GETTING THEIR HEADS AROUND HOMELESSNESS -- La Connerite Marylee Chamberlain, a town council member (in gray), was one of 50-plus Skagit Valley residents learning proceeses for discussing homelessness. Talk across barriers of perspective is a start toward developing solutions. - Photo by Ken Stern
By Wende Sandersen League of Women Voters of Skagit County Joining with the League of Women Voters of Skagit County and the Skagit County Dispute Resolution Center, the Oct. 6 culminating day of the 2018 Civil Discourse series was made possible by support from Skagit County Board of Commissioners, EDASC Foundation and Skagit Publishing. Led by independent dispute resolution professional Mary Dumas the fifty-person group explored the topic of homelessness in Skagit County. Participants explored the many ‘tracks’ in our community which need to be involved in the development of effective sustainable policy – including government, social service organizations, business, private citizens, faith community, advocates, research/training/educational institutions and funders – all interconnected and brought together by media/public opinion. The group discussed the human tendency to rush to solutions without fully considering those voices NOT yet fully represented in our conversations on homelessness. Also evaluated was the varying opinions and assessments of the urgency and the “hotness” of the issue and how those factor into decision-making. As the day went on, Dumas shared tools to support these difficult conversations, to promote authenticity and honesty, while maintaining bridges of respect and trust with those who feel differently. The full audience examined the common ground from four smaller work groups to identify the Hopes, Desires, Concerns, Fears and Needs regarding homelessness in Skagit County that arose in all four groups. At the end of the day, the search for common ground revealed that the policies addressing the issue of homelessness in Skagit County need to include these hopes and desires: Treat people with respect and dignity Seek better public understanding on the cost of poverty Develop opportunities for helping one-to-one Support LOCAL control and participation over funding Work for affordable housing across all income levels. The goal of this discussion and training was not to solve the problem of homelessness in one day, but to explore a process and skills that would be helpful for the community as we work together to seek solutions to this complex human problem.