In Madras, Warm Springs

by: SUSAN MATHENY - Volunteers assisted with distributing food and supplies to local homeless people during the Point in Time Homeless Count on Jan. 30.Despite an improving economy, the number of homeless individuals and families is worsening. The Point in Time Count, conducted in January by the Homeless Leadership Coalition, shows homelessness is up in all three Central Oregon counties this year.

A total of 2,410 individuals self-identified, which includes 116 veterans. That’s a jump of 420 individuals over 2013. A total of 172 more households also experienced homelessness. Those numbers were particularly higher among the youth, elderly, and the disabled.

In Jefferson County, there were 433 individuals identified as homeless, including 21 veterans, and 237 households with homeless persons. That's up from 334 individuals, including 18 veterans, and 164 households in 2013.

Madras had 154 households, and 275 individuals, including 11 veterans — up from 102 households, and 186 individuals, including seven veterans. For Culver, households dropped from 44 in 2013 to 39 in 2014, individuals dropped from 120 to 102, and there were no veterans. Warm Springs had 44 households, and 56 individuals, with 10 veterans; last year there were 17 households, and 28 individuals, with 10 veterans.

The most startling number is the rise of the chronically homeless, which now stands at 522, an increase of 266 over last year. To be considered chronically homeless, an individual must be 18 years of age, have a disability, and have been homeless for at least a year or experienced four episodes of homelessness in the past three years. Every community in Central Oregon saw this number increase.

Jefferson County had 109 chronically homeless — more than double last year's figure of 53. Madras' number rose from 41 last year to 70 this year; Culver's went from zero to one; and Warm Springs' number more than tripled, from 12 to 38.

Kenny LaPoint, of Housing Works, who serves as co-chairman of the Homeless Leadership Coalition, said current market conditions are making it nearly impossible for people to find adequate housing.

“Vacancy rates for rental units are at 0.09 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,” explained LaPoint. “That’s because the lack of available housing options is astonishing.”

According to the Central Oregon Rental Owners Association, only 37 units are currently available out of 3,862 surveyed throughout the entire region. Those who responded to the Point in Time survey said a lack of affordable housing and unemployment were the two main reasons they experienced homelessness.

Scott Cooper, executive director of NeighborImpact, which provides many of the region’s emergency services, noted, “Lack of stable housing options is a huge and growing concern. We don’t have enough resources to meet all the needs of the disadvantaged now. The journey to self-sufficiency begins with stable housing and is impossible without housing options.”

LaPoint admitted the numbers are discouraging, but the coalition will continue its efforts to promote affordable housing options and better educate community groups about the negative impacts of homelessness in Central Oregon.

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