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A social worker was walking along a road when he spotted a woman in a ditch. She was naked, badly beaten, raped, and barely alive. The worker looked down at her and said “whoever did this really needs my help!” A priest friend of mine told me this story in the late 1960s, followed by the admonition, “Mike, don’t confuse your passion with compassion. They’re not the same.”

I think of that story every time I read a passionate letter condemning downtown business folks for resisting placing the homeless center on Second Street. They are ordinary owners and workers who rely on a vibrant downtown area to provide the money to hire workers, provide services, pay for their housing, health care, food, etc. They deserve our compassion, too.

As a 6-foot-4, 250-pound model of American excess, I have no problem walking anywhere in the downtown area at any time of day or night. Sometimes size does matter.

However, I know carloads of 5-foot-something-inch women who increasingly refuse to shop downtown alone because of people (who also need our help) harassing them. To paraphrase a line from a movie, “if you build it, they will leave.”

Parenthetically, “wherever you build it, more will come.” Many more. The $60,000 promised by the city is WAM (Walking Around Money) for a problem which is not only growing, but gaining speed. We need to plan for that eventuality.

In the meantime, don’t confuse passion with compassion.

Michael Coolen

Corvallis (Aug. 8)

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