Left-to-right: Mayor Chuck Bennett, business owner Jim Davis and Salem City Councilor Chris Hoy listen as school board member and Keizer Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Danielle Bethell talks during small groups at the Thursday meeting. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)
Meetings aren’t the same as taking action, Ron Hays told a group of business owners, politicians and leaders of local nonprofits, at a summit Thursday to talk about homelessness.
For example, instead of coming to the meeting Hays, CEO of United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley, could have helped steer the arrival of a new women’s shelter or help out at the recently launched mobile showers.
“I almost didn’t come to this meeting because I’m tired of meeting,” he said. “I want to get things done.”
His words fell around a room of about 50 people, including Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett, Salem Police Chief Jerry Moore, Marion County Commissioner Colm Willis, Salem Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Hoffert, Salem-Keizer School District Superintendent Christy Perry, The ARCHES Project’s Ashley Hamilton and many more.
The meeting Thursday was orchestrated by real estate firm Mountain West Investment Corp. Owner Larry Tokarski said he wanted to get people from varying sides of the issue in the same room.
“The goal of this was to get everybody on the same page,” Tokarski said.
Homelessness remains the biggest issue in the region and on more people’s minds lately as the Salem City Council prepares to consider a proposed city law that would, among other things, ban sitting or lying on sidewalks.
But the four-hour meeting didn’t revolve around that proposal. People broke into small groups to talk about what was missing from current efforts and what questions haven’t been answered – such as if the community has reliable data on the homeless population or the number of shelter beds and more.
The most common theme mentioned by attendees was that the community wasn’t unified in their approaches.
“We have a need for better coordination,” Willis said after the meeting.
Councilor Chris Hoy echoed that sentiment.
“It’s good to see people coming together to realize this is a community problem, not a city problem, so we can all try to come together and develop some solutions,” he said.
There have been coordinated efforts in the past. In 2017, a large coalition of local government leaders, businesses and nonprofits formed the Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative. Hays served on that coalition and said it helped drive his comment Thursday.
“I’ve gone to a lot of meetings on the homeless issue in the last three or four years,” he told Salem Reporter after the meeting. “If we’re going to meet like that, we better have tangible results at the end.”
Hays’ comments had an edge, but he meant no harm. He said he knew many in the room felt the same way. Real estate broker Josh Kay said the comments struck a chord with many he talked with at the meeting.
“We need to stop talking about it and start being about it,” Kay said, mentioning the women’s shelter Hays has been working on. “Like Ron said, he’s tired of meeting. It’s time to start doing.”
Although Hays knew what he could have been doing instead, he said after the meeting it was fruitful to see people galvanized. He said people who might otherwise meet had a chance to talk to each other.
“There were some valuable connections, but the connections now need to make work happen,” he said. “If we go to another meeting without work happening, it won’t have served the purpose.”
Disclosure: Larry Tokarski is a co-founder of Salem Reporter.
Have a tip? Contact reporter Troy Brynelson at 503-575-9930, [email protected] or @TroyWB.
Salam Noor, a consultant with Mountain West Investment Corp., addresses the crowd on Thursday. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)
Project ABLE Program Coordinator Ramiro "RJ" Novarro, left, and Salem Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Hoffert, center, listen as Josh Lair, president of Be Bold Ministries, speaks during small groups at the Thursday meeting. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)
Mark Bulgin, co-founder of Isaac's Room, which runs The IKE Box, listens to The ARCHES Project's Ashley Hamilton talk during group discussions on Thursday. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)