CRESWELL – After an at-times tense conversation during Creswell City Council’s Jan. 29 work session, the council decided not to create an ad hoc unhoused advisory committee.
It would have been a committee of three Creswell residents – including at least one who has been unhoused – one nonresident, and the three councilors who serve on the public safety committee: councilors Nick Smith, Norma Jean Osborn, and Clark Kent. It would have focused on connecting the City with its unhoused community. The committee would not have required change, as councilor Shelly Clark emphasized. It would have facilitated conversations and brought recommendations to the Council.
In the almost hour-long conversation, Councilor Staci Holt started the conversation, stating her immediate rejection of the committee’s existence.
“I am not about to ask my constituents to start picking up homeless services in this town because what happens is you develop these committees, you start providing services, and then the (unhoused) population grows,” she said. “Cottage Grove is a prime example of that. They’re now having to find a third park to house their homeless because so many (unhoused) people go to Cottage Grove now because they know that services are available there.”
Cottage Grove’s unhoused issues center around the “lack of supervision” for its two unmanaged sites, causing a complicated rift among community members.
Smith called the committee a “nonstarter,” and other councilors also found Cottage Grove’s issues to be a deterrent in creating the committee. Smith said, “Whatever (Cottage Grove) do(es), do the opposite.”
A grand concern for council president Alonzo Costilla was that the committee could create a division within the Creswell community and its city council, mimicking the current division in the Grove.
“I’m always open to listen to our community. I will never say no to that,” he said. “But you only have to look down to Cottage Grove to see what has gone on down there and how it divided that community and divided that council.”
Two of the four community members who spoke during the meeting’s public forum, Jim Rodman and Debra Yee, were against it, echoing Holt’s sentiments. Bill Kent and Kevin Prociw, who were in favor of the committee, hoped for more conversation to analyze and review ordinance 557 and said the committee would have allowed the City to learn more about the scope of the unhoused issue in Creswell.
Although public input was split 50/50, Clark was the sole council member to vote “yes” when mayor Dave Stram asked, “Is there consent to create an ad hoc unhoused advisory committee?” “I know I have a lot to learn, and I want to learn from our community that we’re elected to represent,” Clark said. “I’d like to know about what those who live in Creswell are experiencing.”
While Osborn and Kent initially provided support for the committee, both ultimately sided with Costilla, Holt, and Smith, voting “no.”
The consensus agreed with Holt’s point that the council already has time available twice a month for the whole Creswell community – the unhoused community included – to address the council with their concerns. All community members are able to attend city council meetings and air grievances or give kudos, within the allotted three minutes, during the meeting’s public forum.
“I agree in listening to the public if the public wants to come in at a meeting and talk about it for three minutes, and we’ll listen to their concerns,” Osborn said. “We may or may not decide to address anything, but we will definitely listen to their concerns.”
The idea to form this committee came to Stram via emails he’s received and comments he’s heard which followed unhoused Christina Allen’s short-lived appointment to the council. Stram mentioned that, at the time, the consensus was that the City wanted unhoused representation on its council.
“We wanted to hear from her. We wanted to better understand what it was like, what her needs were, how we as a City could be supportive of our unhoused community members,” Stram said. “I felt as though I was responding somewhat to council action from a month ago because today we would have Ms. Allen on our council had it not been for a conflict of interest.”
Ultimately, since the council did not unanimously consent to the creation of this committee, it will not be created.