Washington County sees dips despite struggles with joblessness

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Personal belongings litter a homeless camp set up near Southwest Warm Springs Street in Tualatin. Four years into a decade-long initiative to end homelessness in Washington County, the ambitious collaboration can boast some significant accomplishments. A Road Home: The 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness in Washington County, has aided in a decrease in homelessness and eviction rates overall.

According to Annette M. Evans, chairwoman of the Housing and Supportive Services Network for the Washington County Department of Housing Services, key indicators of the plan’s success in 2012 include a county count of 1,331 homeless individuals last January, down from 1,356 the previous year.

Evans emphasizes that the decrease is in light of a continued unemployment and under-employment situation. Still, housing insecurity remains a concern for many Washington County families.

Data kept by Evans’ department provide more current figures on the homelessness population at the close of a year when Oregon Housing and Community Services did not conduct its one night a year homeless count. The agency’s next count is scheduled for the end of January 2013.

The initial plan

A collaboration between the cities of Beaverton, Hillsboro and Tigard, as well as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, presented A Road Home: The 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness in Washington County to the Washington County Board of Commissioners in early 2008.

The proposal was the result of community input and the contributions of local homelessness prevention and emergency service agencies, mental health and counseling resource centers, economic and employment advocacy groups and housing assistance programs.

The plan was in response to a dramatic increase in homelessness in Washington County, and in response to a worsening economic situation: From 2007 through 2011, foreclosure notices of default increased 282 percent, Evans said.

The plan’s three primary approaches were to increase and expedite access to affordable housing, to integrate housing assistance services with resource agencies that address common underlying causes of homelessness (including insufficient mental health and medical care) and to increase livable wage opportunities for the homeless population.

Although similar programs exist nationally and throughout the state, A Road Home is based on the precept that “homelessness is recognized as a complex socio-economic problem that requires a multi-part solution,” the report stated.

The most recent assessment report to the Board of Commissioners, submitted in 2011, outlined the program’s successes: 1,919 households avoided eviction with the aid of nonprofit and faith-based organizations involved in the 10-year plan.

From 2008, there was a 33 percent increase in shelter and housing for a total of 1,929 individuals countywide.

The addition of 4,796 bed stays in the emergency shelter system was coordinated between six faith-based agencies.

As the plan heads into its fifth year, the county’s housing service providers will put an increased focus on reducing the length of homelessness, and aims to increase homelessness prevention through “rapid re-housing programs,” Evans said. In addition, there will be greater collaboration with specific institutions “to prevent homelessness upon discharge.”

Even the smaller victories demonstrate a program that is staying adaptable from year to year.

“We are seeing the reduction in homelessness through this point in time,” Evans said. “We’re really making those shifts and changes in systems as they’re needed, and then just bringing on more permanent housing programs that help people become rapidly rehoused.”

For more information about Washington County's plan, click here.

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