Perspectives On Housing:  What’s Stopping Us?

Blurred image of a house, with text reading Perspectives On Housing: What's Stopping Us? By John Maelan

 

by John Maelan, WashCo Dems Communications Committee Member

In my lifetime the discussion about folks living in the urban outdoors has evolved quite a bit. But have things improved on that front at all?

First off, let’s face it, even Republicans acknowledge that so many unhoused folks living in tents by the roadside in unsanitary conditions is not a good thing. Now, I grew up in the sprawling metropolis of Dayton, Ohio (population 137,000, including pets). And when I was a kid, we had one unhoused person that everybody called “Raggs.” One. And when the poor old guy finally passed away, in 1980, it made front page news. Death of a homeless man–front page news? Yep, because we had so few back then that it kind of stood out.

Now, of course, the situation is radically different, so when the unhoused pass away it hardly even makes the local obituaries. Numbers of people on the street have been on a steady increase since the Reagan administration, and factors like the 2008 housing crash and the 2020 COVID pandemic have not helped the situation any.

So, the first question should be:  what can be done to help the situation?

Thankfully, some progress has been made in our own Washington County. According to a recent Oregonian article (https://www.oregonlive.com/politics/2024/03/washington-county-has-eliminated-homeless-encampments.html) our county government has established ninety “tiny homes” at three locations and also created other shelters from business hotels, which allowed county workers to eliminate seven of our larger homeless encampments. And the county government is not alone in the struggle. The Aloha United Methodist Church created the Safe Rest Village at Aloha, also with assistance from the Washington county government (https://www.washingtoncountyor.gov/housing/news/2024/02/05/safe-rest-village-aloha-united-methodist-church-umc-opening-demonstrates-power-faith-partnerships). And what’s more, our county has purchased several non-profitable hotels and converted them to shelters for the unhoused, such as the former Aloha Inn (https://katu.com/news/local/aloha-inn-opens-for-permanent-homeless-housing-in-washington-county-oregon).

But the work has not been easy and is not by any means done. Any walk down Shaw St in Aloha will reveal people still living in tents. Shopping carts stuffed with belongings can similarly be seen next to napping men and women along TV Highway any day of the week.

With that in mind, what do we do now?

Well, frankly, I am of the opinion that we should start by simply doing more. What Washington County is doing is working, and we need to encourage our county government to keep it up. On the flip side we also need to stop doing what doesn’t work, which is to pretend our neighbor’s problems are not our own.

So, what’s stopping us?

Remember that Methodist Church that built shelters on their parking lot? Funny story, the churches’ neighbors raised unholy hell to stop it from ever happening. I personally attended an outdoor service at that Church a few months back, and witnessed angry protestors on the sidewalk. As the service commenced, I strained to hear the preacher talk over the roar of motorcycle engines, and the blare of loud music coming from the house next door.

On another occasion, several years ago, I attended a county commissioner’s meeting that needed police presence to keep an angry mob from assaulting proponents of a proposed group home for the mentally ill, right here in nice Beaverton. The phenomenon is known as NIMBY, an abbreviation for “Not In My Back Yard.” And folks will raise NIMBY Cain if they think any shelter that accommodates the less fortunate is to be built near their residence. And the stupid part is that tent villages continue to be erected next to these same people’s residences! Now I ask you, would you rather have a tiny house village near your home, where the unlucky of our county can get a chance to rebuild a decent life, or a homeless camp full of bubble tents and stolen shopping carts?

Seriously, people, what we need in Washington County is more of the former and less of the latter. More support for county programs that work and less NIMBY noise that doesn’t. And this, I am proud to say, is what Democrats are fighting for, doing things that work to make our communities better for everyone. Oh, and did I mention that three of the five commissioners that run the Washington County government are Democrats? Now, just imagine what we could do with four… or five!

Keep voting, Washington County. Not only our friends and neighbors, but our democracy depends on it.