Using city-owned lots or buildings for shelters and overnight parking. A resource center. Showers and port-a-potties. A warming center and improved access to mental health and drug treatment services.
These options were among the proposed solutions at Seaside’s fifth forum on homelessness held last Wednesday at City Hall.
“You lose your self-esteem when you are homeless,” Michaela, who chose to only use her first name, told the audience.
Michaela, 55, said she was four days away from being homeless and living in Mill Ponds, a natural history park where some homeless people have chosen to stay.
“These people have been out there so long, they get so down,” she said. “You can’t get off the streets when you’re there at ground zero with nothing. You’re so broken. You’re sleeping on the sidewalk. And it’s hard, and it’s cold.
“You wake up in the morning and you’ve got to go to the toilet. Where do you go? The bushes. There’s nowhere to go. It’s gross. Nobody wants to live like that. None of these people want to be like that.”
Putting a face to the homeless in Seaside and finding adequate shelter for them was one of the goal’s of the meeting. Nelle Moffett and Rick Bowers, who founded Friends of the Unsheltered, moderated the event.
The event followed four previous sessions focused on finding answers to the complex web of need and resources for the city’s unsheltered.
“I think my first thought would be to remember that the homeless community, bottom line, they are people,” Seamus McVey, who facilitates a recovery clinic working with addicts, the mentally ill and homeless in Seaside, said. “They may have been you, or you, or me — all deserving the same basic levels of respect.”
Not having a place to go or access to resources are the biggest issues, McVey said. “Agencies in the area are not set up to help those actively on the street,” he said.
A lack of housing availability throughout Clatsop County makes matters more difficult.
“We have the ability to help people get into housing, deposits, sometimes a few months rent — the trick is to find a place,” Cheryl Paul, a homeless liaison with Clatsop Community Action, said. “And for most of the programs, the trick is, they need to find a place. And guess what. There are just no places right now. ... When they do come open, they go very quickly. There’s just no place to put anybody.”
Some homeless are working, and their transition to housing should come first, Moffett said. “One strategy is to house the easy ones, low-hanging fruit, so to speak, get the people who are not crazy, not addicted, that are working,” she said. “Let’s get them housed, and then work on the next group of people and we can solve the problem for them.”
“Everybody loves to live on the beach, but it’s not cheap to live at the beach,” Bruce Rosebrock, a resident, said. “I’m in favor of transitional housing. If you’ve got taxpayer money or donor money, they want to see some success with their money. But how do you make that work? I think the average person has a good heart, but we don’t all have bottomless pocketbooks. To see success, the community wants to see results.”
Changes to city ordinances removing panhandling laws or sleeping in vehicles could decriminalize homelessness and ease the burden on law enforcement. A limit on the number of vacation rentals in the community could also be enacted to free up available housing.
Kathy Kleczek, who serves on the Planning Commission, suggested a food and beverage tax to take the burden off local taxpayers. “We’re tiptoeing around the systemic issue,” she said. “It would be a great idea to find a different source of how to fund our infrastructure. We need a tax from those who come to visit, who have the money in their pocket.”
The tax, like the proposed 5% food tax in Cannon Beach that could go to voters in November, is a valuable means of raising funds for the community, Kleczek said.
City Councilor Tita Montero, who helped organize the homelessness forums, said the next step is brainstorming. “You put all those ideas out there, no matter how crazy they are,” she said. “You don’t say ‘no’ to anything, you don’t judge anything. You get it all on the table. And then you start sorting through, ‘Where can we do this one, where can we do this one?’
“If you don’t do anything, you won’t get anywhere,” Montero added. “At some point, we have to take that step of faith and say, ‘We’re going to try this.’ And we’re going to see what happens.”