- Associated Press - Monday, December 5, 2016

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

The (Eugene) Register-Guard, Dec. 4, on homelessness

The statistics in a new report were bad enough: 21,340 students in Oregon public schools were homeless in the last school year; 1,929 pre-kindergarten students were homeless; 524 students - about one out of every 10 - in the Bethel School District were homeless, 900 students in the Eugene School District, about one in 20, were homeless; 480 students in the Springfield School District were homeless, also about one out of 20.

But it was reporter Alisha Roemeling’s story of one boy, Luke Perrin, age 7, that broke the hearts of some Register-Guard readers.

Luke and his father, Robert Perrin, had spent the night in some bushes behind a Walmart store, with only a blanket and a tarp for shelter. The father was faced with telling his son that he was going to have to leave his beloved McCornack Elementary School in west Eugene because they were catching a bus to Corvallis in hopes of getting space together in a shelter.

Stories like Luke’s are a painful reminder of the faces behind the numbers. They’re a reminder of the thousands of stories of heartbreaks those statistics represent. They’re a reminder that homelessness remains a hidden problem for many - the classmates or the fellow employees who don’t go home but to a shelter, if they’re lucky, or to a car or a tent if they’re not.

They’re a reminder that thousands of children in Oregon are growing up without adequate shelter, food, clothing or security. And if the humanitarian aspects of this are not enough, well, consider the economic costs in the coming years and decades.

It’s understandable that Oregonians are feeling donor fatigue after years of being asked to help people who lost jobs and homes during the recession.

The problem is, even a rising economic tide is not lifting all boats. While new jobs continue to be created in Lane County, not all are highly paid. Some of the jobs that went away during the recession aren’t coming back, and not everyone has the skills or experience needed to land the new ones.

Wages have remained stagnant or have fallen in a number of industries, but living costs have not. Oregon’s median family income in 2015 was about 1.6 percent below 2008, while the median rent increased 9.8 percent during that period.

And the safety net for people like Robert Perrin has developed some gaping holes. The wait for public and multifamily housing programs can range from one to four years, depending on size and location. Some waiting lists, such as the one for one-bedroom apartments in the Eugene-Springfield area, have been closed because waiting times are excessively long, says the Housing and Community Services Agency of Lane County.

Given all this, it’s no surprise that nonprofit groups and social service agencies are being swamped by people needing shelter, including families with children and vulnerable teenagers who are on their own.

The Lane County Poverty and Homelessness Board, with the help of its local partners has tripled the number of emergency shelter beds available from November to March, to 90, but says more are needed.

St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County, which operates a number of shelter programs, including for families with children, expanded virtually all of them this year but is struggling to keep up with the growing demand.

“We thought we had done a lot by expanding capacity before this (winter) season,” spokesman Paul Neville said. “We thought we were in good shape, but we were maxed out even before the weather turned cold.”

There’s a waiting list for the InterFaith Night Shelter, which rotates homeless families among local faith organizations. Additional slots for families living out of their cars have all been absorbed, with other people being turned away. And there is a continuing shortage of shelter beds for families with children. As the need continues to grow, not just locally but across Oregon and the United States, people like Neville worry about the future - with good cause.

Spending to alleviate homelessness grew under the Obama administration, but not by enough to compensate for decades of neglect and cuts in spending on anti-poverty programs that began in the Reagan era, when the budget for public housing and rental assistance was cut in half, to about $17.5 billion. The country went from having a surplus of 300,000 low-cost housing units, some of them admittedly substandard, in 1970 to a deficit of 3.3 million units by 1985, according to a report from the National Housing Institute. Federally funded job training and affordable child care programs also were wiped out during the 1980s, putting more pressure on the poor. It was during that period that homelessness exploded in America, with many of them Vietnam veterans, children and laid-off workers.

Today, states and local communities struggle to meet a need that outstrips the available resources. There are some successes, such as the housing projects St. Vincent de Paul continues churn out, and a package of bills to alleviate homelessness passed in the last legislative session.

But local nonprofit groups trying to find shelter for people like the Perrins desperately need more support - donations and volunteers. The Oregon Housing Alliance is preparing more proposals to bring to the Legislature, including protections for tenants and incentives to build and retain affordable housing. These proposals will need support. But state and local efforts can only apply a Band-Aid to a gaping wound, they don’t have the resources to heal it.

What is needed above all is recognition at the congressional level of a continuing national crisis in affordable housing. Voters need to insist on action. This isn’t a Democratic or a Republican issue, it is an American issue.

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The (La Grande) Observer, Dec. 2, on holiday season giving

The holiday season is here and that usually means a greater community-wide focus on how to help the less fortunate.

While fighting hunger and poverty in our community should be - and must be - a year-round battle, the Christmas season typically puts an added emphasis on the issue.

We want to encourage those in the community who can to give back by volunteering or donating items - such as foodstuffs - to area charity organizations and food banks.

While it would be a nice concept to believe that our community is devoid of needy individuals and families, it is a picture that does not fit reality.

