210203-nrr-shelterinplace-03

Reyn Gerber emerges from his tent set up in a transient camp on the bank of the South Umpqua River in Gaddis Park in Roseburg on Tuesday.

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.

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(13) comments

Wretched722

Stop enabling people to remain homeless. It isn't helping them at all. Some of these people could go to places that require no drugs, and a sermon, but many do not want to hear that. Too bad. Also, where did these people live before? How about contacting their relatives? Maybe some could go back home, if they agreed to counseling, AA and the like....

melrosereader

Rise, who needs shelters when homeless people could get comfort from the warmth in your heart. /s

garyd

[thumbup]

mjnutts

I agree with all of your posts. The Lord says it is our duty to help the lost. A sincere heart always leads to success. It is sad to see that our community leaders are pulled in all the directions that do not help our brothers & sisters who are in need. Lord help those that are lost. There is hope for them we just need to share. 😇

mworden

Angry comments here. Sort of annoys me. I don't think people know what warming centers do and don't do. For one thing, they don't open when it's 34 degrees. Not cold enough.

They open up only when the temp drops to 30 degrees or below. It's going to be in the low 30s at night this week, but that would not trigger the opening of a warming center, given the way they have operated.

There used to be two warming centers in Roseburg, but the one on Harvard closed in 2018 due to a lack of volunteers and the loss of a manager. The director of the Dream Center said in 2018 that it took 18 volunteers to staff a night shift.

Most volunteers are retirees and elderly, the population that is most vulnerable to covid. Sometimes you have to do a balancing act, weighing the risk of a cold night to the homeless and the risk of exposing elderly volunteers to covid. There is no good answer to that problem.

There is not going to be a warming center this year. But there's a need for washing facilities, for dry clothes, socks, gloves, sleeping bags and tents. You can buy emergency mylar thermal blankets for a dollar if you get them in bulk. How many have you handed out? They can save a life.

Now is not too early to plan for next winter. How many people here are willing to volunteer to staff a night shift on short notice? Are you willing to donate money or supplies? What are you going to do to help?

I started working with street people when I was 24 years old and continued for the following decades. I no longer have the oooomph to give person to person services, but I can donate money. I do donate money. But I like to know where it's going and how it will be used.

I urge Mayor Rich and the Council to set up a dedicated homeless fund, with a guarantee that money will go to services meant to keep homeless people from getting sick or dying in bad weather, to keep them warm, feed them, or keep them clean. I will donate monthly.

I urge the homeless task force and the Dream Center to talk publicly about what they need from the public, how to volunteer, what kind of training you need to be a volunteer and how you can help in other ways.

This is raw. I know a guy ... old, stubborn, broke, sick, cognitively declining and he became homeless this week when he was tossed from the place he was squatting. People have been trying to help him for months. He's put up in a motel right now, social services have become involved, a social worker is trying to get him into assisted living. He doesn't want to go. He doesn't want to lose his freedom. If he keeps fighting he's going to end up in a tent on the riverbank. In the moment, that might seem like a good choice to him because every decision is filtered through trauma, mental health and addiction issues, and ever declining physical and cognitive function.

There are no easy answers. So, please, volunteer, get training for working with the homeless or donate money and supplies. Buy mylar blankets and hand them out. Each and every homeless person is a human being, many with lifetimes of unimaginable trauma, untrusting of help because they have been hurt again and again or because they've become lost in the frightening alleyways of their own brains.

Instead of shouting at the city to pull their heads out and hurry up and fix the problem, I suggest we might all ask what we can do to help a situation that's way bigger than people seem to understand. And buy some mylar blankets, keep them in the glove compartment of your car, and hand them out as you go about your business. Something that small can staunch the misery just a little bit.

Here's a report the city did last spring. It's not bad.

https://www.cityofroseburg.org/storage/app/media/Commission%20Docs/Planning%20Commission/Roseburg_Homeless_Population_Study_-_Final_Report.pdf

https://www.cityofroseburg.org/storage/app/media/Commission%20Docs/Planning%20Commission/Roseburg_Homeless_Population_Study_-_Final_Report.pdf

GovernorJohn

Maybe if they responded as if it "were an emergency" they could pull their heads out of their asses.... Maybe say, act like it was a catastrophic fire or snow storm or flood and displaced people need safe facilities to sleep....?

Maybe then they could get somethings started.. If only some "state of emergency" were declared sometime in the recent past that could be used as grounds

What a bunch of useless tools on the city government

NJ

Readerville "Mike", yesterday, puts it very succinctly: "Expecting solution behavior from a commission with a "delay" agenda is not logical. Homelessness was Mayor Rich's "top priority" ten years ago. That changed. Now its a top priority to make it appear as if it is a top priority." Just a ruse when facts dribble out about The City knowing it needed a Homeless Commission last summer and waiting to organize the commission till the middle of Winter. Worse, it never intended to recruit those with knowledge and experience, but only those who chase their elite prestige. None on this commission should ever tout on their resumes they are experts on homelessness.

It appears as though the County doesn't want to play with the City. One has to wonder why that is. An obvious solution would be the spacious fairground facilities that would better accommodate virus spread. It's not as though both entities have been blind to this pandemic and how it spreads when it's been slapping us all in the face for a year now. They knew, drug their feet, and refused anyway. So tell us City of Roseburg leaders, Douglas County Commissioners and the Prestige Elite, what type of death do you feel is best, the gasping for air that can't fill your lungs, or freezing to death in the middle of the night? If you believe my words are brutal, perfect. This is a shame that should haunt you all.

Mike

I'm not buying the Homeless Commission's concern about a warming center accommodating coronavirus spread. Are they saying there is no risk of coronavirus spread now when many of the homeless people are huddled together around their campfires? How does a warming center increase a virus risk more than it is today? I would think the risk would be lower in a warming center where volunteers could encourage social distancing and mask wearing.

NJ

Or get them all vaccinated. I would gladly give up mine for someone living rough.

Mike

[thumbup]

Scomo

What a stupid article. It begins saying that there apparently is a “warming center” at the Fair Grounds then tells us there isn’t, which is it?

What’s more, why is the City catering to homeless people? That will only attract more. The City should provide funds to PRIVATE organizations who wish to assist bums, but should not be assisting them directly with taxpayer money. In addition, a homeless commission is not needed, a part time city coordinator can easily liaison with private groups and direct or assist them. Finally, the city should ensure that drug counseling and a psychologist are present at the PRIVATE warming centers to help the bums and get off drugs or provide needed medications for their mental problems so they can again become productive members of society.

NJ

Scomo, the article is describing the Oregon State fairgrounds in Salem in that first paragraph.

smedleyb

It is very disturbing this issue isn't being addressed seriously. County Commissioners say no, nothing can be done. City says the same thing.

Volunteers say "We're ready to help."

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