Opinion

Concerned citizens meet on homelessness

by Deena Jones

Did you know that there is a group in Arlington calling themselves the Arlington Homeless Task Force?

This group of concerned citizens began meeting last fall to see what could be done about homelessness in Arlington. Homelessness is a complex issue and there are agencies and other groups working to address the problem. The purpose of the Arlington Homeless Task Force is not to replicate services that are already being provided, but to identify needs that are not being met and determine what if anything we as citizens can do to help.

As a starting point we chose to focus on feeding programs, which could be put in place rather quickly. One question we asked was how we could help the Food Bank, which does an excellent job of providing food to the homeless and low income. We learned that Haggen of Arlington was willing to donate pull-date food, but they required a commitment from folks to pick up the food on a daily basis. Ray McClure, a volunteer with the Task Force, coordinated this effort which has resulted in thousands of pounds of additional food being donated to the Food Bank since January.

Also in January, we began serving a free breakfast called Wings of Hope at Hosanna Christian Fellowship, corner of 4th Street and Dunham, every Wednesday morning from 8-10. Currently five different churches serve the meal on a rotating basis. Though few homeless or low income people have found their way to the breakfast, it is hoped that word will get out and more people will come.

Another feeding program was begun in February, called the Brown Bag Brigade. This program provides a healthy sack lunch to those in need. Currently the lunches are primarily being distributed at the Food Bank on Fridays, as people wait in line for the Food Bank to open. The biggest challenge is identifying and finding those who really need the lunches. At this time, 50 lunches are being distributed, and it is expected that that number will grow as the effects of the struggling economy are felt more and more. Children at Pioneer Elementary are contributing to this effort by assembling the bags every Thursday afternoon.

Providing shelter for the homeless is a long-term goal. Housing Hope works to get people into permanent housing and will also step in to help people keep from becoming homeless in the first place. Other agencies also help in this area. However, waiting lists can be very long. Our group is considering what can be done to help people while they wait. At a minimum, we hope to be able to provide a cold night program for when the temperature drops below a certain point. Currently, in Arlington there is no such program, nor is there a shelter, other than Cocoon House for teens.

The next meeting for the Arlington Homeless Task Force will be Thursday, March 19 at 9:30 a.m. at Arlington United Church, corner of 4th Street and MacLeod. All who are interested are welcome. Donations for the feeding programs can be made to Arlington United Church and marked either “Wings of Hope” or “Brown Bag Brigade”, PO Box 266, Arlington 98223. Donations are tax-deductible.

Deena Jones is the pastor of Arlington United Church. She called the first meeting of the task force in October 2007 and is serving as chair for the group.

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