A few years ago, I sat down at the local coffee shop for a talk with a Philomath resident who wanted to see coverage on the homelessness crisis that we see in Oregon. At the time, I passed on the idea because the potential stories were all Corvallis-centric and I’m big on keeping my coverage focused on Philomath-specific news angles.

This individual seemed to be speaking from the heart and even shared a personal story on being homeless in earlier years — living in a car. I thought I had found my Philomath angle but the person didn’t want to go on the record about it.

In my own experience, I’ve never been homeless but there were times in my early 30s when it didn’t seem out of the realm of possibility. My oldest son’s mother moved 1,000 miles away, there would be no child support paid to me and I was on my own with an 18-month-old. Rent and child care took up a good chunk of my paycheck and we were living from week-to-week as I kept a running bank balance total on a piece of paper in my pocket. I updated it with every purchase to make sure we would not be overdrawn.

The low point came when I tried to apply for food stamps. I didn’t qualify — and I mean just barely. I remember sitting in the parking lot outside of that office trying to figure out the next move. A consideration had been to lose my job, skip the child-care expenses and qualify for government assistance in that way.

The part that hurt most was that we were struggling so much and even though taxes had been routinely deducted from my paychecks for years, I couldn’t get help during a time in life when I really needed it. I concluded that there were a lot of folks out there in much worse situations than myself — but you tend to not remember that when you’re trying to do the best you can for your small child.

I began applying for higher-paying jobs and we moved to a smaller community and a newspaper position that allowed me to work the majority of my hours at home. A local babysitter charged me a reasonable rate when I did need to drop off my son and a co-worker from the office would also take him on occasion without accepting money. We started to build a bank account and those days were behind us.

That’s a long story to make the point that anyone can fall into a difficult situation based on the circumstances that life throws at us. Homelessness was a temporary situation for the Philomath resident I talked to a few years ago and today that same person owns a home here in town and seems to be doing well. I had the ability to pull myself out of a difficult situation to avoid falling into that deep of a hole.

But everybody’s stories and life circumstances are different. Homelessness is a real problem and it’s an issue that’s been in the news a lot in recent years.

Back in early February, Rep. David Gomberg spoke to Philomath citizens at an open house at City Hall. Homelessness and affordable housing are issues that he hears about most at such events.

Answering a question from the audience, Gomberg talked about the emergency declaration that Governor Tina Kotek had issued in January. While it was welcomed, he also said its application was flawed with how regions were designated. They were split up, he said, into seven areas with six of those centered around larger cities. The seventh area, which includes Philomath, is called the “rural continuum” and covers the rest of Oregon.

According to the emergency declaration, there is a requirement for an area to be eligible that homelessness must have increased by more than 50% between 2017 and 2022. Gomberg said if all of the rural areas are together in one such calculation, that 50% level is not reached “even though Lincoln or Benton county may have a 50% problem.”

“That’s a long bureaucratic way of saying we got left out,” Gomberg said. “I’m glad there’s an emergency declaration, I’m glad we’re tackling housing and homelessness. I’m really, really frustrated that we’re not included and I’ve tried to find some means to open the door there to get us included.”

Recently, Kotek added Malheur and Clatsop counties to her homelessness state of emergency. All counties stand to receive a portion of the $200 million for housing and homelessness from a legislative proposal backed by Kotek that passed the House last week and was scheduled for a vote in the Senate early this week.

Gomberg serves as vice chair of the state legislature’s Ways and Means Committee.

“When we adjourn in June,” Gomberg said, “the work we do today will be regarded as some of the most significant of the session.”

Gomberg said the $200 million will help homeless residents move into houses, give people who have fallen behind on rent more time to pay and create new goals for cities to build homes under a pair of measures that were approved by the House (bills 2001 and 5019). They include Kotek’s original request for $130 million — plus $27 million more for aid to 26 rural counties and $25 million for homeless youth which was not part of the governor’s original declaration.

Here in Benton County, officials are seeking additional support from state legislators to help build a navigation center that will provide 24/7 shelter and crucial services to homeless residents.

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The Corvallis Daytime Drop-in Center is currently operating to give a hand up to some of the most vulnerable populations. The community-based resource hub provides information, referrals, job placement and direct services for people experiencing homelessness and poverty in Benton County and beyond.

(Brad Fuqua is publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached at News@PhilomathNews.com).

Brad Fuqua

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.