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Council Corner: Mayor is on the right track

A recent Council Corner column criticized Mayor Stromberg’s idea to look outside and bring in another service organization to Ashland to help us in addressing the ongoing problem of homelessness and poverty in our community. The mayor invited the Bay Area-based Downtown Street Team to Ashland to see if their model of helping homeless improve their lives through work, support and self-reliance could be part of the solution for us.

The Downtown Street Team is a well-run organization with a model that supports the dignity of the individual, empowers them to take control of their lives and to be part of the solution. To date, they have expanded into four cities and helped several individuals who were trapped in homelessness to escape poverty. The Downtown Streets Team has had an enormous impact on the communities they serve.

Seeking a new way to approach a problem that Ashland has struggled with for years and is only increasing in severity, Mayor Stromberg has led the charge in looking beyond our Ashland bubble and reached out to an organization that has a proven track record. He should not be criticized for this. He should be supported by all of us committed to help those in need, especially by our community’s leaders who seek to make a positive impact.

Ashland is a wonderful place with a generous and caring community, but we certainly have the tendency to be insular in our thinking, assuming that no one has the answer but us. If re-inventing the wheel was a sport, we may lead the league at times.

This type of thinking that prioritizes maintaining control over progress only ensures the same results we have come to expect and keeps us from moving forward as a community and a society with ideas. Now is the time to look outward with an open mind, to not be satisfied and instead see what ideas have worked in other communities, what ideas have failed and to learn so that we can truly effect change. Instead, some are trying to draw territorial lines, as if “turf” were more important than addressing the needs of others.

As a person who has been involved in the leadership of human service-based nonprofit work for many years, I can say unequivocally that the key to maximizing the community’s network of service-based nonprofits’ ability to help those in need is not territorial competition but robust collaboration. We need to be clear as a community that, in our desire to help those most vulnerable, we want our government leaders and our service organizations to seek innovation, welcome a diversity of ideas, accept the fact that we do not have all the answers and be open enough to invite others into our community who may be able to help. The goal should be to find solutions, regardless of whom or where the idea came from.

Mayor Stromberg is on the right track in his efforts to look beyond Ashland to seek new ways of solving an old problem and to bring more collaboration between nonprofit and service organizations to do so. Our community and its leaders should not see this as a threat to influence or power, but as an opportunity to move the ball forward and help those who need it most.

Greg Lemhouse is a member of the Ashland City Council.