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NIMBY attitudes delay help for homelessness

You could almost say homelessness is like the weather: Everybody talks about it but no one ever does anything.

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Almost — because there are dedicated, determined people doing their best to address the homelessness problem, including the city of Medford. The problem is, too many people who complain about the homeless resist efforts to help when housing and other projects are proposed in their neighborhoods.

The latest chapter is a “navigation center” proposed by Medford officials that would include shelter beds and a 24-hour, one-stop place that would directly provide homeless people with the services they need to begin to break the cycle and eventually get off the streets. Using a $2.5 million grant from the state, the city plans to turn over the operation of the center to a local organization, yet to be named, that has at least two years’ experience running a shelter and the ability to open the center by next July 1.

Also yet to be announced: the location of the center. And there lies the biggest obstacle to success.

City officials told the Mail Tribune they have a potential site in mind, but they aren’t announcing it yet, for good reason.

Previous shelter projects have been delayed and nearly scuttled because of objections from neighbors, whether the location was in a residential or commercial area. Hope Village, the tiny-house development built by Rogue Retreat, was delayed for months after its first location, a city-owned lot surrounded by commercial properties, generated opposition from nearby owners.

A second proposed location also met resistance before the third site, on McAndrews Road, was successfully developed. Hope Village has been a success there and has doubled in size, with few of the problems opponents had feared. Other Rogue Retreat projects, an urban campground off Biddle Road and the indoor Kelly Shelter, have generated few calls to police, contrary to the fears of some opponents.

More recently, Heart Village, a 12-unit tiny house project for closely supervised, recovering drug addicts was proposed adjacent to the Addiction Recover Center. Again, neighbors objected, and Rogue Retreat is looking for another site.

The navigation center, like those operated in other cities, would provide mental health or drug counseling on site when necessary, along with meals, storage, laundry, beds and restrooms. These are the services homeless people need but have trouble finding, especially when they must visit multiple locations to get them.

Homelessness is not a problem with a quick, easy solution. Forbidding camping along the greenway, as the city has recently done in the interest of preventing fires, merely moves the problem elsewhere. Shelters, designated campgrounds and now a proposed navigation center are all organized, well-run responses that can make a real difference — if they are allowed to open and operate.

Reflexive, not-in-my-backyard opposition to these efforts will only cause more delay, which helps no one.