The solution to homelessness is homes

As a candidate, I am asked about homelessness more than any other issue (aside from Covid, of course). Homelessness is not a new problem for Central Oregon. In 2011, the Homeless Leadership Coalition, our regional continuum of care organization, put forth an ambitious ten year plan to end homelessness. Ten years later, the homelessness crisis appears worse than ever. And yet the solution is obvious: Provide homes.

Frankly, I’m surprised at how controversial this is. While I am certainly not a subject matter expert on homelessness, I believe policy should be grounded in evidence, and the available evidence overwhelming supports a Housing First model. Moreover, my personal experience has borne this out.

In 2016, my wife’s parents were evicted from the home they had rented for decades, and he was soon thereafter diagnosed with prostate cancer. At age 70, they had limited income and terrible credit, and without help my father-in-law would have lived his remaining days in a Volvo older than I am.

In contrast to our relationship with my own parents, our relationship with Amy’s parents is strained. And yet it was clear that no one else was going to help them. Seeing no better option, we decided to take out a loan to buy a small but comfortable house to rent to my father-in-law and his wife on terms they could afford. Five years later, despite a continued decline in health (including a major stroke), they are still safely living in their home and paying their rent with pride.

All too often, we dehumanize the unhoused as crazy, violent addicts. But the overwhelming majority of people experiencing homelessness are no different from my father-in-law: A human being who, hard as he may be to like, is still deserving of love and compassion.

Of course, the housing first model assumes there is housing to provide in the first place. The root of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing, and solving that crisis is neither simple nor easy. Oregon’s land use laws, which prevent sprawl and preserve the open spaces that make Oregon special, limit the county government’s ability to increase housing stock. It really falls to city governments to expand housing supply.

As Deschutes County Commissioner, I will work closely with city leaders from La Pine to Sisters to promote conditions favorable to increased housing supply – that includes providing builders a seat at the table. I will enthusiastically support efforts to create joint city/county offices to coordinate services for people who are or are at risk of experiencing homelessness. And I will never waver from my belief that housing is a human right.

The day we closed on our house in Madras, Oregon