The public is invited to attend a town hall to discuss results of homeless count

Local residents are invited to learn next week more about the current homeless situation in Crook County and brainstorm ways to help struggling people.

County officials will host a town hall meeting on Wednesday, during which they will disclose the data from the Point in Time Count, a one-day event held in January that seeks to determine how many locals live without stable housing.

"Every year, HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) requires that we do a count as accurately as possible of the homeless numbers in each of our counties," explained Vicky Ryan, who is on Central Oregon's Homeless Leadership Coalition Board and serves as Crook County Health Department's Emergency Preparedness Coordinator. "HUD only requires it every other year, but as a Central Oregon region, we choose to do it every year."

The single-day event took place on Jan. 25 this year, and each community in the Central Oregon region held its own count. Crook County volunteers and officials went beyond the typical one-day count, adding outreach efforts the day before the official event and two days after.

The additional effort is intended to locate and help homeless individuals and families that might otherwise go unnoticed, and the data from those extra days is not provided to HUD.

"We have expanded it over the years from just going out to all of the camps and shelters to actually having self-reporting," Ryan said of the local effort. "That is really starting to catch on and this year, we had so many more people come in and self-report."

Those who self-report are not asked to provide any identifying information other than the first initial of their first name and first three letters of their last name, to ensure that no duplicate data is collected. Volunteers administer a survey that asks people how long they have been homeless and how they became homeless as well as questions about their access to health care and other services.

Local volunteers also visit outlying areas where homeless people are believed to live. Traveling in groups of at least two people, they went out to various campgrounds and to Forest Service lands where homeless people are believed to live.

Typically, members of the Central Oregon Veterans Outreach play a role in that effort because many of their homeless clients live in these outlying areas. However, due to high turnover recently within in the organization, they were not able to reach as many locations as usual.

"We were not able to locate everyone and go out to where they are," Ryan said. "We actually engaged the Forest Service this year, and they were able to let us know where potential spots where people were camping were."

The hard numbers for the 2018 count will not be released until the June 20 town hall, although Ryan could say that little has changed numbers-wise from last year to this year. While that is the case, she acknowledged that Crook County faces challenges that need addressed.

"One of the biggest issues we have in Crook County is we only have two shelters, one women's and one men's shelter, so that doesn't house a lot of people."

She added that the Crook County Library allows people to come in during open hours to escape cold weather during the winter and hot weather during the summer, which also helps.

"It is a public building and as long as someone goes in there and they are not disruptive or abusive to the staff or the patrons, the library always allows them to come in and hang out all day," she said.

The town hall, which is new this year, is intended to not only inform the public about the data collected and the local homeless situation, but give people an opportunity to weigh in and help.

"There will be a presentation and then time for questions and answers," Ryan said. "What we are hoping for is more interest in the community to help us see what our potential options could be in the future."

The Point in Time homeless count town hall meeting will be held at the Crook County Library's Broughton Room on Wednesday, June 20, at 5 p.m.

To volunteer for the next Point in Time homeless count, contact Vicky Ryan at 541-323-2467.

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