Tonight the Salem City Council had a work session on its 2022 Policy Agenda.
I watched some of it, but I have a low tolerance for discussions of this sort that tend to have elected officials and staff talking at length without really coming to grips with key issues in a fashion that ordinary people can relate to.
(If you have a high tolerance for this, the work session can be viewed here.)
Of course, maybe I missed a part of the work session where city councilors did come to grips with the top priority of the City of Salem -- dealing with homelessness.
A post that appeared today on the CANDO (Central Area Neighborhood Organization) blog, "News from the Continuum," is a masterful summary of how Salem has been handling homelessness. I highly recommend it.
In short, not as well as was planned, but better than before. The post says:
Referring back to the tally publicized last June in the "City Puts 8.1 Million Toward Salem's Sheltering Crisis" announcement, here's how things have turned out as we head into winter:
I liked how the post aptly describes a central question facing city officials is whether to prioritize managing homelessness or ending homelessness. This is sort of akin to the age-old question of whether treatment or prevention is more important in health care.
Mayor Bennett asked about "sustainability", "how long can we do this" (i.e., pay for programs that manage vs. end homelessness). Hoy continued to defend, sans evidence, management programs as an "investment", and asserted that such programs were what "the public" wanted. Bennett (the Mayor) said what the public wanted was for the City to "make it go away."
I think the Mayor is right.
After many years of shuffling homeless people around Salem -- letting them sleep on downtown sidewalks, then stopping this and allowing unmanaged homeless camps in two city parks, followed by closing down those camps and doing other things, like managed camps of tiny homes -- citizens are tired of ever-changing temporary efforts to manage homelessness.
If Congress passes the Build Back Better bill, hopefully this will allow Salem to make real progress in ending homelessness in our city, rather than merely managing the problem. Of course, just as treatment and prevention both have to be part of health care, managing homelessness will be needed so long as it still exists.
Income inequality seems to be a root cause of homelessness. This obviously is too large a problem for any city or state to deal with. It's a national issue. But this shouldn't stop city officials from focusing on efforts to end homelessness in Salem.
Tiny home camps are better than no homes at all. However, getting homeless people into real homes should be the top priority.