A Community Call to Action


November 22 - Wearing my Sentinel Community Reporter hat last Friday evening, I visited the city’s designated overflow site for un-housed people on 12th Street.

I talked to the local residents providing a hot meal, dropping off warm clothes, sleeping bags, blankets, extension cords, portable heaters, and wooden pallets to raise the tents off the graveled ground. A local businessman donated a large gas grill with propane to help set up a makeshift kitchen under a city-supplied tent to serve hot meals to those struggling to exist in thin nylon tents on that freezing night.

There is a growing atmosphere of community developing on 12th Street. I heard stories of how they share what little they have (food stamps and disability checks) to help each other get by. The city provides electricity, sanitary services, and, if needed, tents, sleeping bags and warm clothing donated by others. Community volunteers supported the site, by motivate Facebookers to bring additional specific items needed. Those choosing to stay in the overflow site told me how tremendously grateful they are for the support and having a safe place that reduces the fear of being attacked and their stuff stolen.

In the 90-minutes I was there, the temperature dropped from 35 to 33 degrees. I had to leave because my fingers got so cold and stiff I could barely write. Just before dawn on Saturday, the overnight low dipped to 17-degrees. It was in the mid-20s on Saturday morning at 9 a.m. when volunteers left their warm homes and returned to serve a hot breakfast to the campers.

More than four decades ago. I adopted Cottage Grove as my hometown. In all those years I have witnessed thousands of acts of spontaneous kindness, compassion and generosity that helped folks in trouble. I believe “Genuine Grovers” are the natives and transplants who tangibly contribute their time, talent, and treasure to create the “secret sauce” that makes Cottage Grove such a remarkable place to live.

Social media plays a powerful and pivotal role in our town. Unfortunately, as the number of un-housed people steadily increases, our community remains divided on what strategy can effectively address this growing problem. As long-term solutions continue to be debated, I believe the best way to meet the many short-term needs is to better organize ourselves to provide specific items and services to those who need our help.  

Earlier this year, private donations were used to create a discretionary line item in the city’s trust fund to provide for the needs of un-housed people. It allows residents, organizations, and businesses to make tax-deductible donations to meet the immediate needs of those struggling to get by in tents, old cars, vans, trucks and RVs. Last week the fund purchased three nights in a motel room for a family with three young children surviving in their pop-up camp trailer. It buys mobile shower supplies and bought a washer and dryer for the Highway 99 Shelter

Some rental property owners, trying to meet their own financial needs, realize they can make more money converting a rental property into an Air B&B. Sadly, this is one reason families and long-term older renters have lost their home just as winter approaches. Scraping up the application fee, first and last month rent and a security deposit is a huge barrier to get them in a new place. Perhaps churches or individuals can “adopt” a family or senior person to provide emergency shelter and help them raise the move-in expenses to get out of the cold and wet winter that lies ahead.

I strongly urge churches and community organizations with a mission to serve others create a Homeless Outreach Committee and have its chairperson call the City’s Community Coordinator Teresa Cowan at 541-942-1185 to learn what her unmet needs are. Take up a monthly collection among your members to donate to the city trust fund or Community Sharing. Right now, Teresa needs a network of these outreach committees to share information and maximize all the resources our town can offer to deal with this growing crisis.

Thankfully, an organizational structure is now in place to better mobilize “Genuine Grovers” of all ages and give them specific opportunities to share their abundance with those who have very little. To inspire and motive us, I plan to spotlight Grovers’ acts of kindness each week in the Sentinel and T.E.A.M. Cottage Grove’s Around The Grove weekly newsletter.

To ensure a brighter future for all, it is essential we demonstrate acts of compassion to teach young people the importance of helping others. The feeling of satisfaction knowing you eased the suffering of a fellow human being is priceless. Please explore how you, your family, friends and co-workers can become a superhero to those in desperate need of one.