The Medford City Council, presented with an opportunity to expand on so-far successful efforts to shelter homeless people, is reluctant to act. Councilors should get past that reluctance and look for reasons to say yes.
The council did agree to continue studying the issue, but only on condition that the city reach out to other cities and the county and encourage them to join in the effort to provide temporary housing. That would be helpful, but the problem is largely concentrated in Medford, which is the largest city in the county and has the services low-income people need. Meanwhile, the efforts that have been made are showing some success.
Councilor Dick Gordon objected to “warehousing people” without rehabilitation efforts, but the advocacy group Rogue Retreat says it already has moved some people into permanent housing since the tiny-house development called Hope Village opened, including one couple who moved into an apartment just last week. At the Kelly Shelter, which provides overnight shelter in the winter months in the First United Methodist Church basement, 34 people found more permanent situations during the three months it was open. In addition, the Medford Police Department reports conflicts between homeless people and downtown businesses saw a significant drop during that period.
One option before the council is to create more tiny-house developments like Hope Village, which consists of 14 tiny houses in west Medford. State law allows a city to have two urban campgrounds that don’t provide water, sewer and electrical connections to dwelling units, and city officials are concerned that, because Hope Village occupies two separate parcels, that might rule out a second location. That seems like a technicality that shouldn’t preclude another development, but if it is an obstacle, local legislators should fix it at the earliest opportunity.
Other options involve tent or yurt villages. Those present problems of their own, chief among them being location and proximity to residential neighborhoods. None of the obstacles are insurmountable, if city leaders commit to making solutions happen.
If the county and other cities choose to participate in finding ways to provide shelter, so much the better. But that shouldn’t be a prerequisite for Medford taking action on what is clearly its own problem.
If the City Council spends less time worrying about what other cities and the county are or aren’t doing to house the homeless and more time doing more of what is already working, the community — and the homeless — will be better off.