Many in our community fight hunger and poverty daily. Many of those individuals not only have a job but some hold down two or more as they struggle to make ends meet. The issue isn’t one unique to Union County. In fact, poverty and hunger are a statewide challenge.

According to the Oregon Food Bank, more than 600,000 Oregonians face food shortages and more than 200,000 of those are children.

Those figures are, of course, way too high. And while the poverty and hunger issue is not a simple one - culture and economics play pivotal roles - we can as a community face the issue with an unpretentious viewpoint by doing what we can as individuals to help.

That help can be best manifested in donating food items to food banks and pantries. The holiday season is traditionally one of giving, and contributing what you can to a local organization that strives to help those fighting poverty is a good way to make a difference.

There are plenty of families out there in Union and Wallowa counties that need the help desperately. Those folks could be your friends or neighbors or maybe just an acquaintance. But in the end, they are individuals who are trying to get by on limited budgets during a time of year where every single mass-media outlet is pushing for you to spend more.

For a child who is hungry, all the Christmas lights and holiday cheer are not much solace. A good meal doesn’t sound like too much to ask for in this great nation - one of the richest on the globe - but we can’t seem to find a sure way to end such challenges.

That is why a single effort by one individual can make a huge difference. Imagine two people or three or four or a dozen who chip in to help. Suddenly the seemingly impossible solution becomes achievable.

Perhaps one person can’t fix the hunger and poverty issue and perhaps even 10,000 can’t. Yet 10,000 or 100 people working together to give a little bit during this holiday season can make a huge difference. So, as you prepare for the upcoming holiday, don’t forget those in the community who could use some Christmas cheer.

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The Oregonian, Dec. 3, on protections for the Owyhee Canyonlands and the Cascade-Siskiyou Mountains

Two separate fights to protect two extraordinary patches of Oregon have in recent months escalated as President Barack Obama’s term comes to a close. That’s because he could, by the authority Congress granted to him in a far less populous time, singularly issue sweeping protections to the Owyhee Canyonlands in southeastern Oregon and the Cascade-Siskiyou Mountains in southwestern Oregon and northern California.

The drive to limit development and resource use in both areas makes sense but for different reasons. Oregonians will never get back the lightless skies at night or the lonely beauty of ancient, eroded terrain cut through by wild rivers in the Owyhee if given over to mining or highway-building. Separately, Oregonians risk losing some of the site-specific, mind-bending biodiversity that makes the forested Cascade-Siskiyou realm a delicate universe requiring limits on use.

But Obama should say no to designating national monument status to the 2.5-million acre Owyhee Canyonlands. And he should say yes to doubling the already successful Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

Selective wilderness designations, river protections and broad prohibitions on mining would be strategic, consequential steps Congress could take to protect the Owyhee Canyonlands, the largest undeveloped expanse of land in the lower 48 states. Significantly, doing so would ensure that an economically vital and long-established ranching culture goes unthreatened by monument designation.

By contrast, in the more populated realm anchored by Ashland and Medford, the fish-bearing waterways and exotic flora that make the Siskyous distinct face potential threat from fragmented lands and warmer temperatures from climate change. Immediate monument expansion would connect fragmented lands within and outside the monument, offering lifelines to potentially marooned species, and help preserve what the 2000 presidential decree called an “ecological wonder … of rare and beautiful species of plants and animals, whose continued survival … depends upon its continued ecological integrity.”

Few dispute that President-elect Donald Trump might bring to the nation a different ethic about development and land use, and it remains true that roughly half of Oregon is owned by the federal government and run by agencies such as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. While most folks in rural Harney County and surrounding areas objected to the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, simmering resentments across the American West about public lands management came to the fore. So Oregon must have a voice in deciding what’s right for the extraordinary landscape that Oregonians call home. That means the Owyhee and the Siskyous warrant bolstered protections only by actions that honor on-the-ground sentiment, essential to declaring shared destiny and preserving democracy.

Years ago Idaho withstood fears that its Owyhee lands would win monument designation and dodged it by creating 518,000 acres of protected wilderness. It has worked well, among other things limiting mechanized uses of sensitive lands.

But Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley in June proposed legislation that would shield more than 2 million acres of the Owyhee Canyonlands from mineral exploitation, including oil and gas drilling. It was a clear call to leave the ground the way it is and do so in such a way that supports farmers and ranchers who work in an environmentally sustainable fashion. They should press Congress to approve the legislation while citing a report released just last month from the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries showing plenty of untapped riches beneath the surface in southeastern Oregon.

Both senators, meanwhile, have deferred to Obama on monument designation, preferring to make known the Oregon sentiments on all sides of the issue. Yet both have been supportive of expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, even as some logging- and ranching-based voices in the region claim they are unheard.

Presidents are twitchy in their monument designations, which can sharply limit access while altering ecologies and firefighting techniques. Bill Clinton created eight monuments in his last three days of office. Obama has made several already. His interior secretary and former REI chief, Sally Jewell, has advocated wise stewardship of public lands, and her counsel will count in the weeks ahead. But any presidential decree affecting Oregon must reflect this modern reality: Oregon’s public lands conform to contemporary uses while honoring the communities rooted in them. Owyhee needs wilderness, river protection and mining-prohibition legislation - but no monument decree. The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, meanwhile, should build upon its success with expansion that will ensure its vitality.

