By editorial board • 

Prevention as important as reaction to homeless issues

In McMinnville, we don’t need an annual count to identify the scope of homelessness. The need is visible every day, from the downtown core to entryways of the big box stores on the outskirts of town. 

Not to say that the annual count, carried out Wednesday by a collection of local organizations, isn’t important. The end statistic — around 1,000 in recent years — tells the big picture. But the myriad connections made, advice given, supplies distributed and stories told at Wednesday’s count represent many small victories in the ever-present battle to curb homelessness. 

In 2009, Yamhill County adopted its 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness. “Yamhill County has an ambitious goal: Our plan is not to ‘manage’ homelessness, but to end homelessness,” begins the plan’s executive summary. 

With just a couple of years until the deadline, reaching that goal seems entirely unachievable. Despite countless hours of work and many small-scale successes, the homeless population has remained steady or grown in numbers, depending upon the methods of counting. Perhaps it’s time to wave the white flag and start anew. 

Perhaps, too, it’s time for an attitude shift among the non-homeless. Several studies in recent years report that about half of Americans are one bad break away from being homeless themselves: One major medical emergency. One emotional slip into drug addiction. One house catastrophe that causes foreclosure. 
Think about what circumstances it would take for you to become homeless. For some, that security blanket is a down comforter. But for many, its a raggedy throw with weakening seams.

Aside from programs and organizations working to get people off the streets, there also needs to be considerable effort in prevention and preparedness.  
As we increase capacity of temporary and permanent beds, the population at risk of homelessness keeps rising. It’s a cat-and-mouse cycle that has remained steady even as the country comes out of the great recession. An improving economy may mean more jobs and opportunities for those down and out, but it also equates to rising housing prices burdening people trying to claw their way off the streets.

Affordable housing has been a major focus of discussion in recent years. But to date, there seem to be few major ideas or actions. It’s clear that hard work by social service agencies and goodwill from many individuals is not enough to reverse the trend of homelessness.

We need strong leadership and buy-in from a majority of the population. It’s great to think of others in hopes they find a better way. But better that we consider all of us as part of the same set of statistics — people who haven’t yet realized their potentially homeless future. 

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