By editorial board • 

Soft hearts alone won’t solve homeless issues

The Portland Traction Company carried passengers and freight to and from Portland on 21 miles of Springwater Corridor trackage from 1903 to 1958, and continued to carry freight until 1989.

Sensing a priceless hiking, biking and equestrian opportunity, the 40-Mile Loop Trust successfully advocated for adding the park-studded corridor to a recreational trail loop it was developing around the city. It took decades, but the numerous jurisdictions who had to approve this magnificent new amenity eventually brought it fully to fruition.

The last major link was closed in 2006, when bridges were constructed to span Johnson Creek, Highway 99E and a rail line that continues in use. The final unpaved section was overlain with asphalt in July 2013 at a cost of $1.9 million.

Aided and abetted by well-meaning city officials, this incredible public asset has since been commandeered by an aggressive homeless community blessed with equally aggressive advocates, who have so far succeeded in thwarting what the takeover desperately demands — an eviction and cleanup. 

The classic Hood to Coast Race, which draws thousands of participants and spectators for its run from Mount Hood to the Oregon Coast, had to re-route the Portland leg from its natural course this year. It couldn’t face exposing runners to the squalor that has come to mark the corridor, driving away the taxpayers who funded it.

Think the same fate couldn’t befall McMinnville’s Downtown Historic District or one of the city’s parks? We aren’t so sure, as we see city officials here struggling with the same brand of pushy advocacy.

On Tuesday night, the council promised to begin picking up the tab for a downtown port-a-potty First Baptist Church recently installed to serve the local homeless community — and to consider into replacing the existing economy unit with a handicapped-accessible upgrade. The very next morning, the police scanner brought news of a man forsaking the church’s portable toilet for a more convenient spot to defecate — the stairwell of the downtown parking garage, which receives too much of such use.

Therein lies the dilemma: How much is the rest of the community going to be asked to sacrifice to help a segment that often defies helping?

We are by no means unsympathetic to the needs of those among us reduced to trying to eke out a living on often cold and hostile streets. Our hearts go out particularly to women and children trapped in the seemingly hopeless spiral of homelessness.

But we are not unsympathetic either to the neighbors, merchants and taxpayers of McMinnville, saddled with the painful fallout. City leaders need to respect their hopes, dreams, rights and needs as well, which means governing with minds, not just hearts.

We favor measures like fostering an expanded supply of affordable housing, which get at the root of the problem, over gestures like making the local port-a-potty handicapped-accessible. We would hate to witness a scenario even slightly resembling Springwater Corridor.