Improvement in economy has yet to reduce homelessness

Although the Crook County economy is showing improvement, homeless numbers in the community have gotten worse since last year.

The Point in Time Count, conducted annually by the Homeless Leadership Coalition, took place this past January in communities throughout Central Oregon. For the region, 2,410 individuals self-identified as homeless, including 116 veterans, an increase of 420 since the 2013 count.

In Crook County, numbers rose in several categories. The number of homeless individuals increased from 134 to 199 while the number of households identified as homeless went up to 84 from 74 the previous year. Among the more stark increases were individuals under 18, which rose from 49 to 75, and those classified as chronically homeless, 22 to 43.

While the numbers went up regionwide, Brenda Comini, the director of Crook County Human Services and a coordinator for the local Point in Time Count, believes some of the change can be attributed to better outreach efforts that locate more homeless people.

“I think that this is much more reflective of what our (homeless) population is,” she said. “We had some great outreach team partners through Central Oregon Veterans Outreach and a couple of folks from the (Crook County) Health Department.”

Nevertheless, this does not make the new numbers any less alarming. While Comini feels that the local homeless population has remained steady, she noted that it has failed to decline as the economy rebounds.

“Our unemployment rate has changed, but if you take a look at the sectors it has changed in, they aren’t typically entry level jobs,” she said.

Another trend has proven more impactful. Kenny LaPoint, of Housing Works and co-chair of the Homeless Leadership Coalition, says current market conditions are making it nearly impossible for people to find adequate housing.

“Vacancy rates for rental units are at 9 percent for all of Central Oregon and Housing Works issued 200 vouchers to qualified applicants in March, but I anticipate only 30 percent being used,” he said. “That’s because the lack of available housing options is astonishing.”

Comini agreed, noting that a shortage of affordable housing has made it difficult even for those who have adequate financial resources to find a place to live.

“I think it puts us in a new ball game about how we can think about actually making a dent in the (homeless) problem,” she said. “I think that also feeds into why we are starting to see so many (people) kind of hang in that chronic (homeless) area.”

At this point, community leaders have yet to find a way to increase housing availability in Crook County, but she did highlight some other ways they hope to combat homelessness.

“We will continue to work with partners to look at what the needs are,” Comini said, highlighting the Redemption House homeless shelter in particular. “They are not just giving them shelter, they are really doing wrap-around, connecting them to mentors, looking for longer-term solutions.”

Meanwhile, LaPoint said the Homeless Leadership Coalition will continue to promote affordable housing options and better educate community groups about the negative impacts of homelessness in Central Oregon.

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