Wyden talks homelessness, shutdown

Sen. Ron Wyden answers a question from one of the nearly 150 constituents gathered at the Lincoln City Cultural Center on Sat. Jan. 5. (Photos by Stephanie Blair)

LINCOLN CITY — It was standing-room-only at the Lincoln City Cultural Center on Saturday, where nearly 150 constituents had gathered for a town hall meeting with U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden. Topics ranged from local to global issues, homelessness in Lincoln County to relations with Saudi Arabia. The senator also used the town hall to inform those in attendance of some of his ongoing and upcoming legislation.

According to Wyden, this was his 916th town hall since becoming a senator in 1996. This is a point of pride for the elected official, who was presented the day before with an award for holding the most town hall meetings of any member of congress. Throughout the meeting, Wyden was well received by the majority of the crowd, drawing regular laughs and applause.

In our county

More than one citizen brought up the prevalence of homelessness in Lincoln County. One woman, who identified as an independent brought it up as a means to discuss immigration, stating that there are many ill and needy immigrants coming to America and she wondered how we can provide for them when our own community is struggling to provide for all of its citizens here.

“We have, here in Lincoln City, many homeless school-age children … seniors who don’t have homes,” the woman said, her voice choked with emotion. “How can we take more people here?”

Wyden began by thanking the woman for speaking, but made clear that he believed “we go off the rails when you pit one vulnerable group against another.” He continued that it was important to him that strength and perfect health were not requirements to immigrate, because his father — a Jew coming to America in the 1930s to escape Hitler, and then enlisted to aid the American war effort — would not have passed such a test.

Another woman, who also identified as an independent, stated that there are a great number of homelessness services in our county run by great volunteers. This prompted Wyden to comment that many religious and non-profit groups are eligible for write-offs, and that he works to protect those opportunities.

In speaking with the press after the meeting, Wyden laid out more plans of how he plans to help relieve the homelessness problem in our country — though he commented that “there are a lot of pieces to the homelessness puzzle.”

“In this upcoming session of the Senate, I’m going to try to reconfigure the low-income housing tax credit,” said Wyden. “Which is a principle way of providing housing services for people who haven’t had shelter — homeless and the like — and put in it, for the first time, communal kinds of dining and recreation, so as to speak to this kind of question of feeling that there can be a little bit of a sense of community inside low-income housing … Also, because of my position on the finance committee, I’m responsible for trying to make sure that Medicaid — which is the principle way folks who are homeless and low-income get health care — isn’t taken away. And the Trump people have tried to do that repeatedly.”

Across the country

In answering the first question of the day — whether the wall was the answer to America’s border control issue — Wyden stated, “I oppose, and oppose strongly, this wall.”

A different solution, which Wyden supports strongly, is a bipartisan bill that was previously put forth by President George W. Bush and Ted Kennedy.

“About 65 of us voted for it in the Senate, and part of the problem was that we couldn’t get it passed in the House,” said Wyden. “It contained billions of dollars for border security, for every imaginable kind of technology and fence and people — but no wall.”

The bill also stated that undocumented citizens who have not committed other crimes, show a proficiency in English and who come forward voluntarily, can “go to the end of the citizenship line” after paying a fine.

“We still ought to do it,” said Wyden. “It’s still the way to move forward.”

As for the government shutdown, which has resulted from a standoff between Congress and President Trump on the matter of funding the border wall, Wyden said that he has seen people both for and against the wall who all agree that the shutdown needs to end, and then negotiations should continue.

The shutdown was a recurring topic throughout the meeting, with a furloughed government employee coming forward to tell Wyden, “There should not be a single penny for that wall, at all. I would like to see … the White House held accountable, and I’d like to see our laws changed so that this cannot happen again.”

When another citizen asked how another government shutdown can be prevented, Wyden stated instead that, “There is no way that a current Congress can bind a future Congress.”

Another recurring concern was about protecting Robert Mueller, so that he can continue his investigation. Wyden promised to ensure that a copy of Mueller’s report will be made public once released — though, he acknowledged, it may have to be a redacted version for the sake of national security. But another question was left unanswered by the senator.

“Should that investigation (by Mueller) indicate that there was criminal activity, is there either the will of the Congress or the judiciary to act on that?” asked one constituent.

“Nixon walked from his crimes, Reagan walked from Iran-Contra, Bush Jr. walked from torture — is Trump going to walk?” asked another.

In neither case did Wyden directly answer the constituents, though he did restate his commitment to supporting and seeing the investigation through.

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