Community members came together at the North Bend Public Library to take part in a conversation about housing and belonging on Tuesday, Nov. 7.
The event was a part of the Oregon Humanities Conversation Project.
“The Conversation Project programs bring people together to talk about their beliefs and experiences around timely and important issues and ideas,” said Drea Douglas, the learning coordinator at the North Bend Public Library.
Douglas introduced Reeva Wortel, a facilitator with Oregon Humanities Conversation Project, to the group of about a dozen community members participating in the conversation.
For the next hour and a half, they discussed issues about how they view home, belonging, and different ways of looking at the issue of housing and the houseless.
Wortel asked the participants what they think about when they hear the word home.
“I’ve come to define this for myself over time and realized it’s about the people. That’s what really defines home for me. It’s the people that I’m surrounded with and how I feel in their company that makes me feel at home,” Wortel said.
“Then I often think of the word safety. Now that I’ve become a mother, I think about my child’s safety and how to create a home for her,” she said.
Community conversation participants talked about their views of home. Different themes emerged including safety, comfort, community support – and an intangible feeling of belonging.
For some it was feeling like they could be their full selves. They don’t have to try to fit in when they feel they are in a place they belong. At the same time, it was important to have a place where they could have privacy.
Wortel opened up about her experience as a child living in a car with her mother.
“I remember my mom always trying to string up blankets trying to make privacy for us,” she said.
In her early career, Wortel said she worked with mothers who were trying to find homes for themselves and their children.
“When I’ve talked to people that have had to camp or live on the street, privacy – and not having it – is a big thing, and it’s such a human right,” she said.
Wortel asked community members about their perspective on the issue of housing in Coos County.
Some of those participating in the community conversation work with the houseless population. Others had been displaced from a home, or had family members who had experienced housing struggles.
While many equate homelessness with mental health or drug problems, that isn’t always the case – and it’s important not to group people together that way, they said.
“People that have houses have mental health problems and addiction issues and hoarding issues and people that don’t have houses have these issues. We all have these issues. These are complex issues that our society has,” Wortel said.
“It’s incredibly easy to judge other people and not have empathy of where they’re at,” one woman said. “But what if that was your kid? When you’re in a homeless situation, you are in survival mode. You think about nothing else except for what’s going to happen within the next 60 seconds.”
“There’s so many of us living from paycheck to paycheck. We’re all having to cut corners. We’re all having to make sacrifices. We’re all having to dig down deep. Not just for ourselves, but for other people too. We all have to be in this together,” she said.
Oregon Humanities Conversation Project facilitator Wortel closed the meeting saying that although the issues are too complex to solve in a single conversation, simply having the conversation is the beginning of a change and shift.
“Even though it might feel small, it’s actually a really powerful thing to do – to gather together and to talk about these things and to hear from each other,” she said. “There’s a lot of humanity in it.”