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Advocates Seek "Gatekeeper" Support for Oregonians at Risk

Backers of Oregon's Gatekeeper program say it saves the state money by training volunteers to look in on elderly Oregonians and those with disabilities. But state lawmakers cancelled its funding in 2015. (Store to Door)
Backers of Oregon's Gatekeeper program say it saves the state money by training volunteers to look in on elderly Oregonians and those with disabilities. But state lawmakers cancelled its funding in 2015. (Store to Door)
January 25, 2016

SALEM, Ore. – Backers of a program that trains folks to be observant in their dealings with isolated Oregonians across the state want the Legislature to restore the program's funding.

Gatekeepers are often delivery drivers, meter readers and bank tellers who interact with older or homebound people. They receive training to spot those who might be at risk, and how to report it.

But last year, state lawmakers cut the program's entire budget.

Kiersten Ware, a certified Gatekeeper who runs Store to Door, a grocery-shopping service for low-income elders in the Portland area, remembers being shocked about the news.

"To hear about Gatekeeper being cut, we were just like, 'Oh my gosh, are you kidding me?'” she recalls. “At least our population, the folks that we're serving, are already at poverty or just above poverty line – and they're forgotten."

This year, advocates for the Gatekeeper program will ask for $850,000 to restore it. They say that's a bargain for a statewide network of caring volunteers helping people stay in their homes.

But lawmakers with tough budget decisions will have to be convinced that these extra eyes are needed.

Multnomah County used its Gatekeeper money for a full-time trainer. Community Program Manager Paul Iarrobino says the friendly check-ins are important not only for those who are homebound, but as a way for companies to give back to their communities.

"Usually, social services and businesses don't really connect very often, and this is a great opportunity for local businesses to really step up and be involved,” he stresses. “But they need to know how. They need guidance."

Kiersten Ware agrees that the training makes Gatekeepers more effective than, for instance, a well-meaning neighbor. She says they often deal with sensitive topics, and people who are hesitant to admit they need help.

"We don't want to come in and make decisions for people,” she states. “But any conversation we have with them, or visually identifying issues around weight loss or memory loss, cleanliness of the home – you know, their ability to take care of themselves – we're able to notice and report those types of concerns."

Lawmakers will be asked to put the program back into the state budget when they return to Salem next week.


Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR