• Eugene Weekly Loves You!
Share |

Celebrating Veterans Housing in the Shadow of Trump

'At the end of the day, I'm not looking for national leadership to fix Eugene or Springfield's problems. This is about community. This is about all of us.' - Terry McDonald, Executive Director St. Vincent de Paul. Photo: Trask Bedortha
'At the end of the day, I'm not looking for national leadership to fix Eugene or Springfield's problems. This is about community. This is about all of us.' - Terry McDonald, Executive Director St. Vincent de Paul. Photo: Trask Bedortha

When First Lady Michelle Obama issued her “Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness” in 2014, Eugene stepped up to the plate, setting a goal of getting 365 of Lane County’s military vets into homes — an average of one per day for a year — through a broad coalition of local government and nonprofit agencies working together to secure funding and real estate.

Eugene knocked it out of the park, exceeding its goal by housing 404 veterans in the span of a year. According to St. Vincent de Paul Executive Director Terry McDonald, who participated in the challenge, you can hold that number up to a much larger city like Portland (around 600 vets housed) to understand the success of the local effort.

“Lane County’s effort was quite remarkable, given the size of our community,” McDonald says of Eugene’s Operation 365, spearheaded by the county’s Poverty and Homelessness Board. “This community stands out pretty much everywhere as an example of what you can do when you have the political and nonprofit sectors working together to achieve the common good.”

In fact, the success of local efforts led to an invitation to the White House for the Eugene coalition. Last week, McDonald — along with Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy, Lane County Commissioner Pat Farr and Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz — attended a convention of community leaders from around the country who participated in Michelle Obama’s initiative.

According to McDonald, there was “an undertone of sadness and tension” at the Nov. 14 White House gathering, as the Obama administration hands off leadership to President-elect Donald Trump and his team of alt-righties — a fact that has many wondering about the future of progressive programs such as veteran housing (along with the fate of the nation as a whole). In a sense, this was “Joe [Biden] and Michelle’s last hurrah,” McDonald said of the atmosphere of uncertainty.

And yet, McDonald indicates that Lane County’s mission of assisting the needy remains clear. “This is not a time for us all to be looking back in sadness and in fear,” he says, noting that an issue like veterans housing is not a partisan issue. Rather, it’s a community issue that affects everyone.

“We don’t dwell on the problem as much as we try to fix it,” McDonald says of the effort by SVdP and other agencies to end homelessness. “There may be trepidation about what’s coming down the line, but this community and this organization are going to continue to plow the field.”

McDonald says that, Trump or not, there are clear problems to work on at the local level. “You can run around in fear, but the reality is I have a world to live in,” he says. “At the end of the day, I’m not looking for national leadership to fix Eugene or Springfield’s problems. This is about community. This is about all of us.”