City & Government, Creswell

Unhoused woman voted onto Creswell City Council

Allen: ‘I want to be able to help people in any way possible because, in a lot of ways, I never got that help when I needed it.’

CRESWELL – Monday night’s city council meeting was lively as community members awaited the verdict of who would be next to represent Creswell as a city councilor.

Their answer? Christina Allen, a 46-year-old longtime Creswell resident, who has been unhoused for the last 19 years.

“I became interested in serving on the council for the purpose of being a positive influence for the people of Creswell,” Allen said. “I want to succeed in hopes of showing not only others but myself and the good of the City that I can do the job well.”

According to Mayor Dave Stram, the city council seat will be filled on Jan. 8, 2024, and it expires on Dec. 31, 2024; and according to city manager Michelle Amberg, Allen will become Creswell’s first unhoused council member in the city’s history.

Allen was up against two other candidates: five-year budget committee member Clark Kent and former council president Kevin Prociw from 2021-22, who also previously ran for mayor 2021. Both men have proven themselves through prior experience working for the City, but it was underdog Allen who made the lasting impression on the council.

The council’s first vote resulted in a tie between Allen and Prociw, taking Kent out of the running. Council President Alonzo Costilla and councilors Staci Holt and Nick Smith voted in favor of Allen’s energy and unique perspective; Stram and councilors Shelly Clark and Norma Jean Osborn sided with Prociw’s potential to jump into the role with ease and quickness.

“As we think about a candidate (Prowic) who is ready to go right now, I think this is what we need for this one year vacancy,” Clark said, emphasizing Allen’s novice nature.

While Allen’s lack of experience was a deterrent, the major point of contention among council members regarded the potential of Prociw to have a conflict of interest – his daughter’s employment with the City as a receptionist – which proved too risky for the front-runner’s panel of judges.

Prociw addressed this head-on during his time behind the podium, and his transparency was commended. He documented correspondence with the City’s legal counsel Ross Williamson – in which he wrote that Prociw’s position as a city councilor would “not create an ethical issue such that he would be prohibited from taking the position of city councilor” –  but it did not persuade Costilla, Holt or Smith to change their votes.

Holt said the “optics” of having Prociw join the council were not desirable, as too many concerns arose regarding Prociw’s ability to vote on a budget which would affect his loved one.

After much deliberation, the second vote solidified Allen’s new position; Stram voted for her, putting the vote at 4-2 in Allen’s favor, which shocked her to a point of saying aloud, “Oh my God.”

“There was a minute there for a second when I just thought I wasn’t going to get it,” Allen said. “I was just sitting there, and hot tears started flowing down my face – and then all of a sudden, it changed to ‘I might have a shot after all.’”

Both Kent and Prociw said they look forward to seeing the work Allen will do with the council next year, and Kent even offered his assistance to Allen in whatever way may help her prepare for her new role.

“It’s a very unique choice, obviously, to have somebody from the unhoused community involved, so I’m actually really happy for Christina,” Prociw said. “She’s going to be a voice for one of the biggest issues, as was pointed out that most cities are experiencing in Oregon and actually throughout the nation. She’s going to be an excellent voice – and much needed.”

Allen said Creswell’s greatest needs were surrounding the City’s youth and unhoused populations. Allen said there should be more opportunities for youth as well as a curfew set for children 16 years old or younger because the thought of human trafficking scares her, and she hopes to take extra care to protect Creswell’s children.

She was alluding to her own traumatic childhood, though, and her fears that other children may be put in situations which could mirror her own formative years. Allen said she was molested and her father beat her as a child. She said she spent practically all of her childhood in foster homes until her grandmother took her in.

“She raised me and took care of me – and in turn, I took care of her when she got dementia … She was my mother, my best friend, and she passed away in 2013, just five days after my birthday: Sept. 18. I took care of my grandma for 13 years, and when she died, that’s what put me back on the streets,” she said. “I lost my job; I lost my place to live; I lost my family. I had nothing but to be on the streets.”

Allen was a caregiver from age 16-30. She was contracted to clients’ homes to care for disabled people – mostly people with Alzheimer’s; and she also worked at St. Andrews Memory Care in Portland.

Regarding her thoughts on the unhoused issues in Creswell, Allen was adamant that there should be more connections between housed and unhoused people to “cut down on the animosity.”

“I just think we should have something in this town to get to know your community – meaning us. Nobody wants to get to know us, but they want to judge. They want to ridicule; they want to be hypocritical,” she said. “If they actually get to know us and who we really are, and not what they want to think we are because they want to assume, maybe there’d be less animosity among people.”

Other ideas which Allen shared were regarding public safety. She said there should be more visible 25 mph signs in residential living areas in addition to extra care taken to crosswalk signs.

When asked how she would work together with other city councilors, Allen paraphrased The Golden Rule by inserting it into the concept of active listening and helpful discussions.

“In order to maintain a good work relationship with fellow council persons, one should listen to what others have to say, and if anything comes up that you don’t understand, it should be explained in a way that (is easier to understand). What I mean by that is: help me help you help me help you,” Allen said. “(The current councilors) know so much more, but I know just a little bit, and that little bit is something (they) need to know. In return, please help me understand what’s going on. I’ll shut up and listen, and if you could do the same in return and give me the same respect, that’s (ideal).”

She said her life hasn’t been quite so lucky, and opportunities typically haven’t panned out in the ways Allen has hoped before. But this is an opportunity she is all in on.

“I’m pushing myself because I’ve never gotten an opportunity like this. This is major; this is big,” Allen said. “That gives me a little extra (drive) because I really don’t want to mess this up.”

Being a positive force for the City of Creswell is important to Allen, and so is representing the unhoused population well in order to rewrite the narrative that all unhoused people have the same story: They’re addicted to drugs, and they’re destructive and dangerous.

“I want to make a difference, and hopefully I can open (the council’s) eyes to where they can see what I see,” Allen said. “I want to be a positive influence. I want to be able to help people in any way possible because, in a lot of ways, I never got that help when I needed it. That’s what I meant by ‘I want to make a difference.’ I want to be able to do what wasn’t done for me.”

UPDATE: Stram announced on Dec. 14 that Allen also has a conflict of interest regarding a family member who is employed by the City of Creswell. There will be a special meeting on Dec. 18 at 6 p.m. to discuss whether to reconsider the appointment of Allen to city council.



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