McMinnville considers sanctioned homeless camp

Civic Affairs

MCMINNVILLE, Ore. (KOIN) — In the face of growing homeless problems in McMinnville, city leaders have proposed a sanctioned homeless camp just outside of the city. 

But many neighbors are not on board with the idea. 

The homeless population has been steadily growing over the past 2 years in McMinnville. With the increase in homeless camps comes an increase in other problems, like crime and trash. 

RVs and tents have gathered near the McMinnville Water & Light building and Joe Dancer Park. 

Neighbors in the area say they’ve been threatened by some campers and, on occasion, chased by dogs living in the camp. 

One of the solutions the city is proposing is to build a sanctioned campsite in a field off Riverside Drive just outside city limits in Yamhill County. 

But for local resident Cecilia Pike, the proposal opens up a slew of concerns. 

“I’m concerned about drug use, I’m concerned about violence, I’m concerned about proper sanitation and public health,” said Pike. 

Pike’s concerns are shared by many in the community. But Jacob Miller, who lives in an RV in the area, encourages them to look at the matter in a different light. 

“People have to open up their hearts a little more about things,” he said. “They have to have compassion.” 

On Thursday, Yamhill County Commissioner Mary Starret said the county board only just learned about the proposal and county officials will have to consider zoning. 

Meanwhile, McMinnville Mayor Scott Hill sent the following statement to KOIN 6 News: 

“There is no project planned for that site or any other.  There have been a number of conversations in the community about the need for a wide variety of resources and services related to people without homes.  The City has been involved in many but not all of those conversations.  Our Affordable Housing Task Force and the Homelessness Subcommittee of that task force have discussed a wide array of short, medium and long term initiatives, including concepts like camps and low barrier shelters and has looked at properties, included City owned sites that might be suitable for such a concept.”

City Councilor Sal Peralta said he’s in favor of the city declaring an emergency to free up more resources to deal with the homeless crisis. 

Peralta sent KOIN 6 News the following statement: 

“Oregon is in the midst of a homelessness crisis.  3 years ago, we were 4th in unsheltered homelessness, last year’s report put us at 2nd.  There was some reporting in the media that we will be #1 in unsheltered homelessness after the most recent count.

Oregon has 1.3% of the nation’s population but 4.6% of the country’s total unsheltered homeless population.

As the Oregon CF report indicates, we are really in the middle of two crises – a highly visible one related to behavioral problems like mental health and addiction and a larger but less visible one related to housing affordability. 

McMinnville is hit especially hard on both fronts – first, because we are constricted for land and builders in our city have not been able to develop housing products that are affordable for many of our residents who earn below the regional average for income; second, because we are home to several services including the jail, department of health and other services such as the food bank, hospital and Virginia Garcia clinic that provide regional services to vulnerable people.

The region we are in, which includes most of the state’s 27 small counties including Marion and Polk, has a higher homeless population per capita than Portland or Eugene, according to the most recent published federal homelessness count.  We are 8th worst of any region in the country.

Despite this, our region only receives a fraction of federal dollars that Portland or Eugene receive to deal with homelessness — $548 versus $5500 – $6000 in Multnomah and Washington Counties, according to a presentation given by Jimmy Jones of the Mid-Willamette Action Agency and a former Marion county to the Board of Commissioners a few weeks ago. 

A few weeks ago, I suggested that we should consider declaring an emergency to help expedite some of the processes that we need to deal with.  Portland and Eugene have done similar things to try to get additional state resources.   The Governor of Hawai’i has declared an emergency fin 2015, 2016 and 2018 to suspend land use and zoning regulations that make it harder in that state to build affordable housing and emergency shelters in that state.

Although there is no sanitation where people are currently camping in a large congregation, County health says that there is no health emergency there because there is currently no outbreak of a major disease.  I do not agree.  We have a large number of people camping together with no sanitation.

In 2017, the state of Oregon declared an emergency to deal with the expected increase in tourism impacts on Eastern Oregon counties due to the solar eclipse.

I feel that if the state can declare an emergency to deal with a tourism crisis, it can do the same with regard to the current homelessness crisis, given the scale of the problem, particularly given that at least one other state with similar issues has done the same.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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