Community seeks a solution to homelessness

Student-led open forum takes place on main campus

Sterling Gonzalez // The Torch
Paige Westlund participates in the third annual LCC Speak-Out event, sharing ideas on how to help combat homelessness in the area. The Speak-Out series aims to give students a constructive place to voice their ideas and concerns; the last one, held in the fall, was about free speech.

On Saturday, May 12, Lane Community College hosted its third annual Speak-Out! on its main campus. Eugene community members discussed homelessness issues and solutions during a Deliberative Dialogue session.

During the Deliberative Dialogue portion of the Speak-Out, students, teachers and other members of the Eugene community discussed three potential options of decreasing homelessness in the community. The first option framed homelessness as a community problem that could be solved through improved morality, social inclusion and social harmony.

The second option focused on equity issues and combating homelessness through fair income distribution and improved housing and workforce policies. Finally, the community members discussed homelessness as all people’s responsibilities, thus requiring attention to wide-ranging issues, including unequal income distribution, substance abuse, mental illness, social exclusion and inadequate support services.

Stanley Coleman, a faculty member in the Communications department at LCC, said that homelessness is due to a wide array of causes, from poorly managed time and money to mental health issues and a changing economy. Because of this, he said, the community as a whole must take on the responsibility of tackling homelessness. He added that the non-homeless community also needs to change its perspective and assumptions toward the homeless community.

“We can’t expect someone to live at their fullest potential if they’re homeless if they don’t have a bed to lay their head down on at night,” Coleman said.

LCC student Michael Weed, who “was running away from home at the age of ten” and experienced homelessness firsthand, also said that homelessness is a community problem, commenting on the harassment and judgment toward the homeless from members of the non-homeless community in Eugene. He described witnessing people throw cups of urine, yell at and physically assault homeless individuals.

As attendees sat around a table and commented on potential causes of, and solutions to, the homeless situation in Eugene, the ideas, perspectives and values expressed were generally shared by others in the discussion. For example, suggestions of more effective and efficient child support programs and inclusive job opportunities were met with verbal agreement.

Other Lane County community members, including Janet Potter, suggested steps into the political sphere, which were also met with agreement.

“Get out there and vote,” Potter said. “It could transform this country.”

Community member Graeme Whitmeyer said that his belief in afterlives and spiritual consequences shapes his views on homelessness. He believes that the challenges one faces in their lifetime are lessons that need to be learned due to poor decisions made in previous lifetimes.

“There are lessons we are here to learn and maybe homelessness is a lesson to learn,” Whitmeyer said, adding that homelessness is ultimately a decision on a “spiritual subconscious level.”

The Deliberate Dialogue session also covered drawbacks to the three potential approaches, such as creating a social divide by putting all of the pressure on the community to make changes. Others suggested that providing more resources for the homeless community may simply increase homelessness rather than solve the issue of homelessness as a whole.

Daniel Henry, a faculty member of LCC’s Communications department who helped organize Saturday’s discussion, said that the topics for Speak-Out! events are based on what is “in people’s faces at the moment.” Homelessness is especially relevant in Eugene, he said. According to the Homeless Point-in-Time Count conducted on Jan. 25, 2017, there were more than 1,500 homeless people in Lane County. Henry also said that the Deliberative Dialogue session allowed community members to discuss a challenging topic while respecting and listening to each other.

“Deliberative Dialogue is a way of discussing problems and seeing things from other people’s ways,” Karen Krumrey, another Communications instructor, said. “It’s important that we walk in other people’s shoes.”