Clark County agencies urged to team up to fight homelessness

Head of Free Clinic of Southwest Washington speaks at Council for Homeless luncheon

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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As a tip to fight homelessness locally, Barbe West offers this quote: "Getting good players is easy. Getting 'em to play together is the hard part."

That quote by famous baseball manager Casey Stengel sums up what Clark County must do in helping the less fortunate, West said in her keynote address Friday at the Council for the Homeless' annual Hope and Action lunch at the Hilton Vancouver Washington. To reach more people, accomplish more and provide an increasing level of resources, public and private agencies must work together.

Activists and civic leaders may be tempted to see other agencies as competitors for grants, but "if it will improve my overall health of my community, then I might as well engage," she said.

West's speech came after Andy Silver, the council's executive director, told attendees of an upcoming plan to expand the council's shelter clearinghouse in a way that points homeless people to other community resources, such as mental health services, job assistance and other housing services.

As an example of how collaboration has paid off locally, West, the executive director of the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington, offered an anecdote from her agency. Earlier this year, after the clinic was faced with a waiting list of 700 uninsured people needing urgent dental care, the agency decided to pool the resources of local dentists. Initially, 22 dentists expressed interest.

After pooling more resources, including the help of another clinic, a total of 55 dentists signed up to provide free dental care.

"The waiting list of 700 declined to 200," West said.

Without the support of the Clark County Dental Society,

other agencies and dental students at local colleges who also volunteered their services, that couldn't have happened, she added.

She commissioned the crowd to forge more partnerships. "True success is when you can sustain this effort and it becomes part of the community," she said.

The luncheon also served as an awards ceremony for a handful of notable community activists. The awards bestowed at the luncheon included:

• Quiet hero: Sheree Thun, a volunteer with the Council for the Homeless Shelter Clearinghouse. She started volunteering there a year and a half ago, and also has volunteered with the Val Ogden Center for the past 31/2 years.

• Community volunteer: CarolLee Cotter, who assists in teaching Rent Well Tenant Education classes for Second Step Housing. She also works with the Council for the Homeless' community housing program, which pairs renters with landlords to overcome obstacles in finding housing.

• Community supporter: Clyde and Rena Holland and Hopelift. The organization, which stands for Housing of Promise Exists Lifting Individuals and Families in Transition, provides temporary housing and tips in obtaining permanent homes.

• Special recognition: Pete Munroe, community development manager for the Clark County Department of Community Services. He is credited for guiding Clark County programs and beneficiaries to create cost-effective housing services that serve those most in need.

• Community partner: Kate Budd, program coordinator for Clark County Community Services. Budd is also involved in the community as a volunteer for the council's emergency shelter clearinghouse and for the winter housing overflow program. She also teaches financial education classes to low-income people.

Laura McVicker: http://twitter.com/col_courts;http://facebook.com/reportermcvicker;laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.