Kenny LaPoint is the Housing and Resident Services Director for Housing Works (Central Oregon’s Regional Housing Authority) and Families Forward. He has 6 years of social service and non-profit experience as well as 11 years in the real estate industry. Kenny also serves as the Co-Chair of Central Oregon’s Homeless Leadership Coalition; he sits on the City of Bend’s Affordable Housing Committee, is an Executive Committee member of NAHRO (National Association of Housing Redevelopment Officials) and is the Board Chair for Icon City, a Central Oregon non-profit organization.
KW: Can you share some basic statistics on homelessness in Central Oregon and how they compare to other areas of the country?
KL: The national rate of homelessness is at about 20 homeless individuals per 10,000. As of 2011 the Central Oregon population is approximately 216,510 so if we were at the national average we would have approximately 433 homeless persons in Central Oregon. Central Oregon’s homeless rate is more than five times that of the national average with 2,192 individuals counted in 2013.
KW: What is a story that make these numbers more real?
KL: Data as a whole is just that. Data. It is only real if you put some perspective to it. Each of these numbers equals a child, a woman, a man, a father, a mother, a brother, a sister and/or a friend. When we extract data and try to determine what the numbers themselves mean, the overall outlook becomes near worthless. Then we start chasing a reduction in numbers rather than looking to reach out a hand to help another human being. God calls us to love in a way that is unconditional and does not have anything to do with whether or not that person fits into the data set that we are trying to reduce. To me the number says that there are a lot of people in Central Oregon that are lacking in resources and hope. Who will bring hope to the poor and needy and how will it come to them?
KW: What misperceptions do people have about homelessness and homeless people?
KL: Common misconceptions are that there is this one sized fits all picture of homelessness, like a guy with a cardboard sign saying “down on my luck, anything will help”. In reality, this is a very small percentage of the homeless population—probably close to 5% of the total homeless population fits this criteria. Many of the homeless in Central Oregon do what they can to hide. There are 914 total homeless youth in Central Oregon. That is nearly equal to the combined attendance of Buckingham and Pine Ridge Elementary schools. Our homeless friends are right next to us. They are sitting next to our kids in school. Their moms are dropping them off at school, right behind you in the parking lot. Driving the same car that they slept in last night. Most of the time they go unnoticed. Have you noticed?
KW: What inspires you in the work you do?
KL: To him who much has been given, much is expected. God has saved me from so much that my response should be nothing less than to defend the cause of the fatherless and plead the case of the widow (Isaiah 1:17). Isaiah 1 is great reading on justice. God has given Isaiah a vision in which He is very upset with Judah and Jerusalem. The passage shows how God took care of His people and they did not follow His instruction to advocate for the less fortunate. God gives Isaiah a view of cities that use to be righteous but now they do not defend the fatherless and ignore the cause of the widow. To not do these things is a great injustice in God’s eyes and it needs to be in mine as well. I am not perfect at this. Sometimes I find myself ignoring injustice and I need to be put in check. I need to be reminded that my life is a but a vapor and my purpose is to uphold justice for the needy.
KW: What does the work of Icon City do to help in Central Oregon?
KL: Icon City was created for the community, by the community. Our main mission is to bring awareness to urgent needs and social injustice. We have done this by first going out to the community and finding out how poverty is impacting the most vulnerable. That’s what led to the creation of the BeRemedy Text Line. We found that through social media and text messaging we could send needs out to the community and initiate responses through the same text line. By simply texting the word “ICON” to 80565, you will be signed up to receive a text message, once per week, with a need in the community. You can then respond to that text with the word “GIVE” and we will contact you to coordinate a delivery of the item.
Icon City also found that the inability for homeless folks to take showers was a big problem. It is not easy to find a job when you have not showered in days. With Central Oregon winters being so cold, the river can only be used to clean off for a few months of the year. And that just is not quite the same thing as taking a warm shower. In response to that we built a shower truck that goes out into the community and provides around 50 showers per week to those experiencing homelessness. Icon City also serves meals to the homeless every Sunday at 2pm in downtown Bend. This has been a consistent service that has been offered since 2009.
Biggest of all, Icon City breaks down the walls of bureaucracy, bringing organizations together to better help those in need.
KW: What is the difference between equality and justice as you see it?
KL: Equality is an interesting notion to me. It has many false assumptions within it. Equality in man (and woman; did you see how that was inequality?) does not really exist in wholeness. In fact, God created us this way. We are all given different looks, personalities and experiences that make us all unequal to one another. Some of these experiences can put one person in completely different social classes than another. One person can be unequal to another but both can thrive. That is justice. Justice does not consider looks, personalities and experiences or history. Justice says that even though there are inequalities between us, I will rectify wrongs that have been done to you. I will ensure that you have sufficient access to the resources you need to thrive. I cannot provide anyone with access to resources that will create equality between myself and them.
KW: What can everyday people do to help with homelessness? What is a good way to take action?
KL: Volunteer with a local non-profit organization. Don’t just do anything but pick something that excites you and that you are passionate about. Use the skills and knowledge you have in your volunteering. Volunteering is extremely effective when done this way and it will keep you engaged. For some people, volunteering to serve food is what they love. For some it is helping an organization with its website. For some it may be helping to plan fundraisers or being involved on boards. Find what excites you and bring your talents to the table.
Advocate for the less fortunate. Create awareness within your own social circles. If everyone were to do this it would create a ripple affect in the community (both locally and nationally).
PRAY…ask God to give you a passion to serve the most vulnerable in our community and ask him to give you wisdom in how you serve.
Oh, and you can text the word “ICON” to 80565 and join the movement. Be the Remedy!