Faith leaders came together last week at the Seaside Civic and Convention Center to discuss Seaside’s rise in homelessness.
“We need to learn about what’s going on in our town. We need to learn from each other,” said City Councilor Tita Montero, an organizer of the event. “And we need to perk up the ideas, because what might work in one town may not work in Seaside. But we aren’t going to know that if we haven’t had the chance to bat that around a little bit.”
The conversation, the first of several meetings happening on Thursdays through May 20 and on June 3 and on July 1, comes as the consequences of homelessness have come to the fore in Seaside. Montero, Mayor Jay Barber and others proposed a series of forums last year before being delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
At a City Council goal-setting session in January, homelessness, addiction and mental health issues were listed among the city’s top priorities. In the months since, the topic has widened into a regional conversation.
Daniel Baker, of Lighthouse Christian Church, said he saw the forum as “a great opportunity for us to take a lead and lead in an area that needs us. And we want our communities to know that we are here as a part of the community.”
Baker recommended conversations with the homeless.
“If we have a real conversation with people, I think we might be able to get to the root that will actually help them understand that there’s a way out,” he said. “A lot of these folks have lost their purpose. It’s easier to just live on the street because they don’t really have anything they’re looking for. How do we help them have purpose? Again, it goes back to the individual person.”
Baker advocated for programs, but also sought accountability. “We’ve got to continue to have programs,” he said. “But I believe that there has to be some accountability, and not making it so easy to live on the street.”
Pastor Michael Avila serves at both the First United Methodist Church in Astoria and Seaside United Methodist Church. In Astoria, the church also hosts the Astoria Warming Center. As of April, it was offering free showers three days a week.
“The warming center is there for anybody and everybody,” Avila said. “It’s not one of those places where you have to be in recovery before they let you spend the night. You can be whatever condition you’re in. ... There’s nothing in the Scriptures or in these sacred texts that judges someone for being poor.”
Martin Letourneau, of the organization Love on the Streets, said his group was interested in immediate remedies.
“Right now, we’re in the business of Band-Aids,” Letourneau said. “What we’re doing is we’re going out to where the homeless people are. And we’ll go to a variety of places. We go to the south entrance of Safeway, we go to the Mill Ponds, we go down to the Turnaround, we go up by 12th and Necanicum. And we try to find as many people as we can. And we ask, what do they need?”
Letourneau said his dream for Seaside was an all-year shelter, drop-in center and a resource center. “We need a system that’s going to meet needs and provide the resources,” he said.
Barber said he is “proud to be the mayor of a city that cares about all people, not just some people, but all people. It’s so easy to talk about this problem. But that doesn’t solve anything. ... As the mayor of the city, I need to learn more about what it is that we can do together to deal with these situations of people who are homeless or houseless.”