By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

The Keizer Budget Advisory Committee will have at least one new staff position to discuss when it meets next month, but it will only indirectly affect the city’s parks and police.

At a work session Monday, April 24, Mayor Cathy Clark told the council of her intention to request $5,000 of the city’s 2017-18 budget be put toward funding a project manager position at the Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments (MWVCOG). The position, which has yet to be formally established, will oversee collaborative efforts between the public and private sector to combat homelessness in Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties.

“The request will be vetted by the budget committee, but I want Keizer to have some skin in the game,” said Clark.

Clark’s announcement came toward the end of an hour-long presentation to council that detailed a year’s worth of meetings by the Mid-Willamette Valley homeless Initiative. Clark served as a co-chair on the committee.

The position would primarily be funded by Marion County and the City of Salem, both of which pledged $40,000 toward setting up the office within the MWVCOG.

Clark spent most of her time rehashing the findings of the Initiative, but said that homelessness at it’s core is about people.

“We are concerned about taking care of people in our community who are homeless and at risk of becoming homeless,” Clark said.

One of the most pressing issues is housing, and affordable housing, capacity in the Willamette Valley.

“It’s difficult for people who are employed to afford a home and even more difficult for those who aren’t. The worse it gets in Portland, the worse it gets here,” Clark said.

There is currently a 6,400-unit deficit in housing availability for those making $25,000 a year or less, and that is just one example of the shortfall. The wait for Section 8 housing is two to three years and there are already those with housing vouchers and no place to redeem them.

Clark said Keizer has already made some strides by incorporating accessory dwelling units and cottage clusters into its development code and that other municipalities are currently looking at doing so.

When asked how the recent rise in visible homelessness is affecting the Keizer Police Department, Chief John Teague said the problem needed a resolution other than handcuffs.

“An arrest is an inconsequential matter for them. They have no job to lose and there’s no additional stigma. The police have been the answer for decades and it’s not working,” Teague said.

He added that dealing with where to store a detainee’s belongings also stresses limited resources.

One of the goals of the new position is to have a facilitator for fostering collaboration between non-profit and private sector efforts.

“We want to have a continuum of care and having good hand-offs (from one organization to another) is critical,” Clark said.

While the council members did not debate or deliberate their position regarding the $5,000 contribution, several councilors thanked Clark for her work. Councilor Roland Herrera said it was important to overcome the current stigma associated with homelessness.

“I think it’s overblown, the view that people choose to be (homeless). The biggest surprise to me was that all the (homeless people) I’ve talked to, they didn’t choose to. They had lost a job, or had a medical event or some tragedy struck and suddenly they were living out of their truck,” Herrera said.