OP-ED: How I Celebrated My Birthday

Tillamook County Commissioner Bill Baertlein

By Commissioner Bill Baertlein
This year I celebrated my birthday by volunteering at the Homeless Connect. This is an event to count the homeless in our community for a national census of homelessness. It is held one day in January on an annual basis, and provides many services such as hair trims, dental exams and treatment and veterinary exams. There are many service organizations with tables set up to help get the homeless connected such as Veterans, DHS, CARE, Rinehart Clinic, Tillamook County Health Department and other agencies. There are many individuals volunteering their time and talents to this event. Through many generous donations, lunch is served and sleeping bags, tarps, tents, clothes, shoes are available for those in need.

I would encourage members of our community to volunteer for this event to see the housing and homeless needs in our community. The Sacred Heart Gym was almost at capacity for those needing basic assistance. I distributed the tents, tarps and sleeping bags, and we ran out within 45 minutes of the doors opening. It is hard to see families with young babies looking for a tent or sleeping bag just to survive. I could not imagine having a child and being forced to live in a tent in the winter.
There are rumors going around that most of the homeless have been bussed in from Portland or are just passing through our community. While there may be some who qualify as drifters, most of the folks who came through the homeless connect are from our local area. Some are just not able to work because of disabilities, either physical or mental; one family had just been evicted and is not able to find a house or apartment. Others just can’t afford or even find housing, especially if they have pets.
We have a severe need in this community. We have many families in this community that are homeless, couch surfing with relatives or paying so much for rent that they cannot afford proper nutrition or utilities. It is estimated that there are 200 + children in School District No. 9 that do not have a permanent residence. Like many communities across our nation, we have a homeless problem and a housing problem. We are attempting to correct the housing issue but there is a lot of work ahead of us and it will not be a quick fix.
My birthday gift this year was a realization that the homeless are no different than I am. They have family, they hurt, both physically and sometimes mentally, they sometimes are joyous, they are very grateful for help, some are Christian. The only difference between myself and a homeless person is the fact that I was given the physical and mental capacity to earn a living. They, through some unfortunate circumstance, do not have this capacity.
Homeless Connect will happen again in January 2020. I would ask our faith-based community to have some tarp, tent and sleeping bag drives for the event. It is a basic Christian tenant to feed the hungry, cloth the naked and shelter the homeless. I really don’t want to look another mother with a child in the eye and say we are out of tents, tarps or sleeping bags, in other words “there is no room at the Inn”. We as a community have always been generous. This is another opportunity to show that generosity.