Sometimes it takes a crisis to highlight a problem that had been right there in front of us all along.
That was the case last year with the snowstorm we now call Snowmageddon. We came to realize how important it is to be able to communicate with each other, and what can happen when those lines of communication are suddenly cut off during an emergency.
We learned from that and our local governments took steps to keep that from happening again. The City of Roseburg, for example, hired a communications specialist and is upgrading its communications systems in an effort to be better prepared for the next major storm.
Although it’s still too early to step back and assess the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, seeing as we are still in the thick of it, some areas of concern are emerging.
One has to do with the homeless population in the region.
As a story in last Sunday’s edition of The News-Review illustrated, the pandemic has exposed a glaring shortage of services available to that population, and how those shortages make the homeless here more vulnerable to health problems, including viruses. That in turn makes all of us more vulnerable to COVID-19.
In this case, the issues surrounding the homeless population here are not new, they have just been exacerbated by the pandemic. The list is long but includes a shortage of shelter beds, food and other items; a lack of restrooms, showers and handwashing stations, particularly critical to stem the spread of a deadly virus; a lack of medical care, which in this case includes testing for COVID-19; and the lack of any coordinated outreach to deliver food and other needed items as well as important information to a population that often is isolated from the community at large.
The dearth of services has led to a situation where advocates and health professionals alike worry about a possible outbreak of COVID-19 among the homeless, which could put the entire community at risk.
Let’s be clear — hundreds of cities across the country are also struggling with the issue of homelessness in their communities and none yet has found a workable solution to the problem. This is a difficult, complex, longstanding national issue for which there are no quick and easy solutions.
Furthermore, both the City of Roseburg and Douglas County governments say providing services for the homeless is not their primary responsibility and that even though they want to help, a shortage of resources limits what they can do.
We acknowledge that. But we can, and must, do better.
We need only look to other communities in Oregon to get some ideas on what could be done here. Several cities have opened new shelters; Portland, for example, has opened seven new shelters that house more than 500 people. Other communities have handed out tents and sleeping bags to those who don’t have a place to shelter. Several cities have organized coordinated, day-long outreach efforts to hand out food and information, and gauge the health of the homeless who they encounter.
Tim Edmondson, director of the Roseburg Dream Center, suggested testing his clients for COVID-19 right outside the center’s doors. That’s an idea at least worth discussing.
A month ago, in these very pages, The News-Review wrote an editorial entitled: “We’re all in this together.”
By all we meant all, the homeless too.