By editorial board • 

Plenty of work ahead on homeless initiative

After investing generous complements of hard work and good intentions, in the face of relentless pressure from homeless advocates on one side and neighborhood advocates on the other, the McMinnville City Council on Tuesday finally took a pair of concrete actions to reduce homelessness.

It authorized public agencies and private residential, commercial and industrial landowners to begin accepting homeless campers, contingent on a willingness to assume full liability, and to provide sanitation, trash collection and storage services at no charge.

However, unpersuaded critics countered with decidedly negative initial assessments. In fact, the opposing forces seemed to find common ground in declaring nothing of note had been accomplished.

Our own assessment is more nuanced.

The city mounted an almost heroic effort to address the problem. Clearly, its heart is in the right place. But well-meaning intent and effort don’t necessarily produce sound solutions.

The city’s new ordinance creates the framework for a potential solution to one element of the local homeless population — consisting of those willing and able to transition into permanent housing if they could just catch a break. It seemingly will take an outpouring of support from local property owners, in the face of almost certain opposition from their neighbors, for that to be realized.

To its credit, the city is already moving proactively to identify and recruit such private sector partners. But the hurdles remain daunting.

Local churches will be targeted as candidates. Ironically, it was not long ago the homeless issues blew up when downtown churches allowed people to camp on their lawns, providing sanitation, trash collection and storage services in support.

Rural sites promise more space with less potential for neighborhood opposition. But they are under county jurisdiction. Thus far, the county has occupied a couple seats at the table, but has proven no more than a mildly interested bystander. 

As we have said before, we think the city should make a concerted effort to enlist robust county support in a more meaningful way — and the county should willingly make itself available. The city’s new program is modeled after one in which the city of Eugene partners with Lane County.

Curbing the negative impacts of homelessness is a monumental task for the city. Even direct and stern action can have little effect. For instance, the city sought to eliminate a pair of ad hoc RV camps with strict ordinances and stiff fines, but to no effect. Defiant campers remain ensconced on Doran Drive, Marsh Lane and Dustin Court to this day. Also, the ban on camping on city-owned property, except as authorized by the city manager or as allowed under the initiative, may need reversal following a 9th Circuit Court ruling on the issue.

It will be a tough sell to property owners to assume the costs and risk to participate in the new city initiative. The city needs a couple successful pilot sites to prove the program’s capabilities.

If it wants tangible results to show, the city may have to look on some of its own land to provide those initial host locations.

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