By editorial board • 

Issues with vagrants need prompt actions

Debate at the McMinnville City Council’s annual goal-setting session last month led to a shift in one of its objectives from combating homelessness to fostering more affordable housing.

The timing wasn’t great, as problems associated with downtown vagrancy have escalated over the winter. It’s an issue that demands action of some kind on the part of the city and its governing council.

To be clear, we are in no way admonishing the council for its decision to focus resources on affordable housing, an issue that needs addressing around the nation.

Smaller communities must do what they can through policymaking and community-building. To the extent they succeed, that serves to help reduce the homeless population, which is one of the rationales the council used in its goal-setting decision.

The city also must address the escalating conflict some vagrants are causing in the city’s downtown living room, which may require council action as well.

There is a long history of downtown McMinnville merchants, employees, visitors and residents being confronted with lewd or criminal behavior. For the most part, it has stemmed from crowds of young people congregating in doorways or gathering on street corners to thumb their noses at authority.

A surge in such behavior in recent years sparked an expansion of the city’s park ranger program to the downtown core as well, and that’s had some positive results. As warmer spring and summer days approach — always the peak time for downtown socializing — we’re bound to witness another influx of this population.

The blame for recent wintertime issues lies largely with an older population proving equally resistant to authority. It also needs addressing.

This isn’t about homelessness per se. It’s about a portion of the local homeless population prone to breaking into vehicles, urinating or defecating on private property and shooting up in alleyways.

Many of the perpetrators are dealing with personal demons stemming from mental illness or substance abuse. It doesn’t take much for that mix to become volatile, affecting everyone around them, including more respectful members of the homeless population.

Tourism is a mainstay in downtown McMinnville, and a growing vagrant problem will automatically have a negative impact. We can’t afford to develop an unsavory reputation among prospective visitors.

Let’s not forget the city’s per capita homeless count exceeds that of Portland, known for rampant issues in that area.

The safety of the community and sanctity of the environment in which we live, play and work is a consideration deserving equal weight. The city needs to ensure the safety of its own residents, too, not just the visitors fueling its tourist economy downtown.

We can’t afford to allow the actions of a few define the reputation of an entire population. If the problems aren’t halted, they will surely worsen and spread as we move into the warmer, drier spring and summer months.

The city’s hand is going to be forced on this issue. We hope it will act swiftly and fairly.

 

Comments

Paul

Yes - to inviting tourists to Mac and receiving tourist money.
No - to welcoming vagrants to Mac and supporting their expenses and costs with our city money.

Michael

Panhandling on 3rd Street creates an intimidating environment for tourists and locals alike. Is this what McMinnville wants to be known for?

Trafik

On the bright side, "Caring for Oregon's Favorite Urinal" will be an easier endeavor than celebrating one of the state's most vibrant main streets and all the pesky upkeep which goes along with that.

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