A camp for the homeless in Roseburg appeals to our humane instincts. But let’s have a show of hands. Who wants the camp near where they live, work or shop?
The idea, advanced by Occupy Roseburg member Jeri Benedetto, raises other questions. How would a camp be kept safe and sanitary? How would it be funded? Would the camp be a place to help the homeless move onto housing or just be a place to stash them?
But the key question will be: Where?
People in rural homes or in nicer neighborhoods probably need not worry about the question. Homeless camps aren’t set up in the country or among the well-off.
More likely candidates for homeless camps are parks, out-of-the way places and in neighborhoods occupied by people with less mobility and fewer options.
No one can deny Roseburg has a problem with homelessness. The problem is most visible downtown. Merchants there would be happy for a camp to draw transients away. They probably would not be happy to have the camp downtown.
Setting up a camp anywhere near homes and businesses has the potential of raising the same concerns as voiced by downtown merchants.
There are secluded spots within the city. But how safe would a secluded camp be, especially for women and children?
A park? How would residents who enjoy the park now react?
Down by the South Umpqua River? How does a homeless camp fit with the city’s goal of developing the riverfront?
It’s instructive to review the status of homeless camps in other cities.
Dignity Village on city-owned land in Portland has survived for more than a decade. Last fall, the Portland City Council gave a contract to the nonprofit agency that runs the camp, with the condition that individuals be limited to a two-year stay.
Last week, the city of St. Louis decided to dismantle a riverfront homeless camp. City officials said they will assist the two dozen displaced campers in finding housing.
“The solution to ending homelessness is not tent cities or temporary encampments, as they are not safe or humane places, “ Mayor Francis Slay stated.
Also this past week, Seattle decided to close Nickelsville, a homeless camp occupied by about 125 people on city land without electricity, bathrooms or running water.
The Seattle Times quoted a councilwoman calling the camp “the worst of the worst conditions” and “a recipe for people getting sick.”
Let’s hope that if a homeless camp was established in Roseburg, it would be more like Dignity Village than Nickelsville.
Benedetto has talked about Conestoga huts, modest shelters that would be like a palace compared to sleeping outdoors on a cold night. Perhaps the money could be found to make sanitation conditions decent.
The tough question remains, though. Where?
The homeless need help. Condemning them won’t do.
Neither will judging people reluctant to host a homeless camp in their neighborhoods.