Kotek tours Linn County, homelessness topic of conversation

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Gov. Tina Kotek made a goal to visit every county in Oregon during her first year in office. Called the One Oregon Listening Tour, Linn County got its turn on Oct. 26, the 34th county visit from the governor.

The last leg of the day’s tour involved a tour of the Edward C. Allworth Oregon Veterans Home and dinner at 1847 Bar & Grill with Lebanon leaders. Mayor Ken Jackola said City Councilor Michelle Steinhebel joined him with the governor, as well as Linn County Commissioner Will Tucker and Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital CEO Marty Cahill.

Oregon Veterans Home Administrator David Pettijohn talks to Gov. Tina Kotek about the facility while giving a tour. Photo by Sarah Brown

During conversation, the mayor and Steinhebel addressed the state’s drug issue, Jackola said. They suggested the government consider combining the two different schools of thought: not just focusing on fixing a person after they’ve gotten “strung out,” but also putting more effort into prevention.

He told Gov. Kotek there’s this change in attitude that using drugs is okay, to just “go ahead and do it and we’ll fix you after you get all screwed up,” to which the governor agreed, Jackola said. They also discussed the homeless issue.

“Lebanon has a heart,” he told her. “We have to find a model that works for Lebanon, that is within our resources and the parties involved in trying to help with this issue.”

Gov. Kotek’s tour started in Albany where she spoke with city leaders and advocates for the homeless about housing. It’s a conversation she has every day, she said: what the housing situation is and how to make it easier to build needed housing.

“It was a very constructive conversation,” Gov. Kotek said. “I think Albany’s working hard to be flexible and be creative, which is something I think we need to see around the state.”

The tour continued to Tangent, where she placed a note in the city’s time capsule for its 50th anniversary. She then learned about seed farming at Pugh Seed Farm in Shedd before heading up to Sweet Home to tour the Family Assistance and Resource Center sleep shelter.

Gov. Kotek seemed to appreciate the story behind how the low-barrier shelter came to be and how others “stepped up” to assist in the work.

Governor Tina Kotek listens as FAC founder Shirley Byrd shows her a conestoga hut at the shelter. Photo by Ethan Hoagland

“It is beautiful when someone says, ‘I see someone hurting, I’m just gonna go out and help,’ and then brought other people who were like, ‘Yeah, we should do something,’” Gov. Kotek said. “And the county provided the land, the city’s adding security (and a building). That’s impressive.”

The governor said she’d like to see more communities supporting similar shelters, adding her philosophy that, “if every community can do their part, then we can share the responsibility.” Reflecting on her visit at the FAC shelter, Gov. Kotek noted there are “too many” homeless senior citizens and children, vulnerable populations that need more help.

“I came away from that conversation (at FAC) of, ‘We gotta go back to the drawing board. What more can we do, particularly on the family side?’ Linn County needs another shelter. Sweet Home shouldn’t be doing all of it,” she said.

But Gov. Kotek believes Oregonians understand that people must first have some stability in their life before they can find permanent housing.

“They’re not going to get into permanent housing unless they are stable and in shelter, like what they’re doing there in Sweet Home. That is that first step. You don’t go from living out in your car for four years and jumping into an apartment. We just need to see more of what’s happening in Sweet Home in all places in the state.”

Reporters met with the governor before her visit with Lebanon leaders, so she was not available to address questions about the city after that time.