By editorial board • 

Trying to define the nature of community homelessness

Although it’s difficult to fully define the nature of homelessness in any community, we need to try.

We see homeless people on the sidewalks when we drive by; we read about them in news stories, both uplifting and disheartening; we discuss them in a statistical sense; but addressing homelessness issues requires diverse dialogue and broader views.

Today and in coming weeks, readers will see a series of news and commentary discussing homelessness from a variety of angles. It starts today in Viewpoints with a personalized account by Derek Jones, which began as a letter passed around to friends to further the discussion. “As we connect with each other,” he wrote, “we can find the strength in each other to make McMinnville even better than the great town it is.”

A future Viewpoints cover article by Lee Means, executive director of the Yamhill Community Action Plan, will coincide with release of results from this year’s local homeless count, expected in April. As she states, it will take the combined efforts of all community organizations to reduce the poverty rate to 10 percent by 2020. A passionate core of nonprofits, businesses, individuals and government agencies have made progress, but there’s much more to be done.

Another perspective on homelessness relates to ongoing discussions about people who gather in downtown McMinnville as a mixture of homeless, panhandlers and common loiterers. As always, it’s difficult to extract appropriate discussion of homelessness from the combination of problems created for some downtown businesses.

There have been talks about installing a public bathroom downtown. Salem’s city council has been discussing the issue, too, and Mayor Anna Peterson told the council she was surprised by requests she heard while volunteering this winter: “They didn’t ask me for money. They didn’t ask me for food. They didn’t ask me for a place to live,” she said. “They only asked for toilets.”

The popular saying, “it takes a village,” comes to mind. The efforts range from identifying and tackling big-picture objectives to helping out at the soup kitchen. The list of things to be done to help curb homelessness is broad, and the community discussions must be open, honest and varied.

We hope upcoming articles help spark that discussion, and anyone can participate in the dialogue by sending us letters for publication.

And as Derek Jones shows us in today’s newspaper, progress can be made with an action as simple as sitting down and having a chat.

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