U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley was in Douglas County Saturday afternoon for his first local in-person Town Hall in over 3 years.

Merkley conducted the annual event virtually after the COVID-19 pandemic began. His last local in-person Town Hall was January 2nd, 2020 and was held at Sutherlin High School.

Well over 100 people gathered at the Bonnie J. Ford Health, Nursing and Science Center on the campus of Umpqua Community College for the 1-hour event. Community leaders from a number of areas were among those attending. Some had been part of a private reception with the senator ahead of the Town Hall.

UCC President Dr. Rachael Pokrandt introduced the senator and briefly talked about things happening at the school.

Senator Merkley began by spotlighting the local organization Umpqua Heart. Merkley invited leader Wayne Ellsworth to talk about the group which has focused on helping the homeless in the Sutherlin area. Ellsworth said they have worked with over 100 people and assisted around 50 of them in transitioning from being homeless to a more stable living situation.

Questions for Merkley ranged from ways to trim federal spending in light of the growing budget deficit, to the importance of recycling, to the influence of the Chinese Communist Party. Merkley said Americans who purchase items from China have helped make that nation rich.

In response to a question about U.S. funding to help Ukraine in its war with Russia, Merkley said he supports the use of money in that way. Merkley asked the crowd how many people wanted U.S. support for the nation to continue, and received a strong positive response.

Veterans made a lengthy presentation about their concerns regarding the downsizing of the Roseburg VA Medical Center. Merkley said he stands with them and appeared frustrated with the actions of VA officials. Merkley said given the number of doctors that are approaching retirement age, and a percentage that exited the profession during the pandemic, schools like UCC should accelerate training offered to get more people ready for medical careers.

The meeting was Merkley’s 516th Town Hall since joining the U.S. Senate in 2009. His second Town Hall swing of 2023 wraps up Monday with meetings in Salem, Monmouth and McMinnville.