In 2009, when Coos County adopted its 10-year plan on homelessness, the path forward seemed clear. The community had goals and a blueprint for action. Responsible parties were in place to follow through. A better system for dealing with homeless people seemed achievable.

Three years later, the project has fallen into contention and aimlessness. The Coos County Homeless Coalition has morphed into Neighbors In Need, but the new entity lacks a clear sense of its mandate and mission. The community's only tangible accomplishment on the homeless issue -- a warming center for refuge on cold nights -- was achieved by a breakaway group.

Reasons for the meltdown can be found in the 2009 plan's cast of characters. Its official creator was Coos County itself. County Commissioners Nikki Whitty and Kevin Stufflebean chaired and co-chaired the project's governance committee. Oregon Coast Community Action Agency was credited with preparing the plan. Robert More, ORCCA's housing director, was listed as project coordinator.

That original cast is largely gone. Voters replaced Stufflebean. Cancer took Whitty. More retired. In the absence of passionate leadership, the ensuing doldrums should be no surprise.

Representatives of Oregon Housing Community Services plan to visit the area in February, to help Neighbors in Need refocus itself. That's good, but it's not good enough. This kind of project needs direction and support from local institutions that have authority and resources. Neighbors in Need has neither.

Though Whitty and Stufflebean are gone, the current county commissioners should reassert leadership by convening a reconstituted governing council. ORCCA should renew its commitment to drive the project forward.

These two powerful agencies, not a well-intentioned but rudderless committee, can make a real difference in homeless people's lives. Three fruitless years into the 10-year timetable, let's not waste any more time.

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