Walking into the giant pavilion at the fairgrounds, yellow tape stretches across the ground leading overnight visitors through a coordinated maze of sleeping areas. Volunteers set up brand new Coleman tents and marked off individual sleeping areas with orange tape — giving those in need enough space to socially distance and enjoy some privacy.
It’s a refreshing sight to see, considering warming centers across the state have been shut down because of COVID-19 mandates and volunteer shortages.
But it’s one you won’t see around here. That’s because while officials in Salem were able to jury-rig a warming center at the state fairgrounds to help the homeless, our leaders have mostly deemed the idea impossible.
The City of Roseburg’s new homeless commission met for 30 minutes on Tuesday to announce it was no longer working to put together a warming shelter for the homeless just eight days after Roseburg Mayor Larry Rich said one was needed “as quickly as possible,” and Shelley Briggs Loosely, one of the commission members, said, “We need it now.”
So what happened?
The commission toured a church with a local homeless advocate — a title that is noticeably missing from the six-person commission — and concluded that launching a warming center within the next month would be undoable. First, volunteers would need a few weeks to set up the area and prepare, and second, the health department likely wouldn’t encourage the formation of something that could turn into a “superspreader event,” Rich said.
Commission members even reached out to the county to see if the Douglas County Fairgrounds were available, but got a big “NO.”
Those explanations shine a bright light on our area’s desultory homeless plan and sound apathetic next to headlines of neighboring communities bending over backward to offer safe, warm, and live-saving amenities to their vulnerable populations.
The homeless commission is brand new, so it’s unfair to come down on its members for this failure, but our leaders should take this nonperformance seriously because this didn’t sneak up on them.
Organizers of the Roseburg warming center warned city officials over the summer that status-quo operation was out of the question because of the coronavirus. Nevertheless, it’s clear that warning fell of deaf ears.
The city’s website says the town has “beautiful northwest scapes, a peaceful small-town feel, and warm friendly faces.” But if you take a walk by Gaddis Park, the duck pond, and any of the other gathering places for the homeless, our guess is that you won’t find many warm faces at all.
It’ll be 34 degrees tonight.