June 22, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

‘Invisible Class’ panel discusses support for formal employment

8 min read
Unhoused persons who leave their campsite for employment often return from work to find some or all of their possessions gone.

Unhoused persons who leave their campsite for employment often return from work to find some or all of their possessions gone.

After screening the movie The Invisible Class, a panel discussion hosted by Heather Sielicki:

[00:00:05] Heather Sielicki: Tonight, we have several panelists with us to share their reactions and answer questions from the attendees and our audience and commissioners. We have Brittany Quick-Warner from the Eugene Chamber, Gabe Piechowicz from Everyone Village, Roger Jensen from Bent Spoke Outreach and Lt. Doug Mozan from the Eugene Police Department.

[00:00:25] And just to recap the film, it talks about what it means to be homeless in the United States and challenges stereotypes around who is homeless and the systemic causes of mass homelessness in the wealthiest nation of the world. I’m going to ask each of them to briefly introduce themselves by sharing their reaction to the film. What did The Invisible Class get right, and what’s missing? Let’s start with Gabe Piechiowicz.

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[00:00:50] Pastor Gabe Piechiowicz: It just did a really excellent job of laying out the different angles and spokes to the hub of this crisis that we’re experiencing in our country. And I guess what it did do for me is present opportunity, it just really shouted opportunity. We have such an opportunity in this country right now and in our local community to start approaching this thing in a different directions, in different ways, with different partnerships and hopefully getting some different results. So while seeing it laid out in the movie is pretty hard to look at. I can’t help but think that we’ve got a shot here to really do something positive with this.

[00:01:24] EPD Lt. Doug Mozan: Here in Eugene, we have this large number of unsheltered/unhoused and we’re trying to do some inventive things to assist them. So that’s exciting to me. That was reflected some in the movie, in terms of things being done elsewhere, and I’m hoping that we can learn a thing or two from other places.

[00:01:41] Roger Jensen: Hi, Roger with Bent Spoke Outreach. And I think the thing that struck me about the movie the most is that they were taking shots from different cities across the U S and those stories that were being shared are the exact same stories we’re seeing in Eugene, we’re seeing in Portland. … The commonality is what’s so striking to me that especially on the West Coast right now we’re seeing this everywhere and perhaps there are some innovative approaches. But until we actually have these wraparound services, social services, mental health care, that accessibility, I just don’t know how we’re going to tackle this. I don’t think we can just build cheap housing and consider the problem solved.

[00:02:22] Brittany Quick-Warner (Eugene Chamber of Commerce): What it got right is really trying to humanize the issue and humanize the individual stories that every single person on the street has and make it relatable, right? I felt so much for the gentleman in Salt Lake that they spoke with, just talking about, like, if he had a magic wand, he would ask for his grandma to come back, right? Like people are just like deeply in need of connection and love and understanding. So I feel like we’re not giving the individuals who need that love and compassion and I don’t think we’re giving them a chance at this point.

[00:02:56] HRC Chair Ibrahim Coulibaly: I have to say that the movie was eye opening, even though there was nothing new, but taking time to sit and listen to people going through those difficult times kind of remind us that there are a lot of stories out there. When we drive past the Washington Jefferson Park and see people under the tent, there are life stories there that need to be heard. And also they are potential for the city and also the community at large, to be able to do something for this community.

[00:03:35] HRC Vice Chair Daniel Borson: Eugene already has the highest per capita of the unhoused and some things that I’ve heard as to why, is that Eugene’s current policies make it more attractive for people who are unhoused to come here. And yeah, I don’t blame them, but that then serves to worse than our problem and so we’re getting punished as a community for trying to do the right thing.

[00:04:03] Roger Jensen: I’ve heard this quite often now, but the statistics and numbers I’m hearing is there’s this migration out west. So it’s a pretty, pretty common story all throughout the West Coast cities. And I’ve heard, if we create these great programs, we’re going to be drawing more people, hearing of this opportunity. But I guess we have to try because I think this harassment of the unhoused, hoping that they’ll leave the area, go somewhere else and be someone else’s problems, that obviously doesn’t work. And if we do see these migrations towards cities that are taking steps that are effective, maybe that migration can be an indicator to other cities of a solution.

[00:04:43] You know, if something’s working now, I know Everyone Village is trying something very unique right now with their wraparound surfaces on site, et cetera. If we streamline this transition from the unhoused to transitional housing or getting into rentals and getting access to these services, you know, I think we can be a leading example for these other cities, if they can replicate what we’re doing specifically in Eugene.

[00:05:10] Brittany Quick-Warner: If we’re attracting people, because we have services that are, are supporting unhoused individuals to, like, achieve wellness, I think that’s okay. I think that, like, I’m okay being a community that is known for helping individuals achieve wellness. That’s a reputation I’m absolutely okay for us to have. I am not okay to have a reputation as a community who attract people here who don’t have any desire to, uh, access services, who are here because we have a drug environment that allows them to get away with, you know, um, with doing drugs that maybe are not legal, other places, that we have a place where people can get away with crime.

[00:05:54] EPD Lt. Doug Mozan: I’m convinced that we have to figure out a way to lobby our elected officials at the county, state, and federal level to try to replicate the things that we know are good, like CAHOOTS and the things Gabe’s doing, the things Heather’s doing, the things St. Vinnie’s is doing and make them happen elsewhere because we’re the only ones doing it. We’re the only place they’ll come. And we will continue to attract people to our community if we’re the only ones doing it.

[00:06:17] John Q: Discussing the film ‘The Invisible Class‘ on Sunday, panel moderator Heather Sielicki.

[00:06:22] Heather Sielicki: The World Day of Social Justice was first started in 2007. And the theme for this year—the United Nations plans to promote formal employment, which is a necessary condition to reduce poverty and inequalities in society. What would have to happen to meaningfully address homelessness through formal employment in our community?

[00:06:44] Pastor Gabe Piechiowicz: One way that I kind of am framing it in my head, as we processed things real-time at Everyone Village is, that it’s community-anchored housing. It’s community-built housing and not the structure itself, but the reality of living in housing and having to be part of a functional community in order to really have the supports necessary to make a go of it.

[00:07:03] And I think the same thing has to happen in the labor area or employment area. As we reconnect folks who’ve experienced chronic homelessness or severe homelessness and gone through that trauma as they restabilize and get back to flourishing, we have to have intentional community grassroots partnerships with employers in our community who understand that employees coming from transitional shelter sites, for example, are going to have some support that comes with them. They’re going to have some special needs and need to get really back to being good, solid workaday folk. And so I think it has to come from real personal relationships between transitional shelter sites, the businesses around them and in their community, working together to create all sorts of sinewy connections for folks to grab a hold of as they regain entry into the employment world.

[00:07:53] Brittany Quick-Warner: I feel like there’s a lot of opportunities for transitional employment into full employment. And I think that’s a concept that our business community and our team is really exploring right now with some stakeholders to say, what are some interim opportunities that help people ease back into full employment when they have been living on the streets maybe for years at a time.

[00:08:12] EPD Lt. Doug Mozan: When you’re talking about supporting folks that includes workplace. Having an employer that’s willing to give somebody a little slack, if they’re a little rough around the edges, that’s one part of it first, certainly, but having some supports in place so that you can address unchecked, untreated mental illness, maybe a substance abuse issue. They have trauma from whatever made them unhoused to begin with. They have trauma they picked up along the way, on the street; they are continually victimized by one another and by the system and by under-representation and the inability to to fix their situation, like they’d like to. The lack of family, the lack of love, all those things. We have to have somebody who’s willing to, an employer who’s willing to, carry someone along and provide some of those supports.

[00:08:57] So my question is this: If I can’t get folks who are qualified mental health providers paid well enough in governments and in many of our institutions, so that they can support people who are in some of our buildings where we have low barrier housing, how can I get them into the vocational world? And how can we incentivize having a qualified mental health provider? There’s gotta be a place where we can get into our employers that are doing the work in our community.

[00:09:21] John Q: The Human Rights Commission sponsors a panel discussion about homelessness in America, and the Eugene Chamber helps coordinate efforts among local business leaders.

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