A one-day homeless count conducted throughout Central Oregon in January revealed a significant increase in homeless people during the past two years.
The Homeless Leadership Coalition recently released the results of the 2017 Point in Time Count, an annual one-night census of people experiencing homelessness, both sheltered and unsheltered, in the tri-county region. The results show increases across populations, especially among people living in unsheltered conditions. The numbers released reflect only the people who meet HUD's definition of homelessness — people living in shelters, transitional housing programs, or in a place not meant for human habitation.
On Jan. 25, the Point in Time Count identified 778 people who experienced "literal" homelessness in Central Oregon, a 31 percent increase compared to the last sheltered and unsheltered count in 2015. Increases were seen among veterans (41 percent increase), as well as among adults, youth and children. The count also revealed a 35 percent increase in the number of people in families experiencing homelessness, 238 of which were unsheltered, including 129 unsheltered children.
Of all the people considered literally homeless, 70 percent (548 people) were unsheltered. Nearly 80 percent of all the children who were homeless were unsheltered. This is a 30 percent increase in unsheltered children compared to 2015.
As in past years, "couldn't afford rent" was identified as the single biggest barrier to participants finding adequate housing. The second most reported answer was "unemployment."
"The number of people living unsheltered should be a wake-up call to all Central Oregonians," urged Cody Standiford, HLC co-chair. "The lack of affordable housing options in our region, exacerbated by the tight rental market, is pushing too many in our community out into the cold. We can do better. We had nearly 550 people, including 130 children, living unsheltered during this terrible winter. Many good efforts are underway to expand affordable housing options, but we need more, and more quickly. This is a crisis that we can solve, and we need everyone's help to do it. All people, especially children, should have a safe, stable, warm home."
Locally, efforts continue to provide homeless individuals and families a place to escape the winter weather while attempting to transition to a more permanent housing situation. Redemption House Ministries, a faith-based organization that helps the homeless, operated an emergency men's shelter during the past few months of this winter, taking in 10 to 12 men per night.
The shelter, which allows men to stay evening through morning, closed this past weekend for the season after acquiring a temporary location. Going forward, Greg Sanders, executive director for Redemption House, said the organization is working toward a more permanent solution for the men's shelter.
"We are in different negotiations with different agencies across the area to try to pull something together," he said. "If we get what we are looking for, we will have the capacity to serve at least 20 beds for men and maybe even some transitional housing situations."
Redemption House also operates a women and families shelter that sleeps up to 22 people. Unlike the men's shelter, women and children can stay at the shelter for up to nine days at a time, although they are asked to leave the shelter during the day.
"We are looking to go back to actual transitional housing," Sanders said of the shelter. "We have been an emergency shelter for around six months now."
In late May, the HLC will issue a report and hold community town halls on homelessness throughout the region. The time and location of the Prineville event is yet to be determined. The report, produced in partnership with OHSU Central Oregon Research Coalition, will include additional information about people at-risk of homelessness as well as results on access to healthcare, causes of homelessness, and other related information.