to get with this issue is a personal challenge. Local groups provide tents for the homeless. That's great to get them out of the elements. But then they create camps with their tents, usually on private property and then law enforcement are called in who then dismantle the camps whose occupants are dispersed and then reconvene on someone else's private property once they are given tents again. All a vicious cycle. Am I the only Astorian who is frustrated by all of this? Criticize if you like but along with your criticisms provide solutions. What Astoria and Clatsop County has is a serious problem and our complicitness has placed us squarely where we are today. Tourism seems to be the life blood of our community. If that is the case then what tourist wants to be faced with this? Do we want Astoria to be known as the repository for the homeless and transient? And for those of you who see our homeless problem as a social science project I suggest take one, or even an entire family into your home and make them a part of your little community.
Shelters are lovely and serve to keep the homeless warm and safe, especially during cold and rainy weather. But this is only a bandage to the problem. And yes, it is a problem.

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