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Decrease in Crook County need for core services points to an improving local economy

NeighborImpact, a regional nonprofit provider of social services, released statistics to its board of directors recently regarding demand for services during the 2017 calendar year. 

A total of 43,303 households in Central Oregon and 321,154 individuals sought one or more services from the agency, a 1 percent increase from 2016. Locally, the organization served 44,277 individuals as well as 4,477 households.

"I think the overall story in Crook County is a good one," said NeighborImpact Executive Director Scott Cooper. "Delivery of core services in Crook County was slightly down in 2017, over 2016, as you would expect in a steadily improving economy. Where we did see uptick was in services that helped people improve themselves — programs like home ownership counseling and financial counseling."

Founded in 1985, NeighborImpact is a private nonprofit organization which serves all of Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

Families and individuals touched by the nonprofit may have received services from any of its eight programs. Child Care Resources delivers training and tools for child care providers and Early Learning programs, while Head Start provides quality pre-kindergarten education to low-income families.

NeighborImpact's Emergency Food Assistance program and its food bank receives and distributes food to a network of 47 local agencies that include emergency food box sites, congregate meal sites, brown bag programs and shelters.

When cold weather strikes, the organization's Energy Assistance program offers financial assistance to income-qualified individuals for propane, oil, wood and pellets, and the weatherization program provides free home weatherization to eligible low-income individuals.

Housing Stabilization through NeighborImpact includes emergency and transitional housing, rent and deposit assistance, and the organization also offers low-interest loans to income-qualified individuals wishing to start a small business, put a down payment on a home, and more. In addition, the HomeSource program provides a variety of services, including home ownership counseling, financial education, matched savings, foreclosure counseling, reverse mortgage counseling and mortgage assistance.

Cooper said that Crook County is a community of extremes, where some people are doing very well, others have middle-class and working-class jobs, and many have been left behind by a changing economy and by new jobs requiring new skills.

"Crook County needs to be careful as it rightfully celebrates its status as a high-tech center and a magnet for new industry that it doesn't forget about an entire class of people born and raised here who aren't in a position to benefit from economic growth and who are being increasingly left behind," he said. "NeighborImpact's services provide a short-term stabilizing mechanism for some of those families and individuals, but that's not a permanent solution. Skills training, educational opportunities in the community, an economic development program that focuses on hiring people who are already here, and a good amount of compassion, patience and support for people who are transitioning to a new economy are absolutely necessary to a vibrant community in the long-term."

Regarding the services provided to Crook County residents and those throughout Central Oregon, Cooper stressed that the vast majority of people they help are looking to them for short-term assistance. 

"Poverty is something people experience episodically," he said. "Loss of a job, changes in family structure, eviction, medical catastrophe — those are the reasons people go from stable to disaster. About 85 percent of people who slide into poverty will climb back out within five years. The people we help are not a permanent drain on community resources."

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