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Author: Lyndon Zaitz

Homeless solution comes from all

The homeless are fast becoming one of the major challenges for public services across the nation and here in Marion County. There is an array of programs, shelters and campaigns here and throughout the United States to address the issue. Public officials and private sector organizations work to find solutions that so far has proven unsolvable.

Marion County does not have the visual evidence of its homeless that major cities face. In some of America’s largest cities one will find block after block filled with tent communities of the homeless. It is disconcerting at the least. The public cries out “Do something!”

People are homeless for different reasons be they economic, mental health issues, problems with illicit drugs, shattering of the family unit or any kind of support system. Understanding that basic truth of the homeless makes the cry to do something less clear. Do what? By whom?

While creating programs, devising shelters and compiling reports, the municipalities and organizatons invovled need also to come up with  suggestions for what Joe Public can do to help. As a generous nation our people always ask “What can I do?” If all that is needed by the organizations addressing the homeless issue is financial support, they need to megaphone that need and lay out how contributions will be used.

Everyone and every industry can have a hand in alleviating the homeless issue. For some it may be a financial donation to a charity that is hosting a shelter or a food kitchen or medical care for those on the street. Those things satisfy the daily needs of people but they don’t come close to finding a home for those who want one.

Finding affordable  housing has become difficult for those without a constant history of being a renter or those who are un- or under-employed. The strong residential real estate market weighs heavy on apartments and other multi-family housing options. Benefiting from market-led supply and demand, owners of multi-family residences are in the driver’s seat when it comes to setting rates. That’s called the free market system and should not be disrupted, but there are solutions.

Cities, counties and the state can draft legislation to provide attractive incentives for owners of buildings to convert space into low-income housing. Attractive incentives can include tax breaks as well as waiving and discounting of permitting fees. Any incentives should be good enough to make any property owner to seriously consider them. The alternative for a property owner is to let market forces reward them.

Housing for those now homeless should not be free. Those who receive housing need to compensate for it either by paying low monthly rents or with a signed contact to help maintain the residence.

Homelessness is a cruel way to live. How does society aid those who find themselves without a home due to domestic violence, drugs or mental health issues? Rather than look to government to address and solve the problem, society needs to ask itself what they are willing to do, if anything, to help those who need a hand up rather than a hand out. Regardless of what solution one considers there is money required. Some in the private sector may question why their tax dollars are going for those who decide to live outdoors. That is a simplistic question; given a choice, wouldn’t everyone rather have a home to live in?

Most people would agree that a government’s primary role is to protect its people and keep them safe. Protecting people against the ravages of homelessness is no less important than maintaining the defense of the nation from outsiders. Government can’t help those who don’t want help but it can certainly be in the corner of those who seek a hand up.

These are vulnerable people living in our parks and on our sidewalks. Unless we, the people, collectively decide to privatize the homeless, we must rely on our public officials to do the right thing and allocate enough money for those most in need.  As a people we don’t have the training to counsel someone with mental health issues, that has to come from the experts. The same goes for those people fighting addiction and who are homeless. There is a certain skill set that the average person does not have and we turn to the professionals.

What we, as a society have, is empathy. Understanding, acceptance, respect and amity offered by us will go a long way to let those who are homeless through no fault of their own know they are not alone. The homeless are not invisible and we shouldn’t treat them as such.

With an economy that is booming there certainly are jobs available to those unemployed homeless. We have to have the will to help address the problem so it is no longer a black mark on society. Ask society to lend a hand for its own benefit as well as the homeless and society will answer affirmatively.

  -—LAZ

The kids are watching

I don’t understand discrimination, racism or prejudice. I know what the words mean, it’s just that I can’t wrap my head around the people who harbor such views.

As human beings we all have our biases, we generally are uncomfortable with things that are different or unknown to us.   It is tragic that people are subjected to verbal threats,  taunts and physical harm. Where does hate for another person come from? We certainly are not born with hate in our hearts and minds, so it must come from the environment. Children copy what they see either at home or in public. If a child sees that a negative behavior has no consequences the only conclusion for that child is that it is alright to call someone by a slur or threaten harm.

These days some misguided people are letting law enforcement do their discriminating. It is beyond the pale to think that a white person would call 9-1-1 to report a black person doing what people do all the time: barbecuing in a park, waiting for a friend at a restaurant, taking a nap in a public library or even selling water in front of their home.

It is troubling when people who call the police in such situations don’t express remorse or say they were wrong for calling law enforcement.Some jurisdictions have laws against frivously calling a 9-1-1 service. What could be more frivolous that calling the police on a little girl selling water in from of her own home to fund a trip to Disneyland?

