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Wholl answer the call in the night?

Editor's note: On Sunday, Feb. 7, Eric Canon sent the following e-mail to a group of people working to combat homelessness in Washington County. It is reprinted here with minor revisions.

Last night at about 10 p.m., my phone rang. It was a fireman from Beaverton who said he had a couple sitting at the station who needed a place to sleep.

He apologized for calling so late. He said the woman had recently been released from the hospital and they had no place to go. He found my name on the Internet. Did I have any suggestions as to where they might go?

I asked if they had children and he said it was just the two of them. I told him that, to my knowledge, there was no place for an adult couple. (Even if there were children there would be a waiting list.)

I told him that was why we were working as we do to change this unhappy situation.

So many people think there are services available for people who are without a place of their own, and there are some. But for a wife just out of the hospital with no home, needing shelter....

In a few weeks, the leadership group looking to assemble a 10-year plan to end homelessness in Washington County will report back to the county commissioners.

I have no reason to doubt the commissioners themselves will be looking to adopt the plan. They invited 29 of us to be part of the leadership group to oversee the work of constructing a response to this problem. I think the commissioners know a change is very much in order.

I am less sure that the general population will support this plan and its goal. My feeling is that the commissioners will need support to adopt the plan and, most importantly, to fund it.

Many of you have become involved in this effort, whether it was supporting the Severe Weather Plan, or contributing to the Community Housing Fund, giving directly to our shelters, or by signing our petitions and reading these e-mails.

Your willingness to learn about the true nature of this situation, which calls so clearly for a response from our communities, places a burden and responsibility on each of us.

The time is coming for all of us to be present to support this plan and the commissioners.

The idea that there is no place for the woman and her husband who knocked on the fire station door last night is shocking.

Certainly the fireman who called me cared. He took time to find me. He made the call.

I don't know what happened next. I don't know where this couple is right now.

What I know is that they are not unique in any way. I get calls all the time. There are many like them out there with no place to go. They are cold and in despair.

This is a nationwide problem, as evidenced by a speech given in Seattle two weeks ago by Bill Gates Sr. Here are a few lines:

'It is customary at the beginning of speeches like this - the ones when an influential national group like National Alliance to End Homelessness has picked your city for an important meeting - to thank the organizers for the honor.

But this is different.

I have lived here all my life, and it is no honor to be known for how many mothers in our community put their children to bed in the backseats of their cars. It is not my privilege to acknowledge that my hometown is also home to hundreds of boys and girls who don't know where they are going to sleep tonight.'

When the time comes for us to be present in support of a better outcome for people who have no where to go and no place of their own I will let you know.

I hope you will stand with us when we come together to support our commissioners and this new plan to end homelessness in Washington County in 10 years. I hope you will encourage others to join us as well.

Eric Canon chairs the Interfaith Committee on homelessness. He lives in Forest Grove.