EDITORIAL: Communities must take action to solve homelessness

One of the most vexing issues facing any community is the homeless population. Ontario is no different from Los Angeles or Portland in confronting a mix of people who can’t afford a home, or who have mental health issues or who just don’t like restrictions. Fortunately, some good-hearted souls aren’t content to shrug and look the other way.

This week, New Hope Day Shelter opens in Ontario, the result of hard work by leaders of Origins Faith Community. With modifications to its building, Origins Faith is giving people a dignified place to catch a meal, shower up, and connect with those who can help. The work was funded in part by grants, in part by donations, and advanced by donated labor and love.

The folks at Origins Faith deserve the appreciation of everyone in the community. In a rural area like Malheur County, it’s doubly difficult to solve social issues. We have fewer people, lower overall incomes, and just fewer resources to fix what needs fixing.


That doesn’t mean we give up, as Origins Faith showed. And other groups aren’t yielding either in the effort to help the homeless. Community in Action, a local leader in humanitarian work, is again raising its hand to help.

For some, the answer to homelessness is to be cruel. “Why don’t they get a job?” “It doesn’t cost anything to wash your face.” “They did it to themselves.” And on go the cracks and comments that serve only to give the speaker an excuse not to help. That approach doesn’t feed a single hungry person. It doesn’t put a shirt or sweater on a single shivering person. It doesn’t help one person realize there is help for medical issues.

This is and always will be a balance between humanity and community well-being. The city of Ontario’s decision to clear the banks of the Snake River recently was intended to boost community security. No one, of course, wants anyone tampering with a drinking water supply. Yet as kind as city workers might have been, they had nowhere to direct people to find a new place for the night.

The Ontario City Council is wrestling with the issue of providing an overnight shelter for the homeless. As the weather turns towards winter and the temperature drops, the need becomes more critical.

Yet the Ontario council shouldn’t shoulder the decisions alone. While the homeless are most obvious in that city, this is a countywide issue. Everyone has a stake in figuring out how to care for homeless in ways that don’t fill up jail cells or park benches.

Remember, homeless means more than camping in a makeshift shack on the river. The county has many homeless families, and that means we have homeless children in our midst, “couch surfing” or living in cars or other rigs.

The Origins Faith organization showed what a little determination and caring can accomplish. They still need help. For goodness sake, just about anyone can donate a bottle of ibuprofen or a can of beans.

But the group needs staffing too, and more local citizens ought to serve “internships” to see first hand what Origins Faith, Ontario city officials and other humanitarians in the community are facing. We bet no one would go home from such an experience deciding “it’s none of my affair.”

Make it your affair. Learn. Donate. Volunteer. – LZ

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