Publisher’s Column: Open, constructive dialogue helps build communities

The issues surrounding homelessness are broad and troubling, not just in Oak Harbor, Coupeville or Whidbey Island, but across the country.

There is no quick and simple fix.

Personally, I’m conflicted. I see the alarming aspects — used needles, aggressive panhandling, people talking to themselves on the street, encampments that look like the worst slums pictured in history books.

In short, I get it.

However, I wonder when empathy for others became a negative characteristic.

In Coupeville, we’ve had a man sleeping beneath a tree directly outside our office. At our Oak Harbor office, we found a shopping cart in our men’s bathroom one morning and a busted up gun that was used in a recent robbery up the street. And I’ve watched more than a few people walking down State Highway 20 who were arguing out loud with themselves. I think about what hell it must be like to live inside their heads.

Like others, I worry about where things are headed in our community. But I also remind myself that, “there but for the grace of God go I.”

Life has handed me no guarantees, and I don’t take my blessings for granted. I feel fortunate to have a job, a warm, dry bed at night, family, friends and a roof over my head.

People are justifiably fearful of increasing crime, drug use and all of the other problems that come with homelessness. In Oak Harbor, there’s a rising anger that’s fueled, in part, by a social media page on lockdown to all but those whose thoughts are in concert with a set viewpoint. Anyone who strays from the talking points may be the target of various threats.

Amid the growing problems we’re facing in our community, it’s important to take a step back, listen to — and hear — the ideas and opinions voiced by others. There are others who are equally affected by the same problems, but who think there are other potential solutions to be considered.

In our reporting, and in publishing letters to the editor on homelessness, we strive to foster a healthy, albeit uncomfortable, debate. While a particular letter may make a reader squirm or result in a few choice curse words, the intent is to prompt a deeper dialogue.

And that ain’t a bad thing, folks.

The News-Times strives to publish all letters to editors, with the exception of those that call for a boycott of a business or deal with landlord-tenant disputes, and give higher priority to letters addressing actual issues. And one of the things I love most about this newspaper is, our readers are willing to write letters, express their opinions and sign their real names.

As Americans, we have freedom of speech. Yes, it can be used to criticize, attack and tear down, but it can also be used to solve problems, develop solutions and build communities.

• Keven Graves is executive editor and publisher for the Whidbey News-Times. His email is kgraves@whidbeynewsgroup.com

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