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Homelessness Is Discussed

MONMOUTH -- Residents and members from various organizations met Thursday night to address a seldom seen yet prevalent problem in Monmouth, Independence and Dallas."Living Homeless," a community discussion on the reasons for homelessness in Polk County and the resources available to improve the situation, was held at Christ's Church in Monmouth.The homeless population in Polk County has been on the rise in the past few years. And while it is nowhere near the epidemic proportions of Portland, it is alarming to many groups."As a pastor you deal with people in your congregation that live one paycheck away from being out of the place they live," Ken Braun, executive director of Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP), said. "Churches experience that, but most times churches will take care of their own. It's the person who comes and knocks on your door that you don't know."Largely resulting from the sputtering economy, lack of low-income housing, costs associated with the lack of health insurance and what some call "recreational homelessness," Monmouth and Independence see a disproportionate number of homeless veterans and teens for their size.A 2008 study, the last comprehensive study on student homelessness in Polk county, found 40 homeless students in Central School District.Resources available to those in need in Polk County fall far below those available in Portland or even across the Willamette River in Salem. Photo by Aaron Newton Polk County Commissioner Mike Ainsworth talks with forum attendees about homelessness in Polk County. "We don't get involved directly, it's not really in our typical mix of services," Scott McClure, Monmouth city manager, said. "Where we interact is our police department through making contacts and working with county social services."In the mix of residents and organizations at the discussion were Polk County Commissioner Mike Ainsworth, Independence Mayor John McArdle and Monmouth Police Sgt. Matt Olafson.Ainsworth noted the faith community's role in stemming the tide of homelessness in Polk County.Heather Wright, pastor at Living Hope City Church in Dallas, echoed those sentiments."It's an unsafe business. I work with unsafe people because nobody else will," Wright said. "The county and the church need to get over our fear of each other. It has to be a dance together."

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