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Other groups offer services to the homeless, but the idea of a navigation center is to have those functions in one place: food, shelter, medical care and social services, such as help with claiming benefits and finding affordable housing.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Don Mazziotti in front of the nearly complete River District Navigation Center.

There are those who say the homelessness problem is beyond solution. It's intractable. After all, we used to say every city on the West Coast faces a homeless crisis. Today, it's every city, every small town, every rural area. And it's not just the West Coast, it's throughout the nation.

The editorial board of the Portland Tribune does not believe this is a crisis with absolutely no solution. We agree that there is no magic bullet, no one simple change that will end homelessness. (Beyond, possibly, a Cabinet-level secretary of homelessness and a budget commensurate with that of the U.S. Department of Education.)

But no solutions? None? We don't buy it.

Neither does Don Mazziotti. Nor do Homer Williams and Tim Boyle.

Which is why the River District Navigation Center, a high-tech homeless shelter under the west end of the Broadway Bridge, is nearly complete.

Will this solve Portland's homelessness crisis? Absolutely not.

But it's a darn good start.

True to the old Chinese proverb that it's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, the River District Navigation Center is the candle Portland needs right now.

The center (See "Gimme Shelter," May 14 Tribune) is a temporary refuge for the unsheltered homeless. It's part of Oregon Harbor of Hope, founded by Portland developer Williams. Columbia Sportswear executive Boyle pledged $1.5 million toward the project. Mazziotti, former director of the Portland Development Commission, runs the site.

There'll be no loitering and camping around it, Mazziotti told the Tribune. There will be one point of entry. People will need reservations. It's a temporary facility for a temporary stay. Ideally, guests would stay no more than 90 days, as they find new work or a new place to live. At that rate, and with bunk beds for 110 males, the center could serve an estimated 300 people per year.

Navigation centers exist in other cities, but this is the first of its kind in Portland. Other groups offer services to the homeless, but the idea of a navigation center is to have those functions in one place: food, shelter, medical care and social services, such as help with claiming benefits and finding affordable housing.

Homeless shelters often provide a meal, a shower and a bed, but send people away in the morning. The Navigation Center offers more — albeit temporary — stability.

This is not Harbor of Hope's only project. The organization also is sponsoring two box trucks that will provide on-the-spot cleanup for the homeless. The trucks will operate five days per week with stops scheduled at schools, churches and encampments across the city. One is a laundry truck with six washer-dryer stacks. The other has six showers. Both trucks have barber's chairs. "It transforms people to have a shower if they haven't had one for six months, get a haircut, get cleaned up," Mazziotti told the Tribune. He said the trucks should hit the streets in the next few weeks.

The center is an innovative step. It fills a big gap in the continuum of homeless services. And it's an excellent example of public-private partnership — the center sits on land owned by the city of Portland. Again, it won't end the city's homelessness crisis. No one project will. The same is true for every city, town and state on the West Coast and around the nation.

But enough small steps, like this, can lead to impressive victories.

For decades, nobody believed there could be peace between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Former Sen. George Mitchell was President Bill Clinton's envoy to Ireland and served as chairman of the Northern Ireland peace talks. Mitchell is widely seen as the driving force between the Good Friday Peace Accord. And Mitchell famously said, "Before that day of success, we had about 700 days of failure."

That's how you handle "intractable" problems. One step at a time and without giving up hope.

We were encouraged two weeks ago when Mayor Ted Wheeler met with our editorial board and was asked, "what metric, a year from now, will show success to combating homelessness." Wheeler had the guts to say, "there won't be one." There is no one-year solution, and the problem will get worse before it gets better; the state economist sees the next recession hitting around the year 2020. And that arrives in about seven months.

The "Troubles" of Ireland were a herculean problem but not unsolvable. Our homelessness crisis is a herculean problem but we stand with Mazziotti, Williams, Boyle and Wheeler in our believe that innovative solutions do exist.

The Navigation Center is one such solution.


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