A Bright Line for the Homeless

PNASDoes Corvallis Help or Hinder, and What About Albany?

With hundreds of research hours and thousands of words written over these last several months, it is no secret this paper is especially concerned for the homeless amongst us, but that is often mistaken for a knee-jerk, soft-minded, bleeding heart impulse that is nothing if not actually harmful for those needing our community’s help.

What is not being debated in our fair little burg is the line between helping and enabling—and to even suggest such a distinction exists will get you pilloried by some. To be clear, there are refugees from the economic downturn and domestic violence for whom some largely unqualified assistance can go a long way. Their situations are often temporary with the right help. It is the chronically homeless, mentally ill and addicted, for whom our community can only find a quiet seething between territorial help organizations rather than a clear purpose.

Our neighbors down Highway 20 are not so ambivalent. Albany seems to have found a clear, consistent message for its chronically homeless: poor public behavior that Corvallis may give you a pass on will get you an encounter with the police and justice system over there. On the other hand, Albany has poured resources into beds, recovery programs, and even new low-income apartments to offer help, far more than what Corvallis has.

In other words, what Albany conveys is a sense that the chronically homeless, even mentally ill and addicted, are more likely to be interacted with by its justice system, but that interaction can be turned into substantial life-changing help.

Of course, all this is an oversimplification, but the point is that Corvallis has become a vacuum in terms of conveying any sense of direction on this issue, which creates even more problems. We as a community should not be so dismissive of what others are accomplishing as we have sometimes been.

By Rob Goffins