Leticia Gailey recently got her own apartment after being homeless for three years. She told a crowd at the Longview Woman’s Club on Tuesday night that peer support made it possible.
“I feel like this community needs to stop complaining and start volunteering their time,” she said to applause.
Gailey was one about 70 people who packed a community forum on homelessness in Cowlitz County. Longview City Councilman Ken Botero hosted the hour-long meeting and urged speakers to suggest solutions instead of pointing fingers.
Botero said he planned to hold the meeting later in the year, but a Facebook post about people camping under the Lions Shelter at Lake Sacajawea prompted him to move it up.
“We need to step up and talk to each other and see if we can come up with a solution,” Botero said.
The meeting largely was polite, though there were a few angry moments when speakers talked over one another.
The Longview City Council imposed an emergency curfew in all city parks on Sept. 27 in response to social media threats against people staying at the shelter.
City Manager Kurt Sacha said Tuesday a subcommittee was created to address the issue, and Longview has been working with the county and social service agencies to help find a solution.
Many of the suggestions discussed at the forum centered on creating and improving partnerships among homeless people, the community and social service agencies.
Donna Britten, owner of a property management company, said churches and other agencies that help people get housing need to continue to work with them and property management after they are housed. She said many people fall back into bad habits after they get housing and aren’t able to succeed without that support.
The shortage of affordable housing in Cowlitz County was also a point of discussion. St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church Rev. Nic Mather said the real work is in finding housing, because someone can’t focus on getting a job or improving in other ways without shelter.
“You can’t look ahead even a day when you’re focused on what the next hour is going to bring,” Mather said.
Several speakers noted that some chronically homeless people resist social service help. And Cowlitz County Commissioner Dennis Weber said the most successful programs are those that build relationships with the people they are helping, he said.
“If you are involved in organizations that provide services, volunteer more time, donate more money. They are what makes the community as successful as it is,” Weber said.