EDITORIAL: Empathy squad

When behavioral health, drug use, homelessness and budgetary constraints meet, the impact is unsettling. The public wants a solution to what some perceive as a threat to the quality of life Keizer has worked to develop over decades.

While camps of shelterless people are ubiquitous in cities across America, Keizer has been spared the same plight. Except….

There are encampments in some areas of the city, generally hid from public view. Keizer Police and the city’s code enforcement officer are aware of them and do their best to lead shelterlesss people to available resources, be it a shelter, medical or mental health care.

There are many resources here in our region to help those who need help. When a person in need is directed to a resource there is often scant follow up—did that person get the assistance they needed? Did that person take part in their own care once assistance is provided?

The city doesn’t have the resources itself to assure that every person is served. When Keizer’s code enforcement officer is making the rounds of dozens of homeless encampments there is not time to follow up on each individual. That task becomes more difficult when a person mistrusts the system designed to help them, or doesn’t want to answer to a program.

This situation calls for a public-private partnership, creating a cadre of volunteers organized to help their fellow man, ushering them through the programs. Such a volunteer group could complement the work of the police and code enforcement officials.

Just as local houses of worship band together to man the Keizer Community Food Bank and manage the monthly Keizer Community Dinner, those same houses can create groups of volunteers to work in tandem with the city to do the social work necessary to get people to services, get the help they need, with the goal of finding long-term living solutions.

With official resources stretched thin, a volunteer social services team can be the element that will help alleviate a homeless issue that seems unsolvable. 

Keizer’s houses of worship can live their message of “Be the church” and offer the support and understanding people crave in times of need.

Let’s create these groups and call them the Empathy Squad. We can all create the community we want if we have the will to make it happen.