Albany is about to stage another annual event to remember and mourn people who, without housing or proper shelter, did not survive the year. Remembering them is good, but doing something to cure homelessness would be better — if only we knew what that something was.
Numbers are hard to come by, and the ones collected by public agencies are not reliable. Still, they give you an idea. Counts done each January over the last three years put the number of homeless persons at between 100 and 300 in Benton County and around 200 in Linn County.
In the three West Coast states, the Associated Press reported this month, the number of homeless was about 168,000, up about 19,000 over the last two years.
There are many reasons why people live on park benches or in their old cars. The main culprit in the AP story was “rising rents.”
That may not be the main cause in the mid-valley. But clearly, people would not willingly subject themselves to suffering outdoors through a cold Oregon winter if they could afford to be inside under their own roof. So more housing — housing cheap enough for people with a subsistence-level income to afford — would be one answer.
How to encourage cheap housing? How about allowing it to be built so it really is cheap. Or less expensive. Allow smaller lot sizes and tiny houses everywhere. Reduce or eliminate whatever regulations or permit requirements stand in the way. But no matter how cheap housing can be made, it’s always going to cost something. So for people with no ability to keep a job and earn money, we’ll always need shelters like Helping Hands and the Signs of Victory Mission in Albany.
There were no homeless people in the 1960s and in the several decades after that, no beggars on street corners, none that I remember seeing anyway, and certainly none in the numbers seen in recent years. Now we have many things to blame for the status quo: The conversion to a knowledge economy, life getting more complex than some people can handle, the disappearance of jobs that anybody could do, drug abuse, untreated mental illness, the closing of state institutions, and yes, rising rents.
The solution? Reverse the policies that can be reversed. Otherwise, I have no idea.
But if you want to do something, go to the Albany Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day Observance at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 21 in the City Hall Plaza. It’s sponsored by HEART, the local group that deals with this issue as best it can. And take along a donation of things like blankets, rain gear, socks, underwear or coats.
Better yet, take money to donate to the “Toto” fund, which helps people who become stuck in Albany to travel to communities where they have support. You can be sure the money in that fund will do some good and, unlike used blankets, won’t end up being abandoned in a shopping cart. (hh)