Few topics engender such confused debate as the issue of homelessness, as we’ve seen across the nation and right here in Malheur County.

The Enterprise hopes to do something about that with a Homeless Town Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 19, in Ontario. The event starts at 6 p.m. at Four Rivers Cultural Center and is free and open to the public. We’ll stream it on the Enterprise’s Facebook page as well.

You’re invited to come learn about this population, what’s being done to serve these unfortunate souls, and what more needs to be done. We hope you take home with ideas on how to help improve lives and the community.

Sorting fact from fiction is going to be key.

There is confusion about who the homeless are.

The common image is of someone shoving a grocery cart laden with clothing, food, tarps and more.

But the homeless, like society in general, are far more diverse.

Yes, there are those who by need or desire live in the open.

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But there are those who live in cars and RVs because they can’t find a place to live. They can’t afford rent or don’t qualify for other reasons – their personal histories, pets and more.

And then there are homeless students. They aren’t pushing shopping carts, but they are living with extended families, friends, or with relatives in those cars and RVs. They are there by circumstance, not by choice.

And there are homeless who are profoundly damaged people, suffering from mental illness or addictions that cripple them. 

This mix of needs means there has to be a mix of responses. Putting up a couple of dozen temporary homes won’t end homelessness. That is a humanitarian gesture that should be considered an emergency solution, not a long-term fix.

That the Ontario area struggles with tending to the homeless should surprise no one. We don’t have the resources – the deep-pocketed social service agencies or well-funded local governments – to resolve this.

But even if we did, no easy answer is at hand. Tending to the homeless vexes even the most sophisticated communities. Huge metropolises – Los Angeles and San Francisco – and sizable Oregon cities such as Portland and Salem still scratch their heads about the best steps to take.

We won’t solve Malheur County’s homelessness in a night, but coming together as a community, we can likely take a couple of steps forward.

Here’s what to expect.

We’ve invited local experts to spend some time describing the homeless and what’s currently being done. You’ll hear from representatives of Community in Action, Lifeways, the Oregon Department of Human Services and the city of Ontario.

I’ve asked the speakers to be clear in their messages and to each share three steps being taken to help the homeless here. After they are done, I’ll question them. I’ll focus on local solutions: What else can be done? How can citizens help?

And then we’ll take questions from you.

The intent is for you to leave having a much better sense of the scale of homelessness in Ontario and what puts people in that circumstance. We want you to walk out not feeling that the situation is a hopeless tangle but one where you can take direct action.

If all you do is come and listen and learn, that’s important, too.

Let’s show that humanitarian motives, common sense, and focus can help our community succeed where so many others have stumbled and stalled.

I hope to see you next Wednesday.

Les Zaitz is editor and publisher of the Enterprise.

Email: [email protected]

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