By editorial board • 

Is Hastings Village a model worth emulating around here?

An array of churches, schools, nonprofits and social service agencies manage, by tackling different aspects of the problem in a largely if loosely collaborative fashion, to do a lot to help the unhoused in McMinnville, Newberg and environs.

However, Yamhill County’s ambitious 10-year plan to end homelessness came and went long ago, without making any apparent dent in the problem. In fact, over the years, local homelessness has mushroomed from a problem into a crisis by almost anyone’s measure.

Food banks and soup kitchens have proliferated. New shelter, warming facility and transitional housing programs have come on line. Governmental housing authorities have stepped up their efforts in every way possible. Programs have been launched to deliver health and dental care, shoes and coats, tarps and tents, even portable waste and trash facilities in some cases.

The latest push has produced a pair of navigation centers for the county’s two major cities, with Newberg’s already on line and McMinnville’s soon to follow.

They feature only a couple of dozen beds each, but aim to serve as a central daytime source of centralized assistance for an array of local service providers and helping agencies.

Ultimately, though, the only thing that will keep the unhoused from lining local side streets in makeshift shelters, tattered tents and RVs is housing — actual housing.

And what seems to pass as “affordable housing” on the open market today, tall houses packed cheek to jowl on narrow lots at prices in the $400,000 range, doesn’t even pass for a sensible starting point.

With McMinnville’s poverty rate hovering around 17%, we have a crying need for more entry-level apartment complexes, serviceable mobile home parks and other types of multi-family housing developments.

Yet, not even those are going to prove affordable for a homeless contingent marked to a significant degree by illness, unemployment or addiction. When you not only lack jobs, but often the skills, education, clothing, hygiene, transportation and health to become viable job candidates, housing prospects can seem pretty bleak.

Portland and Eugene are among many cities around the country, from West Coast to East, that have come around to creating tent or tiny home communities offering free or very low-cost shelter and services to this segment.

But it’s easy to brand them as wealthy, liberal, do-gooder, tax-friendly sorts of places with means unimaginable in McMinnville. So let’s take a look at a rural community farther afield — the Douglas County enclave of Sutherlin, population just under 9,000.

Sutherlin is a markedly white, conservative and Republican community ensconced in a heavily timbered Southern Oregon county whose heritage lies in logging.

Its average household income runs $48,000, a mere shadow of McMinnville’s $65,000, and its college education rate 15%, barely more than half McMinnville’s 27%.

What’s more, both Sutherlin and Douglas County — population 113,000, comparable to Yamhill’s 108,000 — are considered very tough sells when it comes to new taxes.

Let’s put it this way: Sutherlin will never be mistaken for Eugene, nor Douglas County for Lane.

But public and private forces have pulled together in Sutherlin to create Hastings Village, a gated homeless camp on the outskirts of town. Managed by the nonprofit Umpqua Heart and governed by elected representatives from its membership, it features RVs, tents, trailers and, increasingly, as funds permit, modest and simple structural housing.

It’s not as tidy as a residential neighborhood, but very passable compared to the makeshift encampments playing whack-a-mole with police on the backroads of McMinnville. And the director at Umpqua Heart says the residents actually handle much of the cleanup on their own.

Over the two years since its founding, the camp has come to feature both electrical and garbage service. There are no time limits on sticking around, provided residents follow basic rules prohibiting theft, littering, disrespect, excessive noise and unruly visitors.

It houses only about three-dozen residents at present, but is gradually moving toward permanent or semi-permanent contained housing units serving to significantly increase capacity. In addition, the village is looking to a future marked by even more ambitious tiny houses, about twice the size of the 8-by-10 containerized housing units (CHUs), with an actual ownership option.

Umpqua Heart is looking for sponsors for units of structurally permanent housing, saying, “Strong support grows strong communities.” Sponsorships run $5,000 for CHUs and $25,000 for tiny houses, both of which are solar-equipped for sustainability.

“Please find it in your heart to contribute,” the agency says, noting, “Communities are built by wonderful people who are helpful and kind.”

Our community is virtually bursting at the seams with the kind and caring sort, and it’s three times the size of Sutherlin. So why can’t we organize a camp three times the size of Heritage Village, where our unhoused can find their own measure of peace and hope?

The houseless would bless the idea bountifully, and so would a residency utterly fed up with the current untenable situation. We doubt it would run significantly more than what it’s currently costing us to keep rousting folks who simply move down the street and dig in anew.


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