Opportunities for Success
Organization’s executive director seeks ways to help those in need
By Rodger Nichols
Kenny LaPoint has spent his career finding ways to help people. His latest post is as executive director of the Mid-Columbia Community Action Council—a nonprofit that offers programs and services to ensure vulnerable community members have access to healthy, safe, stable, and affordable housing.
Originally from Southern California, Kenny has lived in Oregon for 17 years. His wife, Suzannah, is a native Oregonian.
Before recently moving to Mosier, Kenny worked for the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department—the state agency that funds all the homeless service programs, energy programs, and weatherization programs for the state.
“Anywhere in the state except for Portland, if you see an affordable housing development, it is very likely that the Oregon Housing and Community Service has helped pay for it,” Kenny says.
Kenny was the public affairs director there for about six years but also spent about a year overseeing the division that runs the homeless service energy assistance and weatherization programs.
Kenny says that experience gave him a clear understanding of what criteria the agency uses to determine requests for funding, which has already come in handy. Recently, he successfully obtained a $3.1 million Emergency Solutions grant from the agency.
Part of those funds will be used to operate the pallet homes shelter set up on city property after the previous houseless shelter closed due to the pandemic. Everyone had been sleeping in one large room.
The pallet homes sleep two in separate freestanding structures, which were brought in last fall when the temperature dropped. This spring, when temperatures rose again, there were fears the project would have to close because there was no longer a cold weather emergency, and city codes had no provisions for such structures unless there was an emergency.
Fortunately, it was discovered the pallet homes were sitting on city rights-of-way where the zoning laws don’t apply and, thus, can remain. That discovery was fortunate because some of the people staying there were medically fragile and had nowhere else to go.
But that is not true for all of the people at the shelters. MCCAC and others have been able to find permanent housing for seven people who had been staying there.
Kenny makes a point of referring to folks as “houseless people” rather than “homeless people.” He says “homeless” has a negative connotation to many people, and it’s not entirely accurate. The term might make their spaces sound illegitimate. Besides houses and apartments, humans have many other places where they sleep, store things, get comfortable, and gather in the community.
Kenny says the programs available through MCCAC come in three main categories.
“Those core program areas are housing, utility bill payment assistance, and weatherization,” he says.
Under the first category, MCCAC funds operation of the pallet homes site in The Dalles and a similar program in Hood River.
“Our goal is to get people into permanent housing and provide them with the case management and supportive services that they need to be successful in that housing,” Kenny says. “When it comes to households that have been impacted by COVID-19, we’re trying to ensure they’re not going to lose their housing, particularly when the eviction moratorium runs out. We want to make sure that households have access to dollars to pay their rent.
“Today, we’re closing in on $2 million in rent assistance that’s been paid on behalf of families in the Mid-Columbia region, which includes Sherman, Wasco, and Hood River counties.”
The utility bill-assistance program has expanded beyond the former practice of just helping with the electric bill.
“We’re able to assist people in broader areas of utility bill-pay assistance,” Kenny says. “That includes gas bills, and we’re partnering with the cities of Hood River and Mosier to pay water bills for folks.”
But that’s not all.
“In the wintertime, we work with Wasco County to provide residents in the region with firewood, if they heat their homes off of firewood,” Kenny says.
The weatherization program provides funds for projects, including insulating a home, installing new double-pane windows, or bringing in new energy-efficient appliances, which helps not only the environment but the household budget.
Kenny says he gets a great deal of satisfaction out of his work. He believes that to whom much is given, much is expected.
“I hold that expectation to heart,” he says, “and make it my everyday mission to create opportunities for people to be successful.”
Kenny says when he and Suzannah are not working, they head for the outdoors.
“My wife’s a health and nutrition coach, and I’m a rafter,” Kenny says. “We do lots of hiking and mountain biking. I love being on rivers, and this region really caught my eye because of all the close opportunities. Every weekend for the past six or seven months, we’ve gone out and made it a point to find a different waterfall and go hike to it. We’ve really taken advantage of that.”