Effective, long-term solutions to Eugene’s homeless problem must include input from diverse perspectives in our community. Creative policies and actions can spread kindness not only to the homeless, but through the community at large. Unilateral or divisive approaches will only further inflame the polarized extreme voices.
Recently, there was a loud, raucous protest by “advocates for the homeless” at Elkhorn Brewery that disrupted the business. This is only the most recent assault on Stephen Sheehan, Elkhorn’s owner, whom the protestors claim is “anti-homeless”. This view couldn’t be further from the truth. This type of hate-filled action is not only unkind, but a hindrance to solving the homeless problem. Any successful solutions to homelessness will need to be implemented with the help and support of our local businesses, not by fighting them.
Without the tax revenue generated by private businesses and those they employ, there would be no funding for existing government services for the homeless nor the additional programs being proposed by the TAC report. Without private, local businesses there would be fewer grants and donations that support the local non-profits and faith-based organizations that do so much good for the homeless.
The personalized assault on Mr. Sheehan’s business by protestors is more harmful than an attack on the business community in general. After several years of putting up with the impact of well documented homeless issues that have harmed some local businesses, and two direct attacks of extreme vandalism on his restaurant, Mr. Sheehan took action. He organized a group of business owners to propose reasonable solutions. The group is called Eugene Wake Up.
Mr. Sheehan has used his own resources to help fund overnight foot patrols around his property and the surrounding blocks. This intentional act of kindness protected his restaurant and employees who walk to their vehicles after work each night. It also benefited UO students who live on these blocks. These actions became necessary because of the community’s failure to adequately address the homeless challenge.
Despite good intentions, the policies and actions implemented to date have not been effective in solving the problem. We are hopeful that with transparency and broad community input the implementation of recommendations in the TAC report will lead to better outcomes. Input essential to the process will come from community members concerned that laws and policies must be less accommodative and strictly enforced to assure personal accountability expectations.
Mr. Sheehan brings a valuable, unique perspective to potential solutions. He was once homeless himself. Believing everyone has potential to contribute, he is willing to spend his own time and resources in working toward solutions. His input in bridging the divide between the city, businesses, non-profits, the homeless and the greater community is invaluable. Instead of protesting, we should be applauding and supporting his efforts and his business.
There are many reasons people are homeless. Kind and effective solutions will both show compassion and expect accountability. Solutions will include safe housing, alcohol or drug treatment, mental health treatment, and a helping hand for those in a temporary financial crisis or fleeing an abusive situation. In short, help for those who need it and want it. But kindness also means that we don’t continue enabling people whose behavior is harmful to community safety and comfort or to business operations.
We must be kind and considerate to the greater community who financially and emotionally support the services that heal our most vulnerable neighbors and help them move from hopelessness to full community participation.
Permanent solutions to Eugene’s homeless crisis will only come about when we all work together. This problem will be solved when we bridge the divides we now have between different perspectives within our community, between the homeless and their advocates, government, business owners and others.
We believe that the best place to start is with feelings of compassion and motivations for kindness, especially in light of the decision not to prosecute the Elk Horn protestors.
We hope that community actions and solutions are promoted that are good for all of us. This might begin with a community get-together to discuss the issue of homelessness at your home with neighbors and friends who don’t always agree with you. We have developed a format and brief video for hosting these conversations. For more about how to organize these meetings and the Spreading Kindness Campaign’s efforts in general, please visit SpreadingKindnessCampaign.org.
Written by Ryan Radloff and Bruce Abel on behalf of the Spreading Kindness Campaign. Contact Ryan Radloff with feedback, topics for future columns or to get involved in community discussions. (firstname.lastname@example.org)