Local advocates for the homeless are on the right track in working to develop a privately funded shelter operation that can protect people from the winter cold seven days a week. City officials should do what they can to help that happen, but providing shelter is not and should not be a municipal government responsibility.

That's not to say the city has no role to play in the overall housing issue — it does.

Activists who met Monday at the Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship discussed expanding the current five-nights-a-week winter shelter to seven. They also talked about a possible tiny house development to help homeless women with children. A group working on that project has two potential sites that would be donated as well as cash contributions.

The city can help with both projects without providing shelter directly. A tiny house development would need city approval, but it should be operated and largely funded privately.

The issue of affordable rentals in Ashland, on the other hand, should involve the city. The two issues are inextricably linked, because those who can't afford or are forced out of rental housing are at risk of joining the ranks of the homeless. Any steps the city can take to increase the availability of affordable rental housing should help decrease the number of people forced into homelessness.

The immediate need, however, is shelter from the cold, because no matter what might be done to try to address the housing issue, winter will come first.