Pundits write that people are worried that their ‘way of life’ is ebbing away as minority populations grow in this country. Remember that “I want my country back” was a rallying cry during the 2016 presidential campaign. That sentiment  hurts my sensibilities.

America used to proudly boast that the United States was a great melting pot of people from all corners of the globe. This country has always had a tough stance against all immigrants. The Irish were not welcomed with open arms, nor the Italians. Asians, especially Chinese, were dealt a particularly harsh hand in the 19th century, even excluded by Congress and the courts.

It is not much different today for people arriving from our neighbors to the south or from the Middle East or Africa. Do bad people get into the United States? Sure, as it has always been. That doesn’t justify hating a whole people due to the actions of a small percentage.

Diversity and inclusion is good for anything—countries, companies, communities.  I spent this past weekend in Seattle. It was Pride Weekend and tens of thousands of people of different colors, genders, sexual orientations and ages mixed effortlessly on the streets of the city, including the four-hour pride parade downtown.

No city, regardless of how big or small, is immune from acts of racism and discrimination.So it was wonderful to spend a weekend in the big city where a rainbow of people mix together, all sharing a message of inclusion, acceptance and tolerance. It is harder to be frightened or wary of someone who is different if you know them. There was a shared energy on the tightly packed sidewalks during the parade because they all shared a message—everyone is important.

People who are different from us are not dangerous, they are not out to harm us; we all want the same thing: to live in peace for ourselves and our families. Anyone will reciprocate in kind when treated with respect and fairness.

My way of life is not threatened because a Sikh wears a turban or a Saudi-born woman wears a burqa. I have learned from living in other areas that diversity is important, my life is richer because I have known and befriended those different than myself. How? I have gained respect for traditions and customs other than my own. I have learned that things I take for granted are not always good for others.

Social change begins with each of us. We can lessen discrimination, racism and sexism in our society by remembering that our kids mirror what we do.  Accept others with respect and tolerance and our future generations will too.

(Lyndon Zaitz is publisher of the Keizertimes.)

Fostering hope

Six hundred people out of a total of 333,000 doesn’t seem like a lot—actually, it seems like a puny amount, until you realize it is the number of foster kids in all of Marion County.

That relatively small number takes on major importance when we understand that those 600 or so foster children reside in less than 75 foster homes. Total. That means some homes have up to five foster children, a number that most experts agree is too high and does not serve the children well.

May is National Foster Care Month, which brings the foster system to mind. Foster care isn’t just one month, it is every month, sometimes for years.

It is unfortunate that the only information some get about foster care are the tragic stories of abusive foster parents or horrifically unsanitary living conditions. The reality is that for every terrible story there are dozens of untold positive, hopeful, good stories about caring and committed foster parents.  These are the people that become foster providers out of a sense of duty and need.

Another reality is that the system is in need of foster homes. Many more. It is a big ask, but foster homes are needed to serve the many children who enter the system each year. By most measures being a foster parent is not easy, especially if more than one child is placed at one home. Becoming a foster parent is certainly the epitome of unselfishness. In a world that constantly heralds the well-being of our children, it would seem that those who talk should also do some of the walk.

What are the reasons one wouldn’t become a foster parent? Choose one: too busy, too many children already, disrupts lifestyle and on and on.

There are some who should not be foster parents and there are those who see dollar signs when they think of foster kids. The foster care system should not be an entrepreneurial enterprise.

There are many reasons to become a foster parent. Primarily, the need. It is unfathomable that up to five kids are in a single foster home. The daily quality of life for kids who have been through too  much will be greatly enhanced when they share a home with a nuclear family and perhaps only one other foster child.

How does one become a foster parent? First, contact the state Department of Human Services, which oversees foster care in Oregon. The agency will fully inform any interested people on the hows and whys of becoming a foster.

CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) is another avenue to help children in Marion County.  CASA of Marion County advocates for abused and neglected children who need safe and permanent homes. Volunteers are trained to give them the skills and knowledge necessary to advocate for an abused child.

Children are our greatest natural resource and they all need to be nurtured, kept safe and allowed to live a life free from want and pain.

  — LAZ

Bite the bullet

The final amount of the Salem-Keizer School District’s Bond Measure was not grabbed out of thin air. It was not decided on in a vacuum. School bonds are serious business; members of the committee that established the amount needed and the members of the school bond take their duties very seriously. They all know they will hear from the public if they are being reckless with the public’s money.

