The unhoused crisis escalates across Roseburg

Homelessness has become an extremely obvious problem in Douglas County as a whole. As students grow more observant, the effects of the unhoused crisis on small businesses, local areas, and public events become clear. Last summer, an initiative was started to clear out homeless camps and move people into shelters or other viable housing.

After the initiative died down, tents are still up, people are still sleeping on benches, and the unhoused population, between 2017 and now, has grown.

In Roseburg, specifically, Lynn Antis, the Executive Director of Roseburg Rescue Mission, had this to say: “Our nightly bed count, right now, is a hundred and twenty-five at night,” she began. “And it’s down from pre-pandemic. We were running at around one-seventy per night.” 

The bed count is still high, along with many mouths to feed, both at Roseburg Rescue Mission and the Samaritan Inn. However, there are still beds available at both locations, as well as resources to help those on the streets. 

When asked how to help the people still on the streets, the biggest emphasis was this: “Don’t give out money.” Antis goes on to say, “The average person on the street has a drug or alcohol problem and will use that money to fuel their addiction, rather than for help.” 

Financially supporting homeless people until they are stable will only lead to them continuing to stay in that environment, according to Antis. A term used to describe this situation is Toxic Charity, which describes charity that an individual uses as a crutch, rather than to stabilize themselves and look for an alternative way of life away from that charity.

Antis adds that “since the problem is primarily drugs, the solution is law enforcement.” If citations were given out to those still in tents and unofficial campgrounds, we could start getting to those who need some real help.

The cycle of addiction is what is keeping these people on the streets and away from shelters and available resources. As a town, the problem with drugs hasn’t changed for years, with addiction going from generation to generation. Currently, teenage homelessness in Oregon ranges from 1,000-2,000, with many teens not identifying as “homeless,” but still not knowing where they might sleep the next day. 

Homelessness, isn’t a simple issue. It’s an issue buried under the economy, which is supported by drugs and alcohol, the neglect of those living below or on the poverty line, and the growing housing crisis, which truly may never be solved.

This story originally appeared in the print edition of the Orange R in December 2023.