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Group pitches in to help countys homeless

by: Jaime Valdez, Tom Wallsteed, who used to be homeless, showed his support Tuesday morning in Hillsboro. The button with “12” represents the average age of homeless people in the county.

Citizens worried about the number of homeless in Washington County donated more than $7,000 to the county's four homeless shelters Tuesday, presenting the check in front of the county's Board of Commissioners.

The citizens also asked the commissioners to become more involved in addressing homelessness within the county's boundaries by establishing a county citizen group to present new policy direction.

'Ultimately, the issue of homelessness is a small part of the larger affordable housing problem the county faces,' said Russ Dondero, a retired Pacific University professor who made the request on behalf of the Interfaith Committee on Homelessness.

The group is a grassroots organization formed in May by members of the Forest Grove United Church of Christ. The group has since grown to include members of nearly a dozen other churches in the county.

About 50 people attended Tuesday's meeting to encourage the commissioners to think more about homelessness in the county. According to a countywide census conducted in January, 1,162 men, women and children are without shelter in the county. Local experts, however, said they believe that number is conservative.

Anywhere from 40 to 55 families each day wait to get beds at the Community Action Shelter in Hillsboro. The Family Bridge Shelter, also in Hillsboro, fields about 30 requests for beds every week. The demand is about equal at the Good Neighbor Center in Tigard and Monika's House, a domestic-abuse victim's shelter whose location is not publicized.

In presenting the $7,124 donation to the shelters Tuesday, Eric Cannon, organizer of the Interfaith Committee, said more money would be on its way. The group will be fundraising through December to help support the shelters, which are operating on thin budgets until voters decide the fate of a proposed countywide public safety levy in November.

The old operating levy, which expired in July, provided $250,000 a year in operating money to the shelters, about half their combined budgets. The shelters must make ends meet for at least a full year - the gap between the expiration of the old levy and the start of the new one, if it is approved.

Tom Brian, chairman of the county's board of commissioners, thanked the Interfaith Committee, saying the money they were donating was not a small amount and that it would be well spent.

'This is a great example of citizens stepping forward to help solve a problem,' Brian said.

The commissioners did not immediately act on the citizens' recommendation to do more. But at least one commissioner, Dick Schouten, said he would seriously consider the request.