Our View: Homeless zones deserve a closer look by council

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There’s no question the homeless population in the Auburn area has ballooned.
More camps are forming and this paper has reported on the issues the community has faced, and we’ve focused in on some of the factors that have caused this increase.
So it makes sense that the City of Auburn addresses the issue of where it can establish permanent shelters for the transient members of this community. The question that needs to be asked is, did the city’s Planning Commission make the right call with its proposed homeless shelter “zones?”
The answer here is, not quite yet. We hope the city council will raise more questions in April — when it will vote on a package of ordinance amendments — about these proposed areas and more debate can begin among not only the council, but the community and advocates for the homeless.
A closer examination of these zones, both located in industrial areas of town, is required to really understand the consequences of giving the OK to these areas.
Currently, one proposed zone is right next to the railroad tracks near the Auburn Chamber of Commerce building at the top of Lincoln Way. In reviewing photos of the proposed area, it seems just too close. Homes and businesses aren’t nearly as close to the tracks as these proposed shelter zones might be. One other thing to consider is, would the owners of the rail line be happy with structures that close to their line?
 Another area out by Railhead Park and Sacramento Street is also close to the rails, and is a fair distance from vital services that the people in these shelters need.
What these facilities might offer should be addressed as well. Building shelters without requirements for serviceable restrooms that would include shower facilities is short sighted.
We agree with the Gathering Inn’s Suzi deFosset that not putting these types of amenities into the buildings would be a detriment. The ultimate purpose of these shelters should be to provide a temporary landing pad for those looking to get back on their feet. Not having the proper facilities would make the task of getting employment again – it’s difficult to get an interview when you can’t get cleaned up take a shower –that much harder.
The council should also reexamine the occupancy rate when they review the commission’s findings. Limiting it to just 30 people instead of 60 doesn’t seem beneficial. Would it be damaging financially to cap the limit at 30, as opposed to 60 as deFosset suggests? Let’s vet that out.
In the same breath, the community voice must be heard. We understand the stance that if too much service is provided, incentive to get back on one’s feet might be curtailed. But while there are those that don’t have any intention of getting back into the societal norms, there are plenty that are looking for a chance to get back to a way of life they knew before. It’s a balancing act, juggling the right amount of services with the directive of getting people to pick themselves back up.
So Auburn, review these proposals and raise questions. Ask if there are any other areas where these zones can be established. Reach out to the advocates and get their input, how can we bring the services to the homeless at these shelters? What public facilities can we take these groups to so they can get cleaned up if these buildings are constructed without suitable restrooms?
And we ask the community, come with constructive ideas of what you think would work and where these shelters should be established. With those ideas, bring a spirit of compassion and compromise, because an air of not in my backyard (NIMBY) doesn’t do anything good for this community or its character.
This city is full of those willing to help and work to create a better community, let’s come together to reach a doable solution to a growing problem.