Watching how city staff and the City Council are trying to deal with Salem's homeless problem reminds me of a 60 Minutes story I saw recently about Venice's flooding problem.
The periodic floods of Venice have become more threatening and more frequent. This past November, a sudden storm surge overwhelmed nearly 90% of the city. Climate scientists say what happened that night exactly two months ago in Venice is a warning to the world of what's to come – and not just in Venice.
Climate change is raising sea levels. Venice is being inundated with water to a greater extent than ever before. Giant gates that can be closed to keep the ocean out of Venice are under construction, but they were only designed to be used sparingly. Now, they'd have to be used often, because of the effect of climate change, which they weren't engineered to do.
The 60 Minutes piece showed people in Venice dealing with the flooding with pumps, buckets, raised walkways. All they can do is try to lessen the impact of the rising waters, not deal with the core problem: rapidly rising levels of greenhouse gases all over our planet.
Likewise, people in Salem are trying to deal with our city's homeless problem the best they can. Most recently, according to stories in the Salem Reporter, the City Council is considering allowing car camping in designated places and turning the city-owned Pringle Hall into a homeless shelter.
Yet these actions, as necessary as they are, are akin to pumping out water from a flooded Venice building, which has zero effect on global carbon dioxide levels. They do nothing to deal with the root causes of people living on the streets.
Some residents of Venice have decided to move from their beautiful city, which I was able to spend a few days in back in 1968. But it really isn't possible to turn our backs on the homeless crisis, unless we're willing to turn our backs on fellow human beings who need our help.
Yesterday I walked along downtown's Court Street around 6 pm after my Tai Chi class was over. For the first time in a long time I didn't see any homeless people. Probably they had moved to the covered areas around the Nordstrom Mall and Rite-Aid, following a ban on homeless camps.
I have to be honest. It was more pleasant to not see homeless people and their belongings. That part of downtown seemed like it had returned to normal, at least for that one night.
But as I sipped a latte at Starbucks, I knew that Salem's homeless were still out there, having to cope with cold nights, physical and mental problems, the anxiety of not knowing when they'd be asked to move on by building security or police officers. It was as if I'd chanced upon a dry St. Mark's Square in Venice which, soon enough, would be flooded again.
Just as with climate change, dealing with homelessness requires action both locally and globally. A lack of affordable housing and extreme income inequality seem to be the main causes of homelessness, just as rising carbon dioxide levels are the prime cause of global warming.
So we can't expect much progress to be made on Salem's homeless problem until things change at the state and, especially, national level. Keep this in mind when you vote in the May primary election and November general election.
It's an undeniable fact that Republicans in Oregon and elsewhere don't support actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions anywhere near to the extent that Democrats do. Republicans also aren't nearly as committed as Democrats are to increasing the supply of affordable housing and reducing income inequality.
Thus if you claim to care about helping the homeless, and think that all people in Salem need to do is open more shelter beds and give homeless people a safer place to sleep outside, think again.
If you aren't voting for Democrats or progressive independents in local, state, and national elections, you're acting like someone who believes that dumping water out of a flooded Venice building is saving that city from rising sea levels. Yes, dealing with the effects of global warming is necessary, just as dealing with the effects of a lack of affordable housing and income inequality is.
But until citizens in this country elect politicians who are willing and ready to address the root causes of homelessness, Salem and all other cities in the United States will be trying to deal with a rising tide that can't be stopped without drastic action.
Which hopefully, will come to pass after the 2020 election gives us a Democratic president and Congress.