No winners in Luke-Dorf saga

From the Forest Grove News Times, August 27 2008

As Yogi Berra said, it isn’t over until it’s over, but it’s clear that the folks at Luke-Dorf are about down to their last out in their botched effort to set up a group home in Cornelius.

This isn’t cause for applause, even if you’re rooting for the home team.

We understand that the former residents of Connell House don’t evoke a lot of sympathy – criminals and people with mental illness rarely do. People who are judged guilty “except for insanity” leave the courtroom with two big strikes.

Last week’s vote by the Cornelius Planning Commission just about guarantees that such people won’t be coming back to Luke-Dorf’s secured residential facility on North 29th Avenue any time soon.

We don’t blame nearby homeowners who feel relieved by that news, but the fact is, these people need to live somewhere, and there’s ample evidence that facilities like Connell House are not only safe, but offer these people some hope of getting better.

So, what went wrong?

There’s plenty of blame to go around, but it starts with officials at Luke-Dorf, the Tigard-based mental-health agency which last year applied for a city permit to remodel the building.

At some point it became clear to city officials that what they thought Luke-Dorf was planning to do in the building was far different from what the agency intended.

It’s not clear whether this was an intended end-run by the nonprofit or just poor communication, but either way, it was the foggy start that doomed Connell House.

City officials aren’t blameless. They could have done a better job of pressing Luke-Dorf for details at the outset. But once they realized what kind of residents were coming, they began working with the agency toward some sort of a solution.

Hope for any collaborative resolution, however, was dashed when Washington County Sheriff Rob Gordon decided to take matters into his own hands on the day after Christmas. That’s when employees of his office distributed notices to 1,400 Cornelius residents that three of the men staying at Connell House were sex offenders.

Since then, heavy scrutiny from law enforcement and the media has painted an unflattering picture of Luke-Dorf’s group home, culminating in a June escape that forced the state to temporarily shut the facility down — even though the man who bolted was there for health reasons, not because of a criminal record.

But whatever the conditions were like at Connell House, no one can claim that the five residents who were sent back to the Oregon State Hospital this summer are better off in that crumbling Salem facility.

That’s why it’s important for the state to come up with a better game plan when the dust settles in Cornelius. By reaching out to city officials and residents alike with facts about a facility like Connell House before it’s built, the public can, and should, be able to root for the visitors.