A Hard Look at Helping
By T. Myers
After the release of annual figures of help offered to families in La Pine, there was a definite trend in the numbers- and curiously, the numbers seemed to mirror each other from one organization to the next. No one wants to see others suffer or go without food and basic items. No one.
But that does not mean that we can’t improve how we do things.
Over the past few years, the different social service agencies and community organizations have been scratching their heads about what they need to do for the folks located in the La Pine area who need help.
Different organizations have historically provided for the needy with the Christmas Basket Association giving out food for as many as 1450 individuals for Christmas Baskets. SCOOTR had been helping 700 plus individuals with Christmas presents for children every holiday season and more donations to children’s organizations and schools through-out the year. The La Pine Lions have been running a little Christmas Boutique with affordable little presents for any child who wants to shop for gifts every year during the first weekend of December. They also provide sight and hearing testing and help for glasses, examinations and hearing aids. The St. Vincent de Paul Social Services division with the help of the retail operations has provided for food boxes, clothing, medical, dental, gasoline, emergency housing and other services. Churches all over the area are doing the same. The Community Kitchen serves daily lunches, Christmas and Thanksgiving meals and also provides pantry services and clothes, blankets, tents and other needed items each month. The Central Oregon Veteran’s Outreach is yet another organization that gives the same things to vets in the area. The American Legion and the Moose Lodges also have Thanksgiving and Christmas Dinners for anyone who needs a meal.
We do not want people to be hungry if they live here in La Pine. Especially the children and older folks.
But, this has become a bigger need and a bigger problem than any one organization- or in our case a whole slew of them- can deal with. We now have the homeless question of safe warm spaces and lots of need in that category to deal with. The cold weather is around the corner and La Pine is sitting on top of no place to go and lots of people needing places. What do we do? Where do we look for help? What decisions need to be made regarding this growing problem?
A few years ago I heard a City official explain that we needed to address this problem. At that time he wanted everyone to realize that by offering the abundant services we have in our community we were inviting more people who need help and ultimately we were setting up a problem for the future. And the future is here!
At a recent meeting of organizations who deal with homelessness and the problems of offering services to the homeless, we all learned that when there is no warming shelter or available rooms, the City needs to decide what we are going to do with the many people who are here when it gets cold. Bend has beds and housing. We do not. City Manager, Rick Allen, is all for creating some low cost housing- but that is, realistically, a few years away.
There is also another serious consideration for all of us to think about and maybe get a reality check about. We have been growing in our capacity to help with food handouts, meals for free and clothes and other household items for the needy and the numbers are meeting and exceeding our ability to serve.
There is also a big problem of second and third generation demand for these services- so that all of the givers realize that nothing is changing (we are not fixing anything by continuing to give give give…?) And, (Big and here) I have been told that there are not many thank yous, and no help offered by those that constantly receive services and food to do volunteer work to help the people they are receiving from. H-m-m-m-m-m!
When one of the Christmas Basket volunteers explained that after 15 years of serving the association she was noticing that the children that started getting baskets for Christmas Dinners years ago- in the beginning- were now bringing their families in for food and baskets.
Not only that, but the amount of people served has risen from around 150-200 when they began the process of assisting families with the goods for making a single Christmas Dinner to serving more than 1400 people with dinner goods and other items to put in their pantry. Then SCOOTR steps in and provides Christmas gifts and needed clothing items to 719 plus children. The Community Kitchen makes food boxes available and so does St Vinnies and a few churches and so it goes on- and on. Add the services for emergency heating help in the winters, clothes and household goods, Dental van, medical help and some modest attempt to give emergency shelter when needed, this community is bent over backwards to help. We are at the point of being in a backbend all over the area and just how long can we stay in that position before we break?
The cost of these services and the double dipping that some families seem entitled to do at the different places- let alone when two or three families live in the same home and all of them are getting food stamps and food boxes, make these high costs for service and the way we do the business of helping almost impossible to control. And, folks, as much as we want to help our neighbors here- and La Pine is well known for that, we need to use common sense and take the reins of control back so that we are not going to break.
“Help like this is a stop-gap measure. It is not meant to be a way of life!” added an elected official when I interviewed her. She went on to say that the way that people begin to live ‘inside the gives’ and the feeling that they are entitled to the help is a real reason to think about not giving to the charities that continue to offer that help.
Another community activist with ties to several organizations who give help answered our question ‘What do you think?’ in this way: “People that don’t take advantage of all that there is to get may lose it because of the people who do take complete advantage of it.” She went on to say, “We need to be careful not to hurt the people and organizations that do this difficult work, but changes need to be made.”
After talking with many folks about their involvement it seemed that everyone is concerned about their neighbors, but they agreed that it is time to revamp La Pine Giving and make changes that will work for the community. If the various agencies got together to create a single registration site and furthermore, they concentrated on doing what they each do best, maybe there would be more of a handle on what has been developing into a serious problem for all of the giving agencies in La Pine.
Do we want to give a hand up or a hand out? It is time to decide what direction we want to take.
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