Like most mornings, Tim Edmondson arrived at the Roseburg Dream Center on Monday to a line of people waiting for some food, a little conversation, maybe a smile. The center gives a hand up to those in need in the downtown Roseburg area, including scores of homeless people. It is closed Friday through Sunday, so Monday mornings are especially busy.
“We’re offering them some hope. All we’re doing is loving on them,” Edmondson, director of the Dream Center, told the Roseburg City Council on Monday night. “It’s like a family down there and we’re able to raise their self-respect. That’s all we’re doing.”
The meeting, held remotely via Zoom, was the third special workshop the council has held on the issue of homelessness this year. The sessions have focused on hearing from service providers, who outlined what services are available for the homeless. Three weeks ago, the council listened to presentations from United Community Action Network, Adapt, Compass, Homeless Transitions Action Group and the Local Public Safety Council.
On Monday, councilors heard from Edmondson as well as representatives from Roseburg Rescue Mission, Roseburg VA Health Care System, Casa De Belen and Peace at Home Advocacy Center (formerly Battered Persons Advocacy). Each was given about 20 minutes to go over the services they provide to the community.
Kevin Wagner, the social work supervisor at the Roseburg VA, said a one-stop center where the homeless could access a computer, use the phone, take a shower and maybe wash some clothes would be a “huge help.”
But the biggest need is for a variety of housing, including a detox center, a “low barrier” emergency shelter and affordable apartments, Wagner said. Many veterans, especially those who have been homeless, don’t have stable rent records, making it hard for them to compete for the few affordable apartments available in the area, he said.
Wagner suggested the city could offer landlords incentives to rent to veterans as a way to open up the housing market to them.
Melanie Prummer, executive director of Peace at Home, said her agency serves about 1,300 people a year who are affected by domestic violence, mostly women and their children. As many as a quarter of the women who seek help are homeless due to domestic violence, Prummer said. The agency is also seeing an increase in the number of elderly and disabled seeking help, which presents additional challenges when it comes to housing, she said.
“Many of the people that we help are experiencing trauma,” Prummer said, adding that some of those people then turn to alcohol or drugs to numb the pain.
More housing is needed as well as better communication and collaboration between helping agencies, she said. Many of those that Peace at Home serves don’t have family around or much of a safety net, making them especially vulnerable, Prummer said.
“People can feel isolated, not connected to community,” she said. “Within a few months they become homeless again because that connection is not there.”
Kivonna Coccia, who was the executive director at Casa De Belen youth shelter before it closed earlier this month, said many homeless youth are dealing with some type of trauma. About 60% of those seeking help at Casa De Belen had been physically abused, 40% were sexually abused and more than one-third had attempted suicide, she said.
Not having a place to live or knowing where your next meal will come from only adds to the trauma, she said. Because of that, the first step in helping a homeless youth is stabilizing their situation and showing compassion rather than blame; only then can you begin to teach them how to make healthy choices, Coccia said.
“It’s a skill issue, and not a will issue,” she said. “Not everything is black and white. We meet youth where they’re at when they enter.”
Lynn Antis, executive director of the Roseburg Rescue Mission, said that after 26 years of working directly with the homeless, he divides them into two distinct groups: those who are going through hard times and those who choose to be homeless.
“One group can legitimately be called homeless, they want to have a home again,” Antis said. “The other group does not want to have a home.”
He refers to the latter group, which he said is largely made up of those who abuse drugs and alcohol, as “campers,” and efforts to help them through sobering centers and low barrier shelters are misguided and simply don’t work.
“Roseburg does not have a problem with homelessness,” Antis said. “We have a lot of beds available at the Roseburg Mission.”
Edmondson, director of the Dream Center, said he refuses to lump people together, and instead tries to get to know those seeking help as individuals. Every person they serve is somebody’s mother, father, son or daughter, he said.
“They’re individual people and every one of them has a story.”
At the conclusion of the 2½ hour meeting, the council agreed to meet again on Aug. 3. During that meeting councilors will hear from five more speakers, likely to include local legislators, someone from the criminal justice realm and representatives from agencies in other communities that have had success in helping the homeless.