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Guest Opinion: Shelter is a basic human right

An Ashland resident recently argued that in order to fix the homeless “problem” we need to stop feeding them because this keeps them around.

This Ashland resident is upset because the homeless population is prohibited from sleeping within city limits so they are forced to camp outside of Ashland near residents' homes. She also argues that the homeless encampments are not full of homeless, but are actually full of people hoping to live under the radar so they can do what they want. In reality, homelessness is a complex issue that is the result of an interplay between lack of affordable housing, mental illness, and substance abuse.

Providing the homeless residents of Ashland one hot meal a week is not akin to “feeding the bears.” We provide the black bear population with a far more consistent food source. A proactive approach to this complaint is to provide the homeless residents of Ashland a warm and safe place to sleep seven nights a week so they are not forced to sleep in fields outside of town. Currently, two local churches, Trinity Episcopal and First Presbyterian, and Pioneer Hall provide a homeless shelter Monday through Thursday from November to April.

I am a senior Oregon Health & Science University nursing student and member of Nursing Students Without Borders. We are committed to finding shelter for this marginalized population during the coldest months of the year. In the past two weeks we have approached all 35 churches in Ashland and City Hall to request that they provide the location for a homeless shelter for the remaining three nights a week. Nursing Students Without Borders would even provide the volunteers to run the shelter. Unfortunately, we received a resounding “no” and one “maybe.”

I have had an enjoyable experience volunteering at Uncle Food’s Diner and the homeless shelters. The people have expressed nothing but kindness and gratitude for a hot meal and a warm place to sleep. The community organizations that provide shelter and other services for the homeless say they have not had an adverse incident during their eight years of operation.

It is a naive argument to say that if we stop feeding the homeless then they will go away. There have always been and always will be homeless people, whether we feed them or not. Each community has an ethical obligation to care for those who are mentally ill, unfortunate, poor and homeless.

As a member of the Ashland community I am not OK with ignoring this very real situation. The homeless are people. They shiver when it gets too cold.

Whatever your moral compass, be it religious or humanitarian, hopefully you will feel compassion for those in need of this basic human right that we are denying the homeless in our community. The homeless residents of Ashland need a place to go and I urge the local churches to open their doors and provide this crucial social service.

Randi Powell of Ashland, an Oregon Health & Science University nursing student, is a member of Nursing Students without Borders.