At a May 19 meeting at Grant County Fairgrounds, we heard about Project Turnkey, which had been quietly promoted by Community Counseling Services, Families First, other social service bureaucrats and a behind-the-scenes steering committee. The project focused on Dreamers Lodge, at the center of John Day on North Canyon Boulevard, as a transitional housing project. Project residents would have been persons on parole, veterans and those coming out of the criminal justice system, and to accommodate residents transitioning from Meredith House, the domestic abuse facility in John Day.

Project proponents stressed “local” residents, but it’s a fact that people are sent to or come to Grant County from other places for social services, mental health care, welfare benefits, low-income housing and as a place where they can safely receive unemployment benefits because of limited employment options or jobs for which they are qualified. Sticking to “local” criteria would be challenging, especially to meet occupancy quotas. And where would these people transition to with such limited housing here?

How sensible would it be to place at-risk women and children (domestic abuse victims) next to parolees, and those with drug addiction — which seemed to be the main intended Project Turnkey residents? And it’s almost laughable that this came at a critical time when the city of John Day is uncertain if it can support a police department.

The million-dollar grant that was abandoned was taxpayer money with strings attached to people somewhere else holding flexible strings. Any project of this type would result in significant property tax revenue loss.

On short notice, I, along with more than 350 people, signed a petition to say no to this effort, which was presented to project organizers. The petition addressed to Grant County governments stated “We Demand No Homeless Transitional Living Project in John Day Neighborhoods and Business Districts.”

We are told to be sensitive, compassionate, reach out. We heard from individuals and businesses doing just that; and we heard from those who have been helped by that support. I know for a fact that churches are quietly helping people in need. Grant County people as a whole continue to be very generous.

A bigger question begs: Where do we draw the line? When does helping someone become co-enabling? Most, if not all, of those who would be housed at a transitional housing facility are already receiving financial help and various support services. There are sometimes circumstances beyond someone’s control, but for the most part, it’s a vicious cycle of bad behavior, poor life choices, being a danger to themselves and the general public, and continued government dependency. Consideration for pets and a place to garden — non-essentials — seems excessive. It’s time for tough love. For those who really want to succeed there’s already an active safety net with social service personnel seeking to and confident that they can help.

Where did all these desperate problems come from? Concerning the current drug epidemic on our doorstep, everyone should ask themselves:

Who supports or voted to legalize marijuana?

Who voted for a Grant County dispensary (John Day specifically)?

Who voted to tie the hands of law enforcement and courts to lessen consequences and penalties associated with possession and use of hard drugs like cocaine and heroin? And now meth is said to be the biggest drug problem in Grant County!

Decisions like this have contributed immensely to this huge problem. Now we have it. There is no easy answer. Expanded social services and transitional housing can’t fix it, and may even open the door for bigger problems for this community.

Heather Swank

is a John Day resident.

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