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The (Medford) Mail-Tribune, Dec. 2, on Gov. Brown’s budget proposal

Gov. Kate Brown says her budget proposal, released Thursday, contains cuts she finds “absolutely unacceptable.” She also calls her plan “a short-term solution, nothing more.” Unfortunately, that’s been this state’s approach for far too long: patch the leaks, tax the usual victims just enough to limp through another biennium, but never address the underlying problems.

Oregon faces a $1.7 billion shortfall in the two-year budget lawmakers will craft starting in February. Much of that is the result of the state’s public employee pension liability, but Brown’s budget contains no proposals to address that problem.

Oregon voters were asked Nov. 8 to approve a corporate gross receipts tax that would have raised an estimated $3 billion. They said no emphatically; the measure passed in only two counties. Now it’s up to the Legislature to figure out how to get along without it.

Governors’ budget proposals aren’t intended to be final documents; the budget is the job of the Legislature. The co-chairs of the joint Ways and Means Committee will issue their own proposed spending document later, and the final budget frequently resembles neither proposal.

The governor’s budget includes significant cuts - she would close a newly opened psychiatric hospital in Junction City and a youth correctional facility in Clatsop County - reduce funding for local developmental disability programs and slash Project Independence, which helps seniors stay in their homes, among other reductions.

K-12 education would see more money than in the current budget, but much of that would go to pension payments, leaving schools with $500 million less than districts say they need. College and university funding would be unchanged, which higher education officials say wouldn’t be enough to fund existing service levels.

On the revenue side, Brown would increase liquor and cigarette taxes - always the path of least resistance - and eliminate a tax break for S corporations that she says hasn’t created the investment or jobs it was supposed to generate. Other tax credits would expire, and hospitals and insurance companies would see a tax increase as well.

Brown says she’s open to suggestions from the Legislature on other ways to raise revenue, and will listen to proposals to reform PERS, but has said there is little the state can still do about pensions that will survive court challenges.

It’s time for the Legislature to get serious about fixing the state’s dysfunctional tax system, a topic that has generated much discussion over the years but precious little action. While they’re at it, lawmakers should get serious with public employee unions and negotiate more changes in the pension system to chip away at the unfunded liability plaguing the budgets of state agencies, school districts and local governments.

Majority Democrats have the power to push for real changes, if they can find the will. Minority Republicans already have denounced Brown’s budget and blamed the Democrats for what they call unsustainable spending, but they will have to spell out where they think cuts should be made, and be open to some revenue increases, too.

Brown says her budget “represents the beginning of a conversation, not the end.”

Let the conversation begin.

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The Daily Astorian, Dec. 5, on the death of Hardy Myers

Hardy Myers was a gentleman.

That is a too-rare quality in today’s political climate, but it was more of the norm during Myers’ long tenure as a legislator, speaker of the Oregon House and attorney general. Myers, who died last week at 77, will be remembered as one of the last of his breed, as well as a statesman in his own right.

For generations, “The Oregon Way” - innovation and collaboration despite partisan differences - governed state politics.

Remnants of that time, when the common good often trumped party affiliation and political ego, still remain. For example, Oregon candidates rarely indicate their party affiliation on their lawn signs and in their fliers, whereas in neighboring Washington state, political party is featured prominently in campaign materials. And in contrast with other states, Oregon officials don’t plaster their names all over “Welcome to Oregon” signs; they usually drive their own cars instead of being chauffeured; and they commonly are on a first-name basis with constituents, as was “Hardy.”

In that spirit of commonality a decade ago, Democratic state Senate President Peter Courtney and Republican House Speaker Karen Minnis worked together to improve the antiquated conditions at the Oregon State Hospital, where “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” was filmed, and to lay the groundwork for new psychiatric hospitals in Salem and Junction City.

It’s no surprise that Courtney reacted to word of Myers’ death by saying that the news broke his heart: “He taught me everything. . He taught me to respect other people and other viewpoints. . He was a genuinely nice human being.”

Myers was raised in central Oregon, and following his conscience was more important than his ideology as a Democrat. As a state representative, he succeeded - for a short time - in blocking reinstatement of the Oregon death penalty. His conscience stood up to intense political pressure inside and outside the Capitol.

Republican U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith would later take a similar stand of conscience at the federal level, refusing to support physician-assisted suicide even though Oregon voters twice approved the process. Myers was on the other side, fighting to uphold the Oregon law.

In the days since Myers’ death, he has been lauded for his national work on school safety after the Thurston High School shooting in 1998, his legal fight against tobacco companies and his tenacity in strengthening Oregon laws against domestic and sexual violence.

But above all, Hardy Myers should be remembered as a true Oregonian.

A man who kept his word.

A statesman.

A gentleman.

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