There are different kinds of ‘neighbors’


Last updated 5/4/2022 at Noon

There’s this gent living in the house next to me.

This person is considerate, follows local laws, maintains a safe environment for himself and others, pays taxes, and manages his trash and other waste responsibly.

He’s committed to the community at large and is undoubtedly a neighbor.

A good one.

For the sake of discussion, let’s say this gent leaves town for an extended period of time.

His house is then accessed and illegally occupied by another individual that trashes the place, creates a hazardous environment for those around, leaves garbage and human waste littered about the area, and when approached occasionally lies or makes threats.

He cares not at all for the community and will primarily consume until he feels the urge to move on, leaving an immense mess in his wake for others to clean up.

Is this also my “neighbor”? Certainly not a desirable one. Whenever someone refers to the folks living in our local forest as “neighbors,” I find myself wondering how many unneighborly piles of trash, bottles of urine, and mounds of human feces they’ve helped remove from the area. A few actually have, and those individuals deserve appreciation, respect, and generate welcome introspection.

Their compassion seems limitless but also at times not completely thought out. Misguided compassion can lead to entitlement and may even harm the individual receiving the resource as well as the community at large. It could be argued that misguided acts of compassion are perhaps [doing] as much for the giver as for the receiver.

Some locally unhoused are employed in the area, observe local expectations and laws (the 14-day stay limit, for example), clean up after themselves, and are respectful of safety and sanitation concerns. These individuals I would welcome, assist, and contribute to and indeed have on multiple occasions. These are our (unhoused) neighbors and I’ve lived this way myself.

Some locally unhoused individuals are unable to clean up their own waste, sadly due to profoundly impaired mental health, addiction, or other issues. There simply isn’t the infrastructure in Sisters to give all of them the needed support. Encouraging their habitation here is doing a disservice, placing themselves, others, and our community at risk. The most neighborly thing we can do is help them get to the services they need and deserve.

Yet other unhoused individuals are simply unwilling to clean up after themselves and care so little for our community that they repeatedly leave waste, piles of trash, abandoned tents, and other donated and unappreciated acts of compassion littering our forest. I would argue that these individuals are not our neighbors, leaving only when they’ve eventually taken their fill from our community, quite possibly leaving our town or homes as smoking cinders.

There is the argument that the “housed” leave trash in the forest as well. While technically true, the pure volume of trash and unsanitary items is not even remotely comparable. Take a walk through the heavily lived-in woods off of North Pine Street sometime, but bring a trash bag if you have any inclination of picking up. If it happens to be clean, be thankful of the actual neighbors making that possible through continuous effort. Humans live on a continuum, not in discrete categories, and the above is admittedly an oversimplification.

Is it possible, however, that something so simple and easily observed as trash in and around a campsite could be an initial litmus as to how to interact with these folks?


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