Perhaps you’ve noticed that volunteers and county employees last week cleared out a wooded area at the south end of the Chetco River bridge where homeless people camped.
Earlier this year, a similar spot south of the bridge off Highway 101 in Harbor was cleared. A year or two earlier, ODOT officials did likewise under the bridge.
The results of these efforts are temporary at best. As we’ve seen, the homeless simply set up camp at other, nearby locations.
What is the ultimate solution to the chronic homelessness in our community?
I don’t have one. Rural towns and metropolitan centers across the nation are struggling to find one, and Curry County advocates for the homeless are doing all they can to simply feed, clothe and keep the homeless dry during the winter months.
The homeless in our community are not a faceless entity. These are men and women who, by choice or circumstances, are living a tenuous, day-to-day existence right here. Some are suffering from addictions or mental illness, and sometimes both. Some have physical disabilities and a number of them are U.S. veterans.
A local, former homeless person once describe the existence as “a genuine, horrible, dangerous, terrifying, all-consuming emergency.”
There are operations in place – the Gospel Outreach Mission, Oasis Shelter Home and church-based soup kitchens to name a few – to help them. Several caring souls in our community have open their homes to those in need.
Still, there are issues that cannot be ignored. With homeless camps come health issues, primarily lack of sanitation, and the potential threat of criminal activity and harassment of the local citizenry. The homeless are often victims in their own circle. I know of at least two homeless people in our community who died, one under suspicious circumstances.
Someone I know suggested designating an official site for the homeless in our area, complete with portable toilets and access to medical and employment services. That’s easier said than done, and there’s always the chance that such an encampment could become a mini-city, attracting more homeless and creating more problems than it solves.
In some cities, officials have recommended handing out bus tickets to the homeless, but that only puts the issue in someone else’s hands.
Other cities are trying transitional housing projects that not only shelter the homeless, but provide them with drug and alcohol treatment and job training (if they want it, that is.) Of course, that probably isn’t likely to happen in Curry County, which is facing deep budget cuts.
One thing is clear: The clearing of property and dismantling of the homeless camp does nothing to resolve the larger issues. Such action may be cheered by some, but the homeless with the loss of basic shelter, and some citizens wondering if the forested area next to their homes will become the next homeless encampment.
The poor are always with us, and the challenge for a humane society is to figure out what to do about them.
Perhaps there is no single solution. Perhaps its a combination of solutions. Perhaps all we can do is offer free food, sleeping bags and a kind word.