Organizers seeking additional volunteers to help improve their outreach efforts

Local leaders feel confident that the data they have collected on homelessness in Crook County vastly underrepresents the issue in the community.

"We know that there is a lot more homelessness than what we have been able to identify in the past," said Vicky Ryan, Crook County's emergency preparedness coordinator.

In an effort to improve that data and help community leaders secure more grant funding to combat homelessness, Crook County will once again join other communities throughout the country in hosting the annual Point in Time Count.

Ryan said that the nationwide event is organized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which chooses one day for communities throughout the country to collect a snapshot of homeless data.

"We are looking at one point in time," Ryan said.

That point in time this year will be Jan. 29, although in Crook County the data collection will be extended an additional two days.

"The questions will always go back to that one point in time (Jan. 29)," Ryan said, explaining that people will be asked during that three-day span where they were sleeping on Jan. 29. "It just gives us an opportunity here in Central Oregon to be able to reach out to more people with those extra two days."

Data collection will involve numerous volunteers and take place in several locations throughout the community. One location, Eastside Church, will provide people who come to self-report homelessness a hot meal. Another data collection location, the Crook County Library, has served as a daytime warming shelter for local homeless people. People can also come to the Crook County Health Department.

At each location, people are encouraged to work with volunteers to fill out a short survey while the answers are documented. Ryan stresses that all of the answers provided are confidential and will be used only to compile general homelessness data.

"We don't take any personal information that can be tied back to any individual," she said.

Those who cannot show up in person to self-report can call a phone number (541-323-2467) to complete the survey.

Anybody who takes the survey has the option of continuing to meet with volunteers to discuss any unmet needs what resources are available to meet them.

Though the local effort has benefited from a good volunteer force in the past, more volunteers are always needed. Ryan said that additional volunteers will enable more outreach in the community to identify other homeless people who may not otherwise show up for the Point in Time count.

"It gives us an opportunity to send more individuals out into the field to canvas different areas like near (Ochoco) Creek where people tend to sleep," she said.

The data collected is provided to HUD, which Ryan said supports local grant funding to help homeless initiatives in Central Oregon.

"We also use the information locally to help continue to support our community," she added.

In recent years, the numbers from the Point in Time Count have risen in Crook County, a result that Ryan attributes to both an increase in local homelessness and an improved effort to find people without a home in the community.

"There is still a crisis and people recovering from when the housing market crashed," she said, adding that the surge of Facebook construction workers has limited what housing is available. "That pushed more people out."

Ryan went on to note that the local homeless shelters are full every night and there is not enough bed capacity to house all the people who are looking for a place to sleep — especially during the winter.

Consequently, volunteers will be collecting data for local use that goes beyond the homeless definition established by HUD. For example, school students who are defined as "precariously housed" will be counted, as will people who have only been homeless for a short period of time.

"We are collecting data on all homelessness, so we can use it more locally," Ryan said.

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