BEND, OR — Central Oregon’s first Civic Assembly will meet this fall to discuss solutions to youth homelessness.The Central Oregon Civic Action Project (COCAP) is looking for 30 people to participate.

“We’re trying to reach as much of the Deschutes County community as possible, so we sent out 12,500 invitation letters,” said COCAP Executive Director Josh Burgess. He tells KBND News that they were sent to random addresses: “We don’t want to give the impression that we’re having a hand in choosing who’s involved. And once those people get these mailings, anyone in the household who’s 16 or older can respond.” The invitations also ask for demographic information, to ensure that the meeting represents a cross-section of the county. Another 250 invitations were sent to shelters so that members of the homeless community could attend.

Burgess says this first meeting is a pilot project to see who chooses to attend and how local governments use the group’s recommendations. The topic has been carefully chosen, “IIt’s probably no mystery to people in the area that this is a challenge across the region and the state. But what a lot of people may not know is that we actually have one of the highest rates of youth homelessness in the state and even the country.”

Members of the Assembly receive compensation for their time, transportation and childcare.”Some people don’t want to participate in this, and that’s fine,” Burgess says, “But too often the people who have access to government are always the same people — the ones who have the resources and the time, or maybe the occasional angry enough to show up at a city council meeting. We want to give more people that opportunity.”

In August, 30 people will be selected from the responses. TThey will hear experts for two days in September, and then they will meet again in October to make recommendations. “Their role will shift to becoming a decision-making body. They will actually deliberate on what they think the priorities should be.” He adds, “It’s facilitated by professional moderators, but it’s really a kind of small legislature or a small council.”

At least 75% of the group must agree with the recommendations. Burgess says local officials have agreed to consider what is published by the meeting.