Although research suggests permanent housing is ultimately the key to solving Roseburg’s homeless problem, obtaining that housing can be difficult or impossible for people who are currently living on the street.
Roseburg has two organizations most often mentioned as the places where homeless people turn for help — the Roseburg Rescue Mission and the Dream Center.
On the surface, they have some similarities. Each has homeless or formerly homeless Roseburg residents who say it has been their salvation. Each organization is faith-based.
Thomas Morris has been homeless since 1977. He hit the road after his divorce and has since been in every state but Vermont.
Where the two organizations differ is on what they believe their faith calls them to do.
ROSEBURG RESCUE MISSION
By far the oldest of these organizations, and the one that provides the most comprehensive services, is the mission. It was formed in 1964 by World War II combat veteran Norman Williams.
Director Lynn Antis said the organization’s primary mission is to preach the gospel, with its secondary mission being to provide services to the homeless.
The mission is the only place where most homeless men and women can obtain emergency overnight shelter, though there are shelters that specialize in particular groups of homeless people such as teens or domestic violence victims.
The mission operates two overnight shelters, one downtown for men and a separate shelter called Samaritan Inn that houses women and children.
The men’s shelter was the first, and was opened across the street from what was then the train depot. Today, the mission operates secondhand stores, a day shelter and other buildings that span more than a block.
In Antis’ view, there are two types of people who get labeled homeless. One is the group he said can legitimately be called homeless.
“They simply don’t have a home, and they want a home and they will do what they need to do to get a home,” he said. “They will go into a mission or shelter and they will do what it takes to become independent again.”
The second group, he said, is made up of addicts and people with mental illnesses.
“They won’t come into a shelter. When you look at Roseburg and Douglas County and you see people on the streets and camping down by the river, those are not the people that are homeless. They’re counterculture people with addiction issues,” he said. “Housing isn’t what they’re after at all.”
He said the police are right to cite the campers for littering and other offenses, and he believes creating more housing won’t help homeless people with addictions.
Research on the homeless problem, including a recent study commissioned by the City of Roseburg, doesn’t back Antis’ view. But it is one shared by many local leaders and business owners, and Antis said he believes the Roseburg study was slanted to support preconceived ideas about the homeless.
Antis said people are often surprised to learn that the mission usually has lots of empty beds. There are restrictions on people wanting to stay there. People who are visibly drunk or on drugs are not allowed to stay. And there is mandatory attendance at daily 30-minute religious services.
It won’t help everyone, he said.
“Mankind isn’t going to change. We feel like we’re doing our part. The first thing I said is our purpose in life is evangelism and trying to turn people’s minds and hearts around to get them right, but you can’t reach everybody. It just simply isn’t going to happen,” he said.
He views the Dream Center, which assists all comers regardless of addiction problems and where they’re sleeping at night, as part of the problem.
“There are people and organizations out there that are giving food and clothing and camping equipment out to homeless people. That behavior is part of our problem. If we were to stop feeding the problem, a lot of it would go away. But when you enable people, they have no reason to change their lifestyle,” Antis said.
Christianity isn’t optional, in Antis’ view.
“As a Christian organization, we have a very firm understanding that we were created by God and in his image and he’s got an awesome plan for us, and if a person is outside of that kingdom of God that they can never really fully understand or experience life,” he said.
He views it as his responsibility to share his religion with other people, not to fix them.
“What does matter is that we are doing everything we can to encourage people to come in here, to do what we can when they are here to help them get their lives back on track and then to see them walk out of here independently,” he said.
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The Roseburg Dream Center offers food and clothing, but not overnight shelter. It’s a smaller and newer organization than the mission. Like the mission, it’s a faith-based organization. But unlike the mission, it’s open to everyone without preconditions, including addicts, and does not require attendance at religious services.
The Dream Center was started by Sylvia Davis 11 years ago and was based on a Dream Center in Los Angeles that was started by a church in a hospital building.
Initially, the Roseburg Dream Center was a food pantry that also gave away clothing. In November, it opened a four-day-a-week drop-in center on Southeast Lane Avenue, just a couple blocks up the street from the mission men’s shelter.
Director Tim Edmondson estimates there are about 200 people who frequent the Dream Center. Many would have been in state hospitals receiving mental health care when he was a kid, he said. An increasing number walking through his doors are women.
If there were a natural disaster that put several hundred people in the community out of their homes, the state would declare a state of emergency, he said.
Edmondson said many of the people the Dream Center assists are addicts, but not all of them. Either way, once they hit bottom many feel there’s no way up. They lose hope, he said.
“What we do here is we try to love ’em, OK, we try to give ’em a little bit, lift ’em back up,” he said.
Many of those who eat at the Dream Center spend the night in pretty scary places, he said. They sleep in a hole by the river or under a bridge, or they wander the streets at night.
Many can’t stay in the mission shelter or don’t feel comfortable there, he said, and when they camp, they’re cited by police. He said one man put up a tent for the first time that the Dream Center had given him, and he told Edmondson that he was awakened at 5 a.m. by police who took his tent and told him it was trash.
“There’s no place in this area where they can go, absolutely nowhere, and so they have to be somewhere. So wherever they go they’re breaking the law. So they’ve pretty much made them, they’ve turned them into criminals for being homeless,” he said.
Like the mission, Edmondson said the Dream Center offers Christianity. At the Dream Center, though, that doesn’t come in the form of rules and sermons.
“We’re a faith-based system. It’s real simple for us. You love God and you love people,” he said.
At first, it was chaos, he said. Now it’s calm.
“After about three or four months of doing this, all of a sudden they’re all walking in, they’ve got crosses on,” he said.
He thinks people who just view the homeless as a problem would view them differently if they got to know them.
“If you were to come here on a Monday morning and just watch, it’s amazing. I’ve shed tears standing there in that doorway looking out here and watching 40 people eating, smiling, laughing who just came in after spending the night down at the river, having total misery and they’re in here and I’m like, ‘Yeah, this is what it’s all about.’ It’s awesome,” he said.