McMinnville caught our attention as a place to live when we were doing our research for a number of reasons. Graham first read about one of the local chefs who had spent several years in Italy learning how to make charcuterie and now runs the Fino in Fondo salumeria….he makes salami. Then Graham became aware of how this region excels in making pinot noir wine and as one who suffers gladly from oenophilia, he was happy to try to meet the challenge of the 100+ wineries in this county alone. Meanwhile, my research determined that this region of the Willamette Valley is truly a garden; among the vineyards and farms growing grass for seed and others growing most of the nations’ landscaping plants, there are many many farms producing food. I hoped to replicate my involvement with The Wild Ramp in some way. In addition, as a city planner, I appreciated the effort that a group of people in McMinnville had made to turn the downtown around. Once a strip of many vacant stores in the mid 1980s, the street now is tree lined and vibrant with boutique shops and services, almost all locally owned and operated.
McMinnville doubled in size since the 1970s and more people continue to move here. A license plate perusal in the parking lot during the Saturday morning breakfast served by the Cooperative Ministries identified many out of state cars. In talking to one family, one of the church members was told that the news that McMinnville serves free meals every day has spread, and many homeless people are finding their way to this town.
This creates a bit of a dilemma.
I am on a small committee investigating ways to help the business owners on our main street, NW 3rd Street, with the “loitering” problem that exists. Some hang out on street corners, panhandling. These people are well known to locals, as they have had their spots for years and their stories are known. One Vietnam Vet just waits until he collects about $20 and then buys his wine and rambles back home. Some hang at the library, but many have no interest in the benefits of what a library offers, so a lack of proper behavior gets them banished. Some hang around downtown, blocking shop entrances, making comments to young women, and smoking any number of substances.
It truly is amazing to hear the services that are available in this county for people who need assistance. There are meals available every day of the week, for example. The St. Barnabus Soup Kitchen serves dinner four evenings a week; it is not unusual for over 300 people to be fed.
Meanwhile, one of the farmers I have met, Tyler of Heart2Heart Farms, has made a tremendous effort to collect edible fresh produce from area sources and have it available for free for those in need. He just collected enough through crowd sourcing to buy a large truck to help collect and transport the food to his farm. All he asks is a few hours of volunteer work in exchange and he tells me that few offer to help.
My concern is that we have forgotten how to teach people to fish and we are providing fish dinners so often that many have no desire to learn the skills to manage their own pathway. In our effort to provide a hand and a safety net the actual message, as spoken by the California man in the Cooperative Ministries parking lot, is McMinnville is a place to go to be taken care of.
It’s a fine line between helping and enabling.
ADDENDUM: A friend has suggested that this post seems to be a bit judgmental about the homeless. That was not my intention. At an earlier time of my life, when I was home with the baby and my husband suffered a stroke while undergoing surgery for brain cancer, I was in a tough spot. No income. My landlord was the amazing spirit in those days, telling us the last thing we needed was to worry about the rent. He permitted us 6 months free rent until the social security disability kicked in and we could once again start paying. I have no idea what it did to his own finances; I just know without his offer, we would have been out the door.
The blog, however, is a bit judgmental about the programs offered here in McMinnville. I believe what began as a way to help people through a bad time may have become a regular routine for many. I believe the need is still there. I just think there has to be another way to help people out of the hole they are in. Some of the people who take advantage of the meals offered in this town may never be able to have anything close to a lifestyle where they can support themselves, but there are others who were working, became unemployed and for a number of reasons have not found another job. Those are the people I think might be able to be helped with a different kind of assistance. There are plans underway to do just that; it is just some time off in the future before it becomes active.