Active volunteer program contrasts with city’s slow progress addressing homeless crisis
■ By Taj Shorter / Reporter
Last week, Hemet City Council officially endorsed May Pro Tem Karlee Meyer’s volunteer campaign to help the homeless called, “Know Where It Goes.” Homeless Outreach Team.
Meyer’s campaign is focused on providing the homeless with solutions that have greater long-term benefits than panhandling. Meyer’s program creates outlets for people to donate their time and resources. Her idea is to teach citizens to give responsibly, so that help can be more effective when it reaches the wider spectrum of homeless in Hemet.
Meyer discussed “Know Where It Goes” during last week’s city council meeting. The campaign is based on the premise that panhandlers are collecting money from hundreds of citizens every year in the form of handouts, money that could better serve organizations who can help the homeless obtain the medical attention and employment opportunities that eventually will lead to a permanent – and better – solution to their predicament.
According to Meyer, instead of the public spending over $2.7 million a year on some 50 panhandlers in town, we should divert that money toward organizations that are more resourceful and beneficial. She was passionate during the discussion saying, “We need to stand for something and in our town we have a homeless problem.”
During the meeting, Meyer reviewed her volunteer program with the council, then asked for its endorsement. While the council debated this, Bonnie Wright and others consulted with City Attorney Eric Vail about the possible liabilities the city could encounter if it were to endorse Meyer’s current volunteer program. Financial support and liabilities seemed to be at the forefront of the questioning.
Vail made it clear that the city doesn’t necessarily inherit any liability in endorsing a volunteer program and that risks present themselves based more on how much control the city would have running the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT). Vail described the risks as circumstantial – mere endorsement of something doesn’t mean there is automatically a liability behind it. Councilwoman Linda Krupa had her concerns as well asking, “If we endorse it with the city seal, what does that do to the liability of the city?”
The questioning led Meyer to think the council might not officially support the program despite the council’s unanimous praise of her efforts putting it together. “I wear the city seal on my nametag when I walk around town,” she said. Despite Meyer’s comeback, questioning ensued and it felt like city council wasn’t going to reach a decision.
Finally, in what appeared to be a defensive reaction to all the apparent hesitation, Karlee Meyer interjected saying, “That is why nothing gets done in this town,” followed by, “Don’t try and do anything good,” to which arose a round of applause from the audience.
A seemingly embarrassed Linda Krupa responded by claiming that she and other council members’ perceived opposition was misinterpreted. “If that’s what you heard, you need your ears checked my dear,” said Krupa.
Councilman Russ Brown finally interjected saying, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” After further explanations from Vail and consultation with the rest of the council including the city manager – everyone eventually felt confident enough to vote. Ultimately, the motion was passed that the city would now endorse the “Know Where It Goes” Homeless Outreach Team.
This move was encouraging in the wake of testimony from Stacey Olson, head of the city’s task force for homelessness, who resigned at the meeting because of the city’s lack of measurable progress dealing with the issue. Olson’s presentation expressed frustration with the current state of the task force and said she hopes Meyer’s outreach, especially with the city involved, will be successful.