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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 10.26.06

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Ripped Safety Net

A way to mend it is finally available

BY SARAH HENDRICKSON, M.D.

For the past three decades, I have loved living in Lane County. I've been a family doctor, a consultant for drug court and for the jail medical services, and I'm now Lane County's public health officer. I know how troubled some lives can be, and I understand the mistakes some people make. But Lane County's public safety system is broken, and I am ashamed of us. The voiceless victims of the drug abuse underbelly of our community pass through my work at Public Health every day.

There are great rips, not just holes, in our local safety net. Starvation of our government is affecting women, families and young people. Domestic violence programs are over-full and have lost much federal and state support. Drug treatment waiting lists are months long. Most of the area's property crimes involve drugs, and Lane County has a worse property crimes rate than 92 percent of comparable counties.

Lane County has the lowest tax rate in Oregon. County budgets have been cut for 12 of the last 15 years. Lane County jail cannot hold prisoners. Parole officers, who supervise offenders on their way to productive lives, have unsafe case loads; they cannot safely supervise. Programs for domestic violence offenders go unused and drug courts are often ineffective since there is no jail "stick" to enforce attendance and compliance. More than 100 juvenile offenders are released early every year, often without needed drug treatment or adequate supervision. Intervention at this point could help hundreds of young people live satisfying and productive lives, affecting them, their families and friends, and their children yet to come. These programs can work, and do work elsewhere, but we have to give them a chance.

Lane County's Public Safety Tax Amendment is the most multipartisan effort that I have seen in decades of living amid local politics. I support Measure 20-114 because it is the way democracy should work.

Concerned citizens and local elected officials of widely different political groups and philosophies have worked hard together over the last three years. They have struggled to find and forward to you, the voters, a proposal that we all can support, a proposal that will begin to make a difference in the very real public safety problems facing Lane County. That in itself is a miracle, given the partisan conflict that "politics" has meant in Lane County.

There's been a huge effort from government and from citizen volunteers. The County Citizen Service Stabilization Task Force looked at public safety in 2004 and identified the same problems. The City-County Public Safety Task Force made recommendations in 2005. In 2006, Lane County Commissioners responded with the proposal that we have on the ballot, a proposal that they all felt could be passed, and a proposal that responded to the testimony they heard from service providers and even more concerned citizens.

Each of these bodies contained political conservatives and progressives, pro- and anti-human services folks, growth and no-growth advocates. All of these folks care about our community, whatever their political philosophy.

Across the political spectrum, these folks, our neighbors, believe that doing nothing is not a possible choice. If we do nothing, we can expect more of the same: more lives ruined by meth, more drug-fueled property crimes, more children taken to foster care from drug-riddled homes. More of the same is not acceptable.

 

The proposed income tax measure is a direct outcome of dogged, citizen effort, exactly the kind of citizen involvement that is essential to the healthy functioning of our whole community.

And our community is not only the city of Eugene, or Springfield, or Junction City or Lowell. We are all part of a larger public safety system that depends on coordination with County resources for Human Services, for prevention, for treatment and for enforcement.

If the county piece of the system doesn't work, the entire system doesn't work. Eugene Police say their greatest frustration is the "revolving door" for drug-related arrests. There is nowhere to put the drug-using offender whom neither you nor I want behaving inappropriately and offensively in our neighborhood parks, on our alleys and sidewalks or on our doorsteps, breaking into our cars or stealing our bicycles. The jail cannot keep them. Mental health treatment is unavailable. Drug detox is full.

There are many ways to second guess and to find fault with any public proposal. The nature of the process is that not everyone gets everything they want. "Better" is far too often the enemy of "good enough," and our search for perfection and political correctness too often results in inaction. If I can't get the perfect proposal that I can support, I won't support yours, either. That is a sure way to stagnation and to community decline. If we let this measure fail, there will be more abused children, more abused spouses, more untreated addicts on our streets.

Ballot Measure 20-114 would expand Lane County's Public Safety system, not only to expand the criminal justice system, but to add both residential and outpatient substance abuse treatment.

We need all of this. We need far more. Let us begin together.

 

Sarah Hendrickson, M.D. has lived in westside downtown for more than 30 years.

 





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