As our earth becomes colder, and the days become shorter, an overlooked population seeks refuge on the margins of our society. The homeless population in our city is a diverse pool of individuals whose voices are often stigmatized with negative connotations. With nearly 1,500 people experiencing homelessness in Marion and Polk County––according to the annual Point-in-Time count––various local pundits claim homelessness in Salem is the single greatest issue we face as a community. While some attempt to run from the situation at hand, there are others who gaze into the face of uncertainty and offer grassroots solutions.
Ashley Hamilton, Program Director of the ARCHES Project, is a woman on a mission. Her goal, along with her colleagues, is to create, and manage, programs which benefit the homeless community of Marion and Polk county. During the day, one can find Ashley on the front lines interacting with homeless folks, working to communicate a clear message, simultaneously maintaining a warm smile throughout her interactions. A job as thankless as this requires discipline, perseverance, and a heart that is dedicated to the process.
“The shining moments in my job aren’t daily, but they definitely fill my cup for long periods of time,” explains Ashley. “I needed to know that I was acting with integrity and purpose, and that the organization that I was working with had a heart for doing what they set out and said they were going to do.”
Hamilton is one of many selfless professionals who engage the homeless community head-on. Her desire to connect with the individuals who are most vulnerable, to those which society has written off as being “too dangerous and too loud”, is one that precedes all else.
“Society is just waiting for them to disappear,” explains Hamilton. “When we work with that person and that person has their moment of success, whether it’s starting the housing process at the coordinated entry level or simply finding a job––just helping that person achieve their moment––that’s huge.”
Hamilton’s engagement with this population has given her the opportunity to ask the difficult questions most of us don’t dare to ponder. The answers she finds continue to drive her towards the altruistic mindset one must harbor in order to digest the day-to-day stories she listens to.
“What if today you’re going to get things stolen from you? If you’re a woman, are you going to get raped today? Where am I going to eat? What do I do about the cockroaches I’ve got living in my hair? How do you expect someone to be thankful, or to be happy, or positive when they have these really fundamental concerns that we can’t even fathom?”
While the personal traits of determination and compassion are inherently instilled in Hamilton’s character, they are not in short supply at Community Action Agency, rather they are cultivated in the hearts of their staff.
Tricia Frizzell is the Program Director for Community Action’s Home Youth Services, a role that displays her internal devotion to patience, endurance and servant leadership.
“I feel like one of my callings in life is to serve those that are really in need, and I have a heart for those that often get pushed aside and looked over,” shares Frizzell. “I work with an often-forgotten population, and that makes me love them and fight for them even harder.”
Frizzell oversees the two main programs of the youth services branch of CAA, a drop-in day shelter and a youth empowerment program. The day shelter is located at 25 Union St NE in Salem. It is open 365 days a year, the only local youth program able to promote that availability.
A second youth facility, known as Taylor’s House, is a full-service 24-hour shelter for minor youth, and housed in a large three-story establishment. Opening on December 14th, 2018, and built using a home-style model, its foundation is stable and ambiance cozy. Taylor’s house is supplied with a food pantry, large kitchen, showers, laundry rooms, clothing, hygiene and school supplies, computer and recreation room, and sleeping rooms. When walking the halls, entering the rooms, and visiting with the youth whose outward smiles hide generational pain beneath, one can’t help but be moved by the experience of it all.
Tricia’s true passion resides here amongst the youth.
“My favorite part of my job is hanging out with the kiddos,” says Frizzell. “They have dubbed me Mama Bear.”
Frizzell cherishes the times when she gets to cook for the youth, put-on makeup and paint her nails with the girls, or simply be with them.
“It makes the political side and the admin side worth it,” explains Frizzell. “You really get back to your bare bones and why you’re doing what you’re doing.”
Frizzell and Hamilton are both advocates for the cooperation between Community Action Agency and the business community; they staunchly believe that our missions are not mutually exclusive.
“The business community is probably one of our largest advocates for solving homelessness,” states Hamilton. “I think people on the peripheral assume that we are at odds with each other, but I feel like that is the complete opposite.”
“We as businesses, non-profits, government, and the people that are living this, carry a collective heartache,” says Frizzell. “We’ll all get through it together.”
With individuals like Ashley and Tricia, light appears to be overtaking the darkness. The battle to end homelessness in our community is a horizon that ceases to be labeled elusive.