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Jeb Bladine: Time to move the sidewalk bedroom

McMinnville is experiencing some fallout from political correctness. Uncomfortable with offensive labels, we have created a homogeneous concept known as “The Homeless.” Compassion for human life drives our desire to help people in distress, but many are asking if those efforts are helping, or enabling.

There is justifiable concern that we risk local quality of life by allowing downtown sidewalk bedrooms and open-air bathrooms. Those concerns evolve into anger, and even fear, from aggressive panhandling and streetside confrontations.

There are people living on our streets who would welcome appropriate assistance. Some homeless people are temporarily down and out; others are mentally ill, drug addicted or both. The community has to determine how many resources it can commit to those needs.

At the same time, there are vagrants, drifters, beggars and street people who have gravitated here from other areas. Some communities have made themselves less inviting to those people through aggressive enforcement of laws; some communities, when criticized for actions that just move the problems elsewhere, respond with an admission that it’s all they can do.

Whatchamacolumn

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

> See his column

The situation in McMinnville has the attention of city officials, who have been talking quietly about creation of a diverse citizen group to study and make recommendations. It won’t be an easy task to consider expensive, long-range needs for housing and social services while responding to the immediate need to change circumstances in the downtown area.

Here’s one area of agreement I hope emerges quickly within such a community group: Our downtown cannot continue to be a haven for panhandling, graffiti “artists,” sidewalk dormitories, threatening behavior and criminal conduct. If actions to dramatically reduce those activities simply move the problems elsewhere, then for now, so be it.

McMinnville has devoted too much time and money in downtown development over the past century to stand idly by as life in the district deteriorates. The community has devoted enormous efforts into making McMinnville a welcome place for visitors, but much of that can be undone in the blink of an eye through viral social media reflecting “new experiences” for those visitors.

Hopefully, those sentiments will not be seen as mercenary or heartless. There must be room at the citizen table for both sides of compassion – concern for people in need, and resolve to protect the lifestyle of a community.

It won’t be easy, as city officials know. But it’s time to start.

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

Comments

Jim

Jeb this is one of your best column's ever. I agree if we don't do something in a hurry our normally quiet little town will be out of control . There are people and businesses looking for help and our unemployment rates are the lowest in years so it's time to get off the street and go to work.

Don Dix

There are those in Mac who would like this city to mimic the Metro area -- and now we have our own Springwater Trail emerging on 1st Street -- intentions and consequences are familiar bedfellows!

Jeb Bladine

I like that phrase about intentions and consequences, Don ... it's a comment that likely will come up in various forms as this issue unfolds. Here's a related, long version I found online: "The paradox of causing harm when we offer help seems to be an inherent feature of human civilization and progress. The side-effects of our actions are always unpredictable."

Joel2828

Spot on, Jeb! Thanks for having the courage to boldly speak the truth...and in a thoughtful and kind way.

Don Dix

Jeb,
Remember the bypass discussions (Hwy 18) -- the parking structure vs a bridge across the Willamette -- the street trees downtown -- Walker Flats reservoir -- etc.

All decisions based on good intentions don't necessarily produce positive (or the best) consequences. For example, Oregon's land use laws have saved farmland (great!), and astronomically raised the price of buildable land (not so great!).

It will be interesting how the homeless situation will be resolved. But some will not approve of the method or the consequences.

Mudstump

All efforts seem like a bandaid when there is no mental health infrastructure in place to actually help these people. Fund mental hospitals like we used to and get these people into treatment or institutionalized if necessary. Triage the homeless population and sift out the folks that just need a hand up to get a job from those that need mental health treatment.

Bizzyditchaz

The hard work the Downtown Assc has done to make Mac the great place to live and visit is being quickly undone by ignoring this rapidly growing issue.

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