By editorial board • 

Helping the homeless helps everyone in crisis

Multnomah County authorities announced Tuesday they will open hundreds of new shelter beds in public buildings throughout Portland to help control the spread of the coronavirus among the homeless population.

With Yamhill County commissioners declaring a state of emergency last Tuesday, and McMinnville city councilors expected to follow suit when they meet Tuesday, area officials should follow Multnomah County’s lead.

More attention must be paid to the homeless — not only for their well-being, but for the safety of the entire community.

Providing the homeless with shelter and access to adequate sanitation and hygiene has become critical with the closure of the McMinnville Public Library and other public facilities that at least included toilets and sinks with running water.

McMinnville City Manager Jeff Towery said county health authorities have acquired at least two outside hand-washing stations. City officials gave the county permission to place one near the shuttered McMinnville Community Center, he said.

That should help, but more must be done.

City officials could make the community center’s shower, sink and toilet facilities available. School officials could do the same with now-vacated school locker rooms.

More churches and social agencies could also offer use of facilities on their premises. With hotels left vacant, perhaps some hotel owners might consider offering some of their rooms for shelter as well.

If private citizens and business owners aren’t willing to pitch in, government might have to step in and insist, as King County has done in Washington’s populous Puget Sound area.

However, failure to help and make sacrifices for the greater good has never been one of McMinnville’s shortcomings. Our community has never lacked for heroes, willing to do what needs to be done in times of crisis.

People everywhere were initially in denial about the extent of the coronavirus outbreak. Now that the full impact is becoming known, panic has set in. As people scramble to address the growing pandemic, those on the margins of society could get trampled.

City Councilor Sal Peralta is urging city and county officials to mirror Portland and Multnomah County in declaring a moratorium on eviction enforcement as well.

That is another necessary step to help people already burdened with economic deprivation, made worse by loss of jobs or hours as a result of the crisis. We certainly don’t want to be creating a new population of homeless.

These steps must be taken to help tamp down the number of cases, so as not to overwhelm our healthcare resources.

What we are doing as a civilization — all the closures, all the sacrifices, all the isolating, quarantining and distancing — is fundamentally aimed at protecting the most medically vulnerable. From the precariously sheltered to the entirely unsheltered, the economically vulnerable deserve our attention as well.

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