The school bond comes in at $619.7 million, that is $1.24 per $1,000 of assessed property value, or about $248 per year for a home valued at $200,000. That may seem like a lot especially since voters approved a $250 million bond ten years ago—that bond was for improvements and new schools.

Voters in the Salem-Keizer School District should bite the bullet and vote for the bond measure on the ballot that begin arriving in voter’s mailboxes this week.

The $619.7 amount was discussed by the bond committee at various open houses and hearings. The school board held hearings before moving forward to putting the measure on the May ballot. The Salem-Keizer School District has a strong history of communicating with the public about its budgetary needs. Using the web, email, Facebook, newspapers and more, the district leaves no stone unturned when it comes to explaining to tax payers why this, or any other bond measure, is important to the education of our kids.

The cost of education is not just for instruction, it also includes extracurrilar activities and infrastructure. Where students learn is as important as what they learn. First, there should be enough space for the students. Second, the space should be sufficient and efficient for its task. Third, the space should be safe from both natural and man-made disasters.

Those things are what the $619.7 million will pay for. While it does not fund salaries, the money will create an environment for learning that will benefit teachers and students alike.

Every two years the Oregon legislature makes decisions that affect every school district in the state. With a biennial budget of almost $80 billion, educators must fight for every scrap of its 11 percent of the budget. This is no way to serve our children. Educating our kids is a paramount duty—it is a duty we, the people, assigned our public school systems. Unless the people decide that there should be no public schools, only private, we have the education system we have and we fund it the way we have for decades.

The reality is that a million dollars isn’t what it used to be. Economics has devalued the worth of a million dollars—these days $1 billion is used like $1 million was 20 years ago. Everything is relative.

Modern life is not inexpensive. It takes real money to operate the things that comprise a good quality of life and that includes good schools. Just as we desire pothole-free streets, we also desire quality institutions of learning that are not crowded, that meet the needs of all those who attend there.

Until we the people and they the legislators demand a better, consistent source of money for K-12 education in Oregon, we will have to take matters in our own hands and tax ourselves to have the schools we deserve.

That’s why voters should bite the bullet and say yes to Measure 24-429, the $619.7 million Salem-Keizer School District bond.

—LAZ

The quiet dignity of a community man

He never sought out the spotlight,  yet he helped shape Keizer into what it is today. John Carpenter Jenkins passed away on Easter Sunday at the age of 94.

A Nebraska native, Jenkins served his country in the Signal Company. He rose to the rank of corporal, providing, in part, radio communication between Army aircraft and their base on Guam.

Taking advantage of the G.I. Bill, Jenkins enrolled in the University of Nebraska and took engineering courses. Engineering was to become his life-long career.

John and his wife Gina moved to Keizer in 1956 and have lived in the same house since. The couple had three children and five grandchildren.

As a member of the Rotary Club of Keizer for more than 40 years, Jenkins served as the unofficial historian of the city’s most influential group. A supporter of all kids, he was an important conduit between the hundreds of exchange students from around the world that called Keizer home for a year. Jenkins kept the club informed of the exchange students when they returned home and kept those students informed of what was happening in their ‘adopted’ city.

Locally he served as cubmaster of the Cub Scout Pack 141, a sturdy, outgoing mentor to years of Keizer boys.

In early 1995, Jenkins was surprised by the Chamber of Commerce and named as Keizer’s First Citizen, an honor bestowed on those who volunteer in the community. He was instrumental in the effort to save the original Keizer School building that now serves as the Keizer Cultural Center on the Keizer Civic Center campus.

A volunteer all of his life—due to the influence of his father—Jenkins made Keizer a better place. He worked mostly behind the scenes; he knew that’s where the real work was done.

He was a friend to all, especially the kids from near and far. — LAZ

Pucker up for Lemonade Day

An early 20th century American president was misquoted as saying, “The business of America is business.” His actual quote was, “The chief business of the American people is business.” The meaning can be said to be the same.

Small business will get a decidedly lemon flavor as the 2018 Lemonade Day event is held on Saturday, May 19. Organized by Salem-Keizer Education Foundation (SKEF), this year’s event will be held on the foundation of the success of the 2017 Day, in which more than 500 lemonade stands dotted Salem and Keizer.

Lemonade Day, which was developed in Texas 10 years ago, has grown nationwide. The Day is designed to teach grade school kids what it takes to start a business. With assistance from the national organization, parents, mentors and advisors kids go through all the steps of starting a business.

Though it is a fun activity for kids it is a learning experience as well. After deciding to be part of Lemonade Day, a kid—either individually or with a team—must devise the best lemonade recipe. Then they must identify the best place to have their stand. Location, location, location.

This year a number of businesses along River Road will let kids put a stand in front of their businesses on Lemonade Day, which happens to fall on the same day as the Keizer Iris Festival parade. The eight or 10 stands that get to those businesses first will have a built-in, captive audience. The spots along River Road are not the only sites available. A leonade stand can be sited anywhere (as long as they have the property owner’s permission).

After a site is chosen, the fun of designing a stand including signage begins. Over recent years, there have been stands ranging from simple and humble to outrageous; you never know what can happen when you unleash the imagination of a child.

Lemonade Day is not just about having a stand and making some money. Learning how to start a small business means learnng about expenses and profit. The Day is designed for the little businesspeople to use their profits for good. One third is to be designated for a favorite charity (animals, hunger and kids in need are popular choices). One third should be put into savings for college. The last third is mad money, the lemonader can use anyway they want.

Though adults play an important part in getting lemonade stands going, it is the kids themselves who make the lemonade, man their stand and serve their customers with a smile. On May 19 grown-ups throughout Keizer and Salem should get ready to pucker up, buy as many cups of lemonade as possible and show today’s kids we support he little entrepeneur inside them.

  — LAZ

The children shall lead them

After the massacre of 17 students and adults at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, an affluent suburb of Miami, survivors and students wasted no time in calling for action. The students demanded action from Congress and the president to stop senseless mass killing sby gun.

The call for action has swept the nation like a prairie fire. Douglas High School student activists have called on their peers around the nation to also demand action from state and federal legislators.

So far two events have been planned: the National School Walkout on Wednesday, March 14, and the March of Our Lives on Saturday, March 24.

As some are pointing out, the shooting in Parkland may prove a turning point in the gun control debate. Why? The survivors of Sandy Hook in Connecticut were too young to even conceive of a protest. The survivors of the Las Vegas massacre were varied and not part of a homogenous group that could communicate something like a protest.

The survivors in Parkland have something in common: they are all students at the same high school. It is easier to rally with and share a message with one’s peers.

The students in Parkland (and across the nation) are saavy enough to use the megaphone in front of them. The students who spoke on newscasts the day of the shooting proved to be articulate, knowledgeable and passionate. Our children have learned well.

We should cheer the students in Parkland and elsewhere who are taking a stand and protesting for changes in gun laws. When you see your friend or teacher shot down in cold blood, you have credibility when you demand action on guns. Some are saying the student activists are being riled up and led by outside groups. You know that is not true when you see interviews with students who had no time to get any coaching from outsiders before talking to news reporters.

The United States has a proud tradition of civil protest and civil disobidience. When our high school students take this route it is a teaching moment for us adults: our children have been watching and listening all the time.

What do these students want to accomplish? None are advocating an outright ban of guns. They want to see actions that are supported by a majority of Americans: background checks on any purchase, limiting or banning assault gun weapons, banning of bump stocks. None of those actions, if enacted, would take a gun away from an owner.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting is a tragedy and we shouldn’t have to go through something like that again. The student’s rallying cry is “Enough is enough.” It’s a cry that should be taken up by those who represent us on the local and federal level. If adults won’t lead on this issue, then  we may not have a choice but to let the children lead us.

  —LAZ

Their words still resonate

Millions of Americans will have a holiday on Monday, Feb. 19, known as President’s Day—to honor both Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. They and millions of their fellow American residents will use that day to sleep in, enjoy a hobby or go shopping.

As with any holiday that honors a person, we hope that at least a bit of time is spent to think about Lincoln and Washington, specially, what they said. Lincoln was our most quotable president; what he said resonates to this day.

Some of his nuggets:

“Whatever you are, be a good one.”

“Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”

“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

Our first president, George Washington, had his own set of quotes that live on through the ages and are as relevant today as in the 18th century:

“To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace.”

“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

“Laws made by common consent must not be trampled on by individuals.”

The world is a different place than it was 200 years ago. People are the same, as they have been through millenia.

The lessons of our forebears ring true in the 21st century.

—LAZ

Yet another conversation

Here we go again. A community conversation, co-sponsored by the Keizer Chamber of Commerce and the city’s Community Development Department, will be Wednesday, Feb. 28 to discuss the future of River Road.

We’ve been here before. The last time was the River Road Renaissance Advisory Committee in 2012, led by a high-priced consulting firm out of Portland. What came out of that endeavor was the creation of five districts along River Road. From that came a short-lived project of beautification, adding meandering sidewalks, bioswales and native plants. Unfortunately, the Renaissance Project was stopped short when the Urban Renewal District funds were used to pay off construction overruns of Keizer Civic Center and making up for shortfalls at Keizer Station.

The 43-page report from the initial River Road Renaissance discussions haven’t been sitting on a shelf for six years. The report gets perused from time to time. It is one of two reports about Keizer that gather more dust than attention. The other is the Keizer Compass report, a community project that set out to design what the city should look like in the 2020s.

Yet, here we are, getting ready for another discussion about River Road. If you are talking about something you can say you’re doing something. Not in our book. Talk is cheap, we’ve talked and talked before. Let’s implement.

We urge the facilitators of the upcoming Community Conversation to keep the discussion on track and not let it turn into a bitch session about what the city is doing wrong. If there must be another conversation about River Road let it be one that answers the primary question: what kind of city/River Road corridor do the residents of Keizer want? It is a basic question, one that needs to be answered before a shovel of dirt is turned or a zone is changed. If the majority of people do not want to expend public money to turn Keizer in general and River Road specifically into a dense, commercial center, then the conversation ends and we should move on.

It is important to remember that iterations of reports about the future of Keizer were the work of a very small number of residents. To make credible policy one should rely on more than the opinions of less than 1 percent of the citizenry.

When having a conversation about River Road specifically, though, it is important to have all those affected. That includes not only the people who own a business along the city’s main thoroughfare but the people who own the properties. A lessor has only so much leeway to make major structural or landscape changes. If we’re going to talk, let’s be sure all the players are at the table.

The community conversation about River Road may very well hinge on a few narrow topics such as sign and landscape codes. We can have that conversation but the city and its people will be best served if a consensus is reached to give the Chamber of Commerce and the city a direction.

After this discussion we want to see action, as do most of the people interested.

  —LAZ

‘We’ can become the ‘They’

Thousands of cities and towns across the nation elect a mayor and a city council. Most have a city manager-city council form of government such as we have here in Keizer.

City manager Chris Eppley oversees the directors of the city’s departments: administration, community development, public works, finance and more. The operation of the city gets done with these departments and their leaders.

What these departments manage is generally at the direction of the city council, which sets policy in all areas of the city. That makes the city council important when it comes to current issues and especially the future of Keizer.

In recent years, Keizer city council elections have been more like coronations as too many council races have had one candidate. In contrast, during the first two decades of citydom, races for mayor and city council seats attracted multiple entrants.

One could argue that life today is much more complicated compared with the early 1980s; activities and commitments take up so much of our time that many feel they have no time to devote to a two- or four-year political job. Voting in elections, especially on the local level, is as involved as most people get. But there are other ways to have a say in how one’s hometown is operated: run for public office as a city council candidate.

With this path anyone can become a ‘They.’ Being a ‘they’ doesn’t have to be negative or nefarious, becoming a ‘they’ means that a ‘me’ will have a place at the table where decisions about the city are made. The job of city councilor is rewarding. Whether one believes Keizer should stay quaint and mid-sized, or that Keizer’s growth should be maintained in a beneficial way, there is room for those views on council.

In most instances the people who are elected to the city council are those who come from the grassroots. Keizer is a city of neighborhoods and that is where are government leaders come from.

What does it take to run and be elected to the city council? It takes the belief that one would be a good addition to the council, that their background and experience would bring a unique perspective to that body’s deliberations. And to win? It takes votes, pure and simple. That means asking people for their vote either through door-to-door canvassing, advertising or both.

Every potential city councilor is part of a group—a service club, a sports organization, a school, etc. This is the base—the people most likely to support a candidacy of ‘one of ours.’

Some may think that running for public office costs lots of money, funds that have to be raised. To run in a local election is fairly inexpensive. The hard costs include placing information in the Voter’s Pamphlet. Softer costs can include yard signs and advertising, but those are not required.

Some campaigns need only one issue to be successful. In the early 1970s there was an unknown woman running for California secretary of state. Her issue? Getting rid of pay toilets in public places such as airports. It was an issue that resonated with voters and she went on to serve 20 years in that office. All because of one issue.

Closer to home, some past Keizer city councilors owe their election to a single issue, such as sidewalks. There are issues that can be used as a campaign platform; some people have been elected to council with a promise to keep an eye on the city’s budget.

With Keizer’s future in the balance, the next city council will grapple with some big issues. Some of those issues will be resolved in a way that will anger some residents and please others. That is how democracy works, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But you don’t win if you don’t play.

Morphing from a ‘Me’ to a ‘They’ is good thing when it means you help your community.

  —LAZ