The Homeless Leadership Coalition 3

Bend Organization Focuses on Advocacy and Action

You may know First Fridays as the downtown Bend block party to end all block parties. Omnipresent art, free-flowing libations and snacks, and a who’s who of neighbor sightings at each stop highlight each event. 

Yet, earlier in the day of each first Friday, a very different gathering takes place. At 8 a.m. at the Deschutes Public Library’s Downtown Branch you have the opportunity to hobnob it with movers and shakers of the nonprofit world. Ironically, their main goal is to put themselves out of business and end homelessness in our area as soon as possible. 
They are the members and supporters of the Homeless Leadership Coalition. All are welcome.

“You sit around a table once a month with people who are socially conscious and who genuinely care about their fellow human beings and are working as hard as possible to make the challenges of life less intimidating and overwhelming,” says Don Senecal, former HLC Board Chair and a representative of Jericho Road in Redmond.

The Homeless Leadership Coalition (HLC) includes more than 40 organizations and individuals from Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson Counties. The mission is “to engage the community through education, advocacy, planning, prioritization and accountability for services to persons experiencing homelessness.” Organizations represented include shelters, schools, emergency services, veteran’s outreach, public safety, mental health, housing, public services and private employers.

 “Currently we are introducing the concept of ‘Housing First’ to our community and sharing why and how it works,” says HLC Chairperson, Molly Taroli, PacificSource Community Solutions (Medicaid) Project Coordinator. 

Housing First is a two-pronged method—endorsed by the US Interagency Council on Homelessness—for solving homelessness one person or family at a time. Built on the concept that it is infinitely more difficult to become sober, get a job, or stay healthy when one has no stable home, the method aims to house individuals and families first and address the issues resulting in homelessness second.

 “Homelessness has changed in our community over the last several years,” notes Colleen Thomas, BS, QMHA, Homeless Outreach Coordinator at Deschutes County Behavioral Health. “We see more and more families and working homeless as housing prices have increased and individuals have lost their homes.”

You sit around a table once a month with people who are socially conscious and who genuinely care about their fellow human beings. – Don Senecal

And in these connections, we find success stories. Like this one about “Betsy” (name changed to respect privacy). Betsy has been homeless and in the system with Cascade Youth and Family Center (CYFC) since she was 14. 

“If you met Betsy in Drake Park or on a running trail, you’d never guess that she is homeless and has been sleeping in her car, camping on forest service land, or couch surfing with friends for years,” says Colleen Sinsky, Street Outreach Case Manager for CYFC.

Now 21, Betsy works full-time at a downtown restaurant, yet could never pull together what was needed in order to secure an apartment. In her younger years, she was a resident at CYFC’s Living Options for Teens (LOFT) home on 14th Street.

Recently, Sinsky was able to give Betsy the good news that, in partnership with Neighbor Impact, an umbrella agency for support services and financial assistance, there is a subsidy to help her obtain an affordable housing unit. After a difficult search for an available unit, Betsy called Sinsky with the good news, “I get the keys next week!”

The CYFC family will continue to be there for Betsy as she navigates this new chapter in her life. 

Look for more updates from the HLC First Friday gatherings, as some significant foundational changes, efficiencies and awareness programs are in the works.