By editorial board • 

Homeless safety net needs a constructive examination

The commitment shown by Yamhill County Gospel Rescue Mission leaders to the local homeless community is beyond question. Executive Director Kaye Sawyer and Board Chair Dave Haugeberg have invested heart and soul in providing a safe harbor in a supportive environment.

But concerns shared with the city council by the Rev. Mike Burr, pastor at McMinnville First Baptist Church, are equally heartfelt. And they reflect broader concerns that have been brewing in the homeless community for a long time.

While none of the critics are challenging the intent of the mission’s menu of services, they are questioning the delivery — and in ways that suggest further exploration would be in order in an inclusive and collaborative community framework.

Because the mission is a faith-based nonprofit, any such exploration must be voluntary in nature. It cannot be imposed under government authority.

However, mission leaders appear open to engaging in some structured community dialog, if for no other reason than to share their point of view in hopes critics find it persuasive. Clearly, they feel much of the criticism stems from lack of full appreciation of the constraints they have to work under.

The issue triggering Burr’s council intervention was failure of the mission to immediately open its winter shelter facility when temperatures began dropping below freezing for a five-day spell in late October.

He told the council, “The first day, I learned the mission was not open, and ... didn’t plan on opening until Dec. 1 — no matter the temperature.” He said community pressure forced a partial reversal, but he found it grudging and limited.

The broader rap has the mission overly regimented and bureaucratic, not as cheerful and respectful as it might be, and prone to engaging in unwanted proselytizing. It’s not uncommon for local homeless to say they feel better accommodated in the county jail or a sidewalk alcove than the mission, what with its zealous imposition of so many rules and regulations.

In addition to an all-year men’s shelter and all-year women and children’s shelter of about 3,500 square feet each, the mission operates an emergency cold weather shelter of about 1,800 square feet.

The emergency facility has typically sheltered homeless residents from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. from December through March. However, effective Tuesday, it began offering shelter from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. and promised to maintain the expanded hours through the rest of the entire winter this year.

The mission said its emergency shelter would be accommodating vaccinated or crated companion dogs, and waiving the clean and sober rules imposed in the two longer-term facilities. Those figure to be popular inducements, particularly when the only other option is a freezing street or sidewalk.

That’s all well and good, but we still think both providers and clients should be assembled in some fashion for a frank exchange of differing views and exploration of ways they might best be reconciled.

The mission serves a vital role in the community. The more effectively and harmoniously it can fill that role, the better for all concerned.


Web Design and Web Development by Buildable