Contact: Thomas Hottman
By Pat Bushey
H&N Editorial Page Editor
It takes people with vision to look at an empty automobile sales center and see a human services campus that not only can help people deal with current needs but offers routes to permanent solutions as well.
That's the two-fold mission of Klamath Works, an informal group that has been working for months to find a location for such a campus and settled on the site of the former West One auto center in the 1900 block of South Sixth Street near the railroad overpass.
Sky Lakes Medical Center purchased the 18-acre site in November and expects the land plus improvements will take the total cost to between $800,000 and $1 million, and it's an investment with both short-term and long-term paybacks.
As the site develops, agencies that often serve the same people will be close together, encouraging strong collaboration that can lead to quick assessments of the people using them. The more success in that process, the less likely the need for more expensive services later on.
Problems are often brought on by health issues that are voluntary personal decisions, such as smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, though the campus wouldn't be limited to medical needs.
The Klamath Falls Gospel Mission, which serves thousands of meals each year and provides emergency shelter, has made a tentative decision to move to the new site.
Among the early additions to the site are expected to be a sobriety station, mental health facilities and greenhouses that would use geothermal heat and provide facilities for job skill training.
Paul Stewart, Sky Lakes president, told the Herald and News editorial board that the organization's vision, in addition to helping with a person's immediate problems, is to help them learn job skills and rely more on their own abilities than on help from others.
This is a long-term project that can have fairly immediate impacts on individual lives, but the impact on the local population as a whole is more likely to be measured in years rather than weeks.
That impact is felt beyond those receiving services. It's on their families and acquaintances, and by businesses that can't make use of potential employees because they don't have the required skills or good work habits.
That's a loss to the local economy, too, as well as an added burden on social support services.
Good health — and that includes mental health — is a vital part of the answer.
We've heard many times that Klamath County has developed a pattern of dependency among too many people. It often appears that way to us, too.
Fortunately, Klamath County also has people such as those active in Klamath Works and the nine-member board of the Sky Lakes Medical Center who not only see the problem, but are making a commitment with the acquisition of the West One site to do something about it.
Their vision of what constitutes local good health care is broad, long-range — and much needed.