Sr. Veronica Schueler
Sr. Veronica Schueler
Decrying “false compassion” and appealing to the common good, an interfaith coalition has urged Portland-area leaders to quickly choose a clear and unified course to address historic levels of vandalism, violence and homelessness in the city.

Multnomah County officials estimate there are 7,000 people living on the streets in that county alone.

“The desire to solve these problems is there, evidenced by many proposals for solutions and by ballot initiatives approving the financial resources to tackle the situation,” said Franciscan Sister Veronica Schueler, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Portland and one of the leaders of the group called United in Spirit. “Yet we see little improvement and instead, an inability of the city and county stakeholders to agree on a course of action.”

United in Spirit includes Christians, Jews and Muslims.

Elder Allen Oyler of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Rabbi Michael Cahana of Temple Beth Israel and Sister Veronica co-authored a column that appeared Nov. 21 in the Oregonian. The piece urged an end to barriers that block cooperation among government leaders, civic organizations and nonprofits. The writers pushed for increased mental health and addiction services, shelters and an end to large homeless camps that have sprung up during the pandemic in many districts of the city.

“A compassionate response to homelessness is not to look away, or to let people who are unsheltered stay on public walkways without access to sanitation or social services. That’s not compassion; it’s negligence,” the column said. “A civil society requires an effective legal and social framework to transition this population from the streets to housing.”

In an interview with the Sentinel, Sister Veronica explained that public officials must move the homeless, not out of the way, but into safe places where they can receive shelter and services to help them live with dignity.

“United in Spirit has taken issue with a false compassion that allows people to remain as they are, in unsafe, unsanitary conditions that ultimately affect the whole community,” Sister Veronica said.

United in Spirit members have held summits, convening elected leaders in October and again this month, declaring that for the sake of the common good, the region should provide immediate interim services while planning long-term solutions. Among those services — in villages — should be showers, restrooms and access to meals, the group said.

Bob Horenstein, community relations director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, said that various jurisdictions have been working in silos and even pointing fingers at one another. “As faith-based organizations, we regard homelessness as a moral tragedy requiring urgent attention,” Horenstein said.

The United in Spirit leaders added that their congregations are ready to help.

The group began just before the 2020 presidential election, with members calling for peace and civility whatever the outcome. Since then the group has focused on homelessness and violence.