By editorial board • 

Homelessness demands immediate city action

Some 200 people packed McMinnville City Council chambers Tuesday, and 12 stepped to the microphone.

Those representing the homeless community spoke about needing receptacles for both solid and human waste, the desire for more love and a wish the city had displayed better foresight previously to avoid the current situation. Those speaking for the business community and larger public mixed their comments with compassion, but made it clear they feel the city in which they work and play is deteriorating, because of a soaring number of visibly homeless.

That frustration is understandable. Tents and RVs along Dustin Court and Marsh Lane have become grotesque public eyesores. And four tents along Northeast Fourth Street next to True Vine Christian Fellowship intimidate customers at First Federal Savings & Loan.

Local authorities justify their inaction by citing a September ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It declares bans on homeless people sleeping on public property violate the “cruel and unusual punishment” clause of the Eighth Amendment.

City Attorney David Koch insists the ruling doesn’t grant homeless people impunity from prosecution for littering or other violations of city ordinances. Those ordinances are enforced, he contends.

A strong smell along Fourth Street suggests otherwise. Even people living on the streets are taken aback by how rampant drug use is here, they have told the News-Register.

Then there are the reports of frequent sexual abuse occurring among the visibly homeless population. Assaults should be equally detested, investigated and proactively prevented, without regard to economic status.

Authorities must do something — something visible — to clean up the streets. Otherwise, their claims of enforcing the law smell like so much food waste rotting on the sidewalk. And hostility toward the homeless will worsen as a result.

At this point, the most important thing city officials can do is help lower the community’s emotional temperature, which requires improving the visual landscape.

One way might be identifying a more remote place where RVs and tents can be sited without interfering with the rights of others — provided the outliers still have access to transportation.

Perhaps one side of Marsh Lane can be turned into a no-parking, tow-away zone to allow two lanes of traffic again. As youth spring sports increase, confrontations seem imminent at the north entrance of the city’s major Joe Dancer sports complex. 

Authorities also must vigorously and conspicuously enforce littering laws.

Residents of Dustin Court have shown a willingness to police their own trash when given a bin. With bins provided on a regular basis, the situation might improve in the interim.

Overall, the testimony Tuesday was largely cordial, and camps on both sides generally showed an appreciation of the complexity of the issues. McMinnville is one of myriad examples of a West Coast crisis, creating a quagmire of housing needs, drug abuse, mental illness and societal breakdown.

Try as it might, the city cannot fix homelessness. It can only deal with it. 

Hopefully, the city can muster immediate action to calm tensions. That will buy it and its partners time to continue exploring deeper roots and work toward solutions.


Bill B

Another well written editorial!


Marsh Lane should have two yellow curbs end to end. The government is under no obligation to those people who have turned the street into a gypsy camp.

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