With colder, wet weather, the urgency of shelter for Seaside’s homeless population grows greater. So does the potential frustration as two city advisory groups wind up meetings and prepare to take action.
Efforts directed toward solving the problem of homelessness tend to fall off track or get diverted, homelessness think tank member Nelle Moffett said.
People may not have a focused attention on solutions, become overwhelmed or discouraged at how big the problem is. “Then it evolves into business as usual,” Moffett said. “And everybody’s busy, so that’s an easy place to go.”
“We can talk this to death,” City Councilor Tita Montero said. “It’s so overwhelming that it can just batter us down. We’ve done a lot of good work here. We are ready, we want to jump, but we can’t jump because we either don’t know which way to jump or we don’t have the resources to do that.”
Seaside’s push to address homelessness grew amid reports of people living in cars, the streets and in the woods.
Oregon state House Bill 2006 requires local governments to approve applications for emergency shelter, regardless of any land use laws. House Bill 3115 aims to protect unsheltered Oregonians from fines or arrest for sleeping or camping on public property when there are no other options. Seaside has until mid-2023 to comply.
The topic was among the top identified issues at a City Council goal-setting meeting in January. A warming center, shelters and a homeless liaison for Clatsop County were identified as major needs for Seaside. The county hired two homeless liaisons in the spring, but options for the homeless off Seaside’s streets haven’t materialized.
For Public Works Director McDowell, the problem transcends income levels.
“We have a huge problem in Seaside, and housing, period,” McDowell said. “Our workforce can’t find housing. It’s not affordable. Businesses are struggling with shortened hours, which decreases revenue. We’re a city 3 miles long, 1 mile wide at best. And we have no housing here that’s affordable for anyone. We don’t have available land to build the housing because most of the land that is left is a wetland or floodway.”
The urgency is growing with the change of seasons, Mayor Jay Barber said. “One of the high priorities is a warming center/navigation center centrally located somewhere here in Seaside,” he said.
Montero urged collaboration with other governmental entities, especially in siting locations to address the need. “While the city may not have property for transitional or permanent housing, land may be available elsewhere in the county,” she said. “We have to have a local mentality but we also need a county mentality.”
A City Council workshop will take place Nov. 8 prior to the regular council meeting, at which time councilors could adopt a set of initiatives.
Barber hopes to focus on “low-hanging fruit.”
“My hope would be that the group focuses on three or four initiatives so that we begin to see some tangible work being done,” he said. “We’ve talked in general about some of these, like a warming center. We’ve talked about the tiny house developments, we’ve talked about finding a campus or RV park — to really begin to focus on tangible solution projects that we can begin to work on.”