West Linn library director will add homeless initiatives to role
The city of West Linn is hoping to learn more about the needs of residents and how it can help people access critical social services like food assistance, housing resources or mental health support.
West Linn Library Director Doug Erickson was named director of community services earlier this fall, a role he will take on in tandem with his duties at the library.
Erickson has spent the past six-and-a-half years as West Linn's library director. His work for the city has extended beyond the library over the years. He's led diversity, equity and inclusion efforts for the city and gathered faith leaders in the community to discuss emergency preparedness.
He said this new role has been long in the making.
"It is an extension of what I've been doing, but it's also a recognition of what I've been doing as well," Erickson said.
While Erickson doesn't envision the city establishing its own mental health facility or housing for displaced people — the type of services currently under county and state jurisdiction — he would like West Linn to help its residents better access whatever resources are available.
The growing crisis of homelessness helped motivate the city to formalize Erickson's new role.
Erickson said he's worked closely with Amber Hambrick, a behavioral health specialist recently hired by the police departments of West Linn and Lake Oswego.
"We don't see (homelessness) to the extent that other communities might, but nonetheless it's here. Is there a way we can deal with it in a humane way and kind way?" Erickson said.
Across the country, communities are grappling with how to address the crisis in a humane way, he said.
Currently Hambrick and Erickson are triaging resources for homeless people in the community, but the city is looking to establish a more structured way to help this population by forming a homelessness task force. While currently Hambrick and Erickson handle most interactions with homeless people for the city, this task force will help formulate training for police officers and others to safely and humanely take on some of the work.
Erickson and Hambrick recently met with faith leaders from various churches, Phil Rees of the West Linn Food Pantry, the city's new Emergency Operations Coordinator Breanna Cruz, police leaders and a Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue official to begin building connections.
Erickson explained that each of these groups wants to help, and many of them have resources to do so, but having them coordinate means more help will reach more people in need.
For example, Erickson said most churches in West Linn have food pantries or closets, and the New Life Church has a program for men coming out of incarceration or drug addiction, but many people don't know that.
Erickson said communication is key in all of these efforts. Part of the recent meeting focused on how to reach more residents.
If church bulletins and newsletters, as well as emails from parent-teacher organizations and youth sports leagues, can include information about an emergency preparedness fair or various social services, there's a better chance more people will see it, Erickson explained.
The recent meeting quickly turned into everyone asking "how do we help each other? How do we deal with houselessness and homelessness? What are the services we all provide?" Erickson said.
"It was wonderful to see them working together across faiths," he said.
Erickson also emphasized that the city and these groups need to hear from West Linn's underrepresented voices.
"Our demographics are pretty swayed in one direction, but there are many underrepresented communities inside of our community. How do we make them feel welcome too?" he said.
"We want to let people know we are here and if we can be of help in some way to someone, we want to see how we can do that. We want that opportunity for everyone. We don't want to focus just on the people that are always in front of us."
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