Why are there so many homeless people in Coos County? What’s the solution for fixing this problem? What’s to blame for this. There is no simple answer to these questions.
Do we arrest homeless people for vagrancy, illegal camping or trespassing? Do we start an organization to buy one-way bus or train tickets out of town for these people?
Some think that’s an excellent idea. They’re fed up with how public safety calls involving thieving transients and illegal campers eat up an outsized portion of time for the Coos Bay and North Bend Police departments and the Coos County Sheriff’s Office.
Others think it’s a horrible, inhumane idea. If every city followed the same practice of shipping their problems somewhere else, the city would be a revolving door. The same train or bus that took some wanderers out of town also would drop off a few on the same stop.
There are many other arguments for and against. Excellent. Let’s keep talking.
The debate is helpful, in our eyes. It’s a community issue and it needs a community solution. The self-anointed experts that have been working on the problem for years if not decades obviously don’t have all the answers.
That, of course, is part of the problem: There are no easy answers.
But it helps to remember that Coos Bay’s problem isn’t just Coos Bay’s problem. Hang-wringing about the homeless and what to do about “them” is as common as a four-letter word from some members of the community.
Residents in every city seem to think their problem is worse than anyone else’s. The fact is, the problem is everywhere.
Few Oregon cities are untouched by homelessness. Some draw homeless for different reasons. It might be the temperate weather. It might be parks and greenways where homeless people can live. It might be an abundance of services provided to them. It might be the proximity to major highways or a railroad.
The idea of just putting the homeless on a bus has been tried. In fact, it’s even done in Chico, Calif. The Chico Police Department has something called HELP, the Homeless Evaluation Liaison Program, that provides bus tickets — but only if there’s a guarantee that a person is going home to families or friends who will support them.
Even San Francisco and Portland which aren’t exactly tough on the homeless, have programs that bus people out of town.
The differences between those programs and what some suggests is that in this case, the government wouldn’t be involved.
Honestly, we have no idea if or how it would work.
We need to be proactive in finding a remedy.
Coos Bay City Manager Rodger Craddock said the city is looking in holistic camping programs that some cities have implemented. This program involves working with churches and other local entities that might open up their parking lots and provide basic sanitation services during evening hours for those who have been living in their vehicles. While this is not a permanent solution, it’s a positive effort. The city has also helped with sanitation services at the Deveraux Center and other homeless camps where people pitched tents. Mental health services must be bolstered to help the mentally ill. While not all homeless people are mentally ill, many are. Some are even veterans that the Veterans Administration could help.
We give kudos to the Deveraux Center, which is supported through private grants and donations, for its continuing efforts to help the homeless with basic needs. Lashing out and placing blame on the center is not a solution to the problem.
The answer is not violence or vigilantism. We are not saying that citizens don’t have the right to defend themselves or their families and property. However, the use of deadly force could lead to legal ramifications, unless you are actively being attacked or defending a family member.
But we do know we need more dialogue on the problem, not less.