By editorial board • 

Homeless issues not just the government’s problem

People sometimes enter McMinnville City Council chambers as it were the grand hall of the Great and Powerful Oz, seeking solutions they hope can be magically bestowed. Unfortunately, councils cannot be wizards. The good news is many local people have the brains, heart and nerve to help solve their own problems.

There are times, of course, when the city must take the lead, as pointed out today's column by Publisher Jeb Bladine.

Several citizens attended the July 11 council meeting to insist the council take action about homelessness issues. Interestingly, the situation improved this month with very little official city action.

Many complaints about homeless people arise from their presence along First Street near the Baptist and Presbyterian churches. That problem was alleviated over the Fourth of July when the Presbyterian congregation closed its courtyard to everyone — homeless of not — until July 17. Members of the Baptist church employed sharper rules for people hanging out on their grounds. This was in the wake of removing a portable toilet in the church parking lot.

Homeless people didn’t magically disappear. Some still linger near the churches and along downtown streets. Many just shifted to less visible locations. Shooing many of them away from their more conspicuous hangouts doesn’t provide long-term solutions. Nevertheless, it addresses some of the immediate concerns raised by downtown merchants who are upset about the effect homeless people have on their business environment.

Those changes occurred because business owners, church leaders and citizens at large reached a boiling point with the the status quo, and did what they could to help mitigate the situation. At most, police city maintenance crews chased off some of the squatters camped at the city-owned parking structure.

With all that happened last week, people still attended the council this week to demand action. Are there things councilors can do? Certainly. However, the city cannot simply give all street people a literal bums’ rush.

Homelessness defies convenient solutions. Homeless people often have mental illness and addiction issues. We cannot extend the homeless a toilet and a few other kindnesses and expect them to magically transform into people without mental illness and addiction issues. More low-income housing won’t spark that magical transformation, either.

Remember, too, that homeless people may be unsightly, but it is harder to be a homeless person than it is to look at one. However, the high concentration downtown of homeless and sometimes simply vagrant street people has caused many to reach the threshold of their compassion.

Organizations and individuals need to define their roles and sail into the task with the same kind of zeal demanded of the city council. People often say the homeless should take responsibility for improving their situations and not look for freebies and government handouts; the same can be said of communities in general.

City government, while necessarily responding to legal and safety issues, needs citizen help to address local homelessness needs.


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