by Susannah Morgan, CEO
We often talk about the essentials of life: food, water, shelter — and for good reason. Having a safe, healthy place to live is just as essential to our well-being as the food in our bellies or the air we breathe.
Housing challenges are incredibly intertwined with food assistance. Without adequate, affordable housing, food is often missing from families’ tables. People are forced to make the heart-wrenching decision of whether to spend their money on rent instead of food. And we know that affordable housing would make emergency food assistance less necessary for many who currently face food insecurity.
A client named Gemma laid this connection out really clearly in an interview: “The biggest part of our income goes to rent — and it goes up every year. When we get food at the food bank, then I have money to pay bills.” Without food assistance, she says her family would be homeless.
Here’s the thing: Gemma may have been on the edge, but she is far from alone. More than 56,000 households in the metro area are just one paycheck away from becoming houseless. And Oregon ranks first in the nation for unsheltered families with children, with more than 7,000 children experiencing homelessness at any given time in the Metro Area alone. Anywhere from 5,000 to 12,000 people are sleeping outside or in shelters every night. That number jumps to 30,000 when we include everyone experiencing episodic houselessness — those who don’t have secure housing consistently throughout the year.
As more and more people lose income in the wake of COVID-19, more and more people are beginning to understand the reality that many communities have long known. The cost of safe housing is increasingly out of reach, especially as steady, family-supporting jobs become fewer and further between. These challenges are made even worse for our neighbors who don’t have access to critical mental health or addiction services. In one way or another, we’re all touched by this crisis— every individual, family and community.
That’s why we believe in the importance of policies that make housing and supportive services more accessible. And we’re really excited about the HereTogether initiative that’s underway to directly address the affordability and houselessness challenges we face in the Metro Area. We hope this will be a template for other communities throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington.
If you live in the Metro Area, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to learn more about HereTogether and pledge to vote by May 19th. And if you’re elsewhere in the region, be sure to visit our resources page for additional information on housing and supportive services.
We won’t have any hope of ending hunger if community members are houseless or at risk of losing their homes. I hope you’ll take action to ensure our communities have the support and services needed to #EmergeStronger.