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Contention doesn't solve homelessness

Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice was right when he said contention wouldn’t solve the homeless crisis.

For the past few months, the county and the City of Roseburg have been exchanging barbs over a temporary homeless shelter the county built across from the Roseburg Public Library and the Douglas County Courthouse. Boice had the structure put up after some county workers complained about homeless people sleeping on the courthouse campus.

And for several months, everything seemed to be going pretty well. Boice called the shelter a successful pilot project, saying it reduced littering in the area, provided overnight shelter for about a dozen people each night and made county employees feel safer. In fact, all seemed well until the city swooped in and demanded the county apply for a conditional use permit, and began issuing fines to people who were spending the night in the warm, dry shelter.

One man using the shelter said he had already racked up $1,000 in fines issued by Roseburg police officers, an astonishing and insulting amount for sleeping in a $1,700 metal carport.

But maybe it’s telling that Boice, a county commissioner, seems to be a more effective city leader than the current slate of councilors at providing immediate solutions to the homeless problem. After all, while the City Council continues to hold goal-setting meetings where councilors plan to “explore strategies to address issues related to unhoused individuals within the community,” Boice and the county are out there putting their money where their mouth is.

Which isn’t necessarily to say the county should circumvent city code and continue to build shelters across the city, but instead of forcing the county to take down the shelter, maybe Mayor Larry Rich and the city should have found an appropriate place to move the shelter before ripping it away from the homeless during the holiday season.

Contention certainly isn’t the answer, but neither is inaction, which sadly, is what everyone has come to expect — including those who need the help. Which you can see in what’s perhaps the most heartbreaking detail of this entire saga: while the two governments were arguing about legal conditions, the homeless using the shelter weren’t counting on the goodwill to last forever.

“I didn’t figure it was going to last very long,” said one man after sleeping in the shelter during a 29 degree November night.