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Jeb Bladine: ‘Maintaining a safe, livable environment’

There are many roles in solving the problems of a growing homeless population — local and state government, social service agencies, religious and humanitarian institutions, and volunteer citizens, to name a few.

The challenges are complex; solutions can be expensive and elusive. In McMinnville, we need strong leadership to serve people in need while protecting the community livability and safety.

Situations change when homelessness deteriorates into vagrancy, drugs, malignant loitering, menacing and various criminal behaviors. At that point, there is one primary role-player: city government.

People frustrated by such recent behaviors in downtown McMinnville are demanding a greater sense of urgency from the city. Those people would like to unfurl a large flag displaying the city’s mission statement, which begins: “The City of McMinnville is primarily responsible for maintaining a safe and livable environment within the community.”

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Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

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Only the city can identify and, if necessary, establish, laws that best respond to those behaviors; only the city can aggressively enforce those laws.

Next week, the City Council will hold a work session on comprehensive strategic planning for achieving city goals. Councilors will be at the 10,000-foot level with discussion of relative priorities, philosophy of stakeholder involvement, consulting needs and roles for council involvement. Soon, however, councilors will need to leave the rarefied air of general strategic planning and head for ground zero of the community’s latest livability challenge.

Perhaps results from that work session will help the council fully engage in maintaining a safe and livable environment in the community’s historic downtown living room.

Make no mistake, city officials already are involved in the issue. But the urgency and assertiveness of their response will grow if the community wheel squeaks loud and often.

The newspaper will fulfill its role by writing and encouraging others to write about all aspects of the situation. As those stories and commentaries continue, one ground rule should be a common understanding that people of goodwill are going to disagree about priorities and means of responding to current conditions.

Compassion for people and protection for community livability are not mutually exclusive. However, “a safe and livable environment within the community” must receive high priority if the alternative would turn McMinnville into a regional center not only for homelessness, but for mental illness, vagrancy and illegal behaviors throughout the city’s civic and cultural center.

Turning talk into action will require financial commitments.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

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