The number of people experiencing homelessness in Central Oregon jumped 13% from last year and 40% from 2018 according to results from the region’s “Point In Time” count earlier this year.
The Homeless Leadership Coalition counted 1,099 people during its one-night tally on January 20th.
The Point In-Time Count attempts to capture data on both sheltered and unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness.
“My heart hurts when I see this many people who don’t have a place to stay,” said Gwenn Wysling, Executive Director of Bethlehem Inn.
“What’s surprising is to see the year over year numbers that are going up, and I think certainly the pandemic has had a huge role in that, as well as the challenge we have in affordable housing in this market.”
Information is gathered on a wide range of characteristics of those experiencing homelessness including age, gender, race, ethnicity, veteran status, and disability status.
With this information, the Homeless Leadership Coalition, local governments and agencies target services and develop plans to address poverty and homelessness in Central Oregon.
In the tri-county area, Deschutes County shoulders nearly 91% of the houseless population, with 995 people recorded.
Jefferson County and the Warm Springs Indian Reservation show 76 people, with Crook County at 28.
Since the survey is completely voluntary, the numbers only reveal so much.
“There’s a lot of hesitation from the population to participate in a count,” said Colleen Thomas, Chair of the Homeless Leadership Coalition. “With that, we definitely know that it’s a severe undercount of the overall population.”
Even so, the growth is real.
“We’re seeing more folks in our community that are experiencing homelessness for the first time as well, and a lot of that is due to increase of rental prices, or individuals losing their jobs due to the pandemic, or other circumstances that are beyond their control,” Thomas said.
The coalition’s report revealed that 75% or 824 of the individuals counted were unsheltered on the night of January 20, 2021.
“It’s terrible, there’s no other way to put it,” Bend City Councilor Anthony Broadman said.
He and Councilor Megan Perkins are working towards putting together a central office to eliminate homelessness.
They hope to gain the help of the Homelessness Task Force with the City of Bend, as well as the Deschutes County Commissioners.
“I think it’s been too long in America, in Deschutes County, in Oregon, that we’ve been relying on nonprofits and the faith community to serve a community that is not housed,” Broadman said.
“We can’t keep putting the burden on volunteers and nonprofessionals to solve a problem that really government has a responsibility to address.”
Meanwhile, organizations like Bethlehem Inn still lead the charge, as they seek to build a second shelter location in Redmond.
“We really look to the community to see how they can be part of the solution to a growing problem,” Wysling said. “Let’s come together and really understand how each of us can do our part.”
In 2020, the HLC added a question to find out where people had last held housing and, at that time, 74% of those surveyed had lived in Central Oregon for more than a year.
“During the 2021 PIT count we counted a total of 193 youth who are experiencing homelessness in Central Oregon. 18 of the counted youth were under the age of 18-years-old and homeless without a parent or guardian. We saw a 220% increase in this year’s count, but we believe the number of homeless youth to far exceed 193. Many homeless youth couch surf, stay in small groups and are oftentimes alone. Most of our young people do not frequent the larger encampments and attend school during the day which makes it difficult to encounter them when the count occurs. J Bar J Youth Services is committed to supporting homeless youth in Central Oregon and will continue to grow and adapt to their ever changing needs. “ Eliza Wilson, Program Manager, Grandma’s House of Central Oregon, a program of JBarJ Youth