By editorial board • 

Big issues demand attention on sustained long-term basis

On the surface, the international climate crisis and national homeless crisis might seem markedly dissimilar. However, they share some parallels worth considering as we struggle to address their ruinously unsustainable fallout.

First and foremost, they join in seeming virtually intractable. It’s hard to throw enough money at them to make a noticeable dent. And it’s almost impossible to devise a meaningful response that doesn’t demand formidable monetary commitment.

They also share:

n Man-made causes — burning fossil fuels to produce energy, in the case of climate change, and allowing a major component of the community to fall through the social safety net, in the case of homelessness.

In the latter case, contributing factors include shifting a major portion of the tax burden from corporations and wealthy individuals to members of the lower and middle classes in the late 20th and early 21st centuries; emptying mental institutions in the interest of often misguided mainstreaming; failing to stem a flood tide of drug and alcohol addiction; and allowing rising rents and home prices to push housing out of reach for a growing percentage of the population.

In Oregon, we seemed to give up altogether on the addiction front with passage of Measure 110’s decriminalization of meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl. Meanwhile, decades under a land use system deifying agriculture at the expense of all other values has left us saddled with some of the priciest housing in America.

We are also blessed with a temperate climate, bounty of short-term food and shelter aid and set of relatively relaxed attitudes about public camping, despite spasms of sharp backlash at times.

n A broad range of geographic lines which must be crossed to foster effective action. That requires shared commitment, trust and sacrifice among groups differing dramatically in means, not to mention political, social, ethnic, religious and environmental orientation. And that’s tough to muster in today’s politically charged environment.

n A natural human tendency to think small and immediate when only big and long-term is likely to have the necessary magnitude of impact.

We reach almost instinctively for the low-hanging fruit — sorting cardboard rather than weaning ourselves off petroleum, in the one case, and in the other, shooing campers out of parks rather than investing in the housing, treatment and services necessary to reintegrate them into society.

Against that backdrop, we find it encouraging here in one of the epicenters of homelessness to see the city of McMinnville pursuing concrete shelter endeavors like Project Turnkey and the Navigation Center. And in the latter, it had to face down open hostility from the political troglodytes on the county board of commissioners who refused to issue an emergency declaration promising to open a path to additional state funding.

We also find it encouraging to see the state of Oregon following suit under Gov. Tina Kotek, who just signed a package of bipartisan bills allocating $200 million to expanding shelter capacity, fostering transition from shelter to permanent housing, encouraging more low-income housing, easing barriers to housing innovation, expanding rent assistance and addressing the homeless youth component. Kotek made addressing homelessness the centerpiece of her campaign, and is following through in her successful legislative agenda.

As Kotek acknowledged as she affixed her signature, “This crisis didn’t appear overnight, nor will it be solved overnight.” She said she was in it for the long haul.

Well, so are we down here at the News-Register. We’ve been covering the issue for decades, and have no plans to let up.

Our latest effort to shine a light on the problem, “Reality and Response,” was previewed Tuesday with a package of stories on the contributions of the Gospel Rescue Mission. The main body begins today and continues next Tuesday, but heeding Kotek’s admonition, we consider it a work in progress, to continue over the long haul.

Like climate change, homelessness remains a big problem. It demands a sustained response of as much magnitude as we can reasonably muster.


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