New group begins effort to help homeless population

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Paul Napper is trying to fertilize a grassroots movement in Lebanon that would ultimately result in a shelter for the city’s population of people who are experiencing homelessness.

He said his ultimate hope is that “Lebanon will kind of be more lenient to the homeless and I can start a shelter.”

He invited the public to a meeting in October to begin discussions, and later reported that about three dozen people showed up. Only about a dozen attended his second meeting, held Dec. 2, but among them was FAC Shelter Director Kandyce Stirman and a representative from Crossroads Community.

A row of huts constructed by high school students provide shelter and privacy at FAC’s sleep center in Sweet Home. File photo

FAC (Family Assistance and Resource Center) established a sleep center in Sweet Home at the beginning of this year. It was an effort made possible with the support of several organizations, including the Sweet Home Police Department, Linn County (which donated land), Sweet Home High School students (who built sleeping huts), Weyerhaeuser (which donated materials for the huts), and the Sweet Home City Council (which provided a building and nighttime security).

Crossroads Community was the brainchild of Lebanon City Councilor KJ Ullfers, who likes to say they “offer a hand up, not a hand out.” The nonprofit provides housing for veterans and other people who are homeless, and resources for people experiencing homelessness or in need of basic services. Crossroads partnered with developer James Lutz to build the Applegate Landing apartments in collaboration with their mission. It was funded through Lutz, grants and low-income housing tax credits. Crossroads has since purchased more housing, and is working with Sleep Trailer LLC to potentially offer that service in Lebanon some day. Find out more about Sleep Trailer at https://www.lebanonlocalnews.com/a-place-for-weary-heads-to-find-rest.

A sleep trailer provided on a trial run through Crossroads Community gave shelter for eight persons for a week earlier this year. File photo

One of the attendees at that second meeting said she wanted to get involved “because there are a lot of problems we need to solve ourselves,” while another, identified only as Cherie, said she saw a mother trying to bathe two babies in a public water fountain.

“There’s a major problem in this town and the solution is not to ship them to Albany,” Cherie said.

The group discussed their concerns which include a poor perception of people experiencing homelessness, a perceived contempt from Lebanon’s City Council and police, and lack of communication and collaboration between the multiple resources in town that focus on these very matters.

“This city doesn’t care for the homeless at all,” Napper said. “I was told by the City that people have tried (to start a shelter) before and they all failed, and they (the City) weren’t going to dish out any money for the shelter. So, somehow, us little people gotta raise enough money to buy a building and get one going.”

He also expressed frustration about a common stereotype that people experiencing homelessness are drunkards and addicts.

“Well, that’s not really true,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot. They’re just normal people and yes, there are some addicts and there are some alcoholics, but that’s with housed people too.”

Paul Napper, at left, talks to a friend while, in the background, Lebanon residents eat a meal at St. Martin’s Church. Photo by Sarah Brown

Napper – who recently became homeless himself and is living out of his car – assists with serving breakfast on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at St. Martin’s. He also brings food and blankets to Marvin’s Garden in Albany once a week, and passes out clothing, blankets and sleeping bags to people in Salem once a year through his “Operation Warmth, Compassion” organization.

After some discussion at the December meeting, it was determined that the first steps to take would be to open communications with all related organizations and establish a warming shelter that would remain consistently operational. The group decided to name themselves Advocates for Safe Shelter in Lebanon, and created a Facebook group to begin communications. The next meeting is anticipated to be in January.

“It’s gonna be a long adventure, but we’re getting it started,” Napper said.