Homeless cleanup crews boost downtown

Dealing with homelessness and its fallout requires some out-of-the-box thinking. And that’s just what city officials and a local organization came up with in a plan that should help both the homeless and the community.

The city has provided a $5,000 grant to Rogue Retreat, a homeless advocacy group, to buy what are essentially janitor carts and supplies to be used in cleaning up downtown. But janitor carts are no good without janitors, so Rogue Retreat is enlisting volunteer homeless people, along with some community service “volunteers,” to help tidy up the city.

There’s no doubt the cleanup is needed — and there’s a direct correlation between the homeless and the garbage (and worse) that winds up dumped downtown.

Downtown business owners, employees and visitors are all too familiar with the debris left behind by the homeless. While they certainly are not alone in the trash transgressions, what they leave behind can be particularly disturbing.

To be sure, there are more issues with the homeless downtown than just the trash they leave behind. Because many have mental health issues or are severely affected by drug and/or alcohol addiction, there are occasional harassment issues and a general sense of unease in interacting with them.

There are homeless people who, if given a hand up, could turn their lives around — witness some of the success stories at Hope Village. But there are also many who sadly seem to be a lost cause and who will likely be wards of the state and the community for the rest of their lives.

For many people, when they think of the homeless, it’s the latter that comes to mind. The initiative by the city and Rogue Retreat can help change that perception, or at least perhaps cause us to recognize that not everyone in that group fits our stereotypes.

The effort adds to the ongoing urban renewal and other efforts that have transformed downtown from a deserted string of vacant storefronts to a place that feels alive. The success story downtown includes the Lithia building, Pear Blossom Park, Common Block, the Higher Education Center, a rejuvenated library and, of course, the Craterian theater, which kicked off the urban renewal effort. There’s an active nightlife, with restaurants and bars pulling people downtown in ways that could only have been dreamed of 20 years ago.

There’s work to be done to cement those gains. The volunteer homeless cleanup crews will be doing some of that work, and for that we should thank them, Rogue Retreat and city officials.

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