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Congresswoman visits St. Helens to talk housing and veterans issues with constituents in her district

Kelsey Brayton distinctly remembers Christmas morning.

"These people brought so much stuff to our house ... pillows, blankets, towels, things that you can't afford to replace all the time," she recalled.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Kelsey Brayton of St. Helens tells the story of how CAT helped her family as they struggled to feed and house four children. Brayton was one of the guest speakers during a visit from Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici.Brayton and her boyfriend were struggling to house and feed their four children. Kelsey thought her family would just go without on the holiday, but instead, her household was given basic comforts like pillows, which she says made all the difference.

The holiday care package was one of many services provided by Community Action Team of Columbia County.

The organization helps struggling families and veterans who need assistance.

"We went from feeding three people to feeding six," Brayton explained, describing how she and her boyfriend were trying to stay afloat with four very young children, all under the age of 10, on her boyfriend's $11 an hour salary.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, pictured on the far right, discusses housing and veterans issues Wednesday, July 5 with constituents at the Community Action Team offices in St. Helens. Bonamici heard success stories, but she also heard concerns about federal programs for veterans that she vowed to relay to others in Congress.

Brayton shared her story with U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Beaverton, who paid a visit to the CAT office Wednesday, July 5, to talk with constituents and employees at CAT about housing and veterans issues.

Since CAT stepped in to help, Brayton says her family is much better off and no longer relies on CAT's assistance .

"It feels really good to not have to be on food stamps anymore," Brayton said, tears welling up in her eyes. "They got us into a different apartment. ... We've been able to pay off thousands of dollars worth of debt. We were able to buy a family vehicle."

"It's really meaningful to hear you tell this story, but it's also inspiring to hear you say you're at a point where you won't need those services," Bonamici told Brayton.

Bonamici underscored the importance of social assistance programs like CAT's, but said she feared how things like healthcare, meal programs for children and other safety net programs that keep vulnerable populations from spiraling into poverty might be impacted by the latest proposed federal budget.

"The budget that was put out by the Trump administration ... does not align with my values and priorities," she told constituents. "As we go through that budget process, please know that I will be advocating for those programs."

As the congresswoman discussed programs in her district, which includes Columbia County, she also listened as CAT employees talked about housing shortages and veterans issues.

Paul Wagner, a Columbia County veteran who found himself living in a camper, sharing space with homeless people, said he is now in stable housing thanks to the help of veterans assistance from CAT.

"I'm not too good with paperwork," Wagner acknowledged, detailing how Russ Clark, a county veterans outreach specialist with CAT, helped him file the right paperwork to qualify for veterans housing assistance.

"We were able to get him in stable housing," Clark said. But Clark also told Bonamici of several hurdles he faces with the federal VA program, saying even initiating a medical benefits status change using the online process can take years to process.

Clark also said the county lacks sufficient available housing for veterans.

"We have VASH vouchers, but I have a feeling we're going to end up giving some money back," Clark said.

"That's one area that does get bipartisan support is veterans issues," Bonamici said, noting she would convey Clark's concerns to her colleagues who oversee veterans issues.

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