By Mary Rowe
When the decision made by The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to allow homeless people to sleep and rest on public lands, if necessary, resulted in public safety concerns in Curry County, Commissioner Court Boice immediately became involved, even attending a meeting at the Port of Brookings Harbor when he was sick.
After finding out about serious illegal drug abuse at the library in Brookings by the homeless people who were camped there, and after witnessing threats of violence towards homeless people, I asked Boice to host a town hall meeting in south county to address these public safety concerns.
Boice made an attempt to rally experts for such a meeting, but some officials advised against it.
The day before Thanksgiving, I pled with Boice again to have a town hall meeting after learning of several incidents of homeless people being harassed and threatened at night when they tried to sleep, and also learning that a rock had been thrown at a car being driven across the Chetco Bridge, probably thrown by a homeless man.
Boice had one free day until mid-December — Nov. 28. So, the Boice team went into overdrive and provided the meeting in Brookings on the evening of Nov. 28 in order to listen to and address the type of public safety concerns I have mentioned.
During the planning process, though, things got a little mixed up. I did not have access to Boice’s email group as, due to my disability, I cannot use a computer. A member of the group, who did not understand what was going on in Curry County, renamed the town hall a Homeless Summit. Next, panel members were added who would have been better suited to a solutions-oriented meeting. Then, an agenda was created that was not the best design to facilitate two-way learning.
The meeting began with those of us on the panel giving some ideas about what we do to reduce the problem of homelessness. I also spoke about public safety concerns of the community as a whole and those specific to the homeless. And I explained that I have been researching and networking with others about what could help reduce the number of public safety concerns while saving law enforcement time and funds: a crisis assistance mobile outreach unit for south county.
After the panel members spoke, many community members voiced their concerns about an increase in aggressive and illegal activity by transients. It was part of the purpose of the meeting to listen to and understand these concerns. I took notes of people’s statements so that I could respond at a future meeting. These statements by community members took up most of the meeting, and that was appropriate. The community has been listening to those of us who work on solutions to homelessness for years, and this was our turn to listen to the community. It was also important that the community be able to express their concerns to Boice, Brookings Mayor Jake Pieper and Brookings City Manager Janell Howard, all of whom were there to listen.
There were also community members and homeless people who spoke of the dangers to and needs of homeless people. I made statements about the recent increase in harassment to homeless people by some county residents and about the recent increase in violence to our homeless people by other homeless people who are newer to our area. Everyone in the room listened respectfully to our comments about these threats to the safety of homeless people.
Disgruntled murmuring only occurred when comments strayed from the purpose of the meeting: public safety concerns.
After listening to comments made about the needs of homeless people, many community members in attendance became more supportive of homeless people, stating that they cared about homeless veterans and our local homeless people. Their statements indicated that they want to help but also to feel safe in their community.
Was their position unreasonable? I do not think so. Am I saying that we shouldn’t help all homeless people? No, I am not. But, I do not think that these people have unreasonable concerns. Rather, I think that they deserve to have their concerns addressed.
I look forward to the next meeting — a solution-oriented one — in latter January. I’ve got a few solutions for any interested folks. I am appreciative of the honesty of the exchange between members of our community and those of us on the panel who work on solutions to help the homeless in ways that best serve the entire community.
Mary Rowe lives in Gold Beach.