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Faith-based community – a night out in the cold

Faith-based community members are still working on severe weather shelter plans in Washington County

Eric Canon and his wife are still wrestling with their choices for Saturday. Either they can sleep in a tent set up in a cold concrete parking lot, or they can sleep in their car.

'It's something we have to contemplate, because it's going to be cold out there,' said Eric Canon, chairman of the Interfaith Committee on Homelessness for Washington County.

The Canons and other members of the faith-based community in Washington County are expected to take part in Out in the Cold Camp Out Saturday night at the Cedar Hills United Church of Christ, 11695 S.W. Park Way, in Beaverton.

The camp-out, which begins at 7 p.m., is meant to get the faith-based community members talking about what they can do to help with the homeless issue in Washington County. A homeless count in January 2007 found that Washington County has at least 1,261 homeless people. And according to county officials, only 12 out of every 100 people who knock on the doors of family shelters in the county are let in.

'And the elderly, singles and vets just don't knock, because they know they won't get help,' Canon said.

Last year, Canon was shocked when he received a call from the county. With temperatures down in the 20s, shelter workers were turning people away at the doors.

'They asked if there was anything we could do,' Canon said.

The county's faith-based initiative to start severe-weather shelters hasn't taken off as quickly as some had hoped. The United Church of Christ in Forest Grove and Hillsboro and an underage resource center in Hillsboro so far are some of the only churches to officially sign on for their facilities to be used, said Canon.

And said Cannon, a member of the Forest Grove United Church of Christ, those facilities will not officially open until after a meeting with county officials on Jan. 8. And even then, Canon noted the church might not get any people when it first opens. It'll come down to getting the word out he said.

In Tualatin, Linda Moholt, with the Tualatin School House Food Pantry, is still looking for a scheduling coordinator to operate a phone tree and round up volunteers on nights when a shelter needs to be opened. And volunteers are still looking for facilities willing to house the shelters on the nights when temperatures dip below freezing.

Kim Krohn, chairwoman of the severe-weather plan group, said she hopes that the camp-out helps to bring awareness to the faith-based community about why shelters are so desperately needed.

On Saturday, Jan. 12, from 10 a.m. to noon, community leaders, including Washington County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tom Brian, Metro Councilor Carl Hostika and state Rep. David Edwards, will be on hand during a panel discussion on homelessness at Tigard United Methodist Church, 9845 S.W. Walnut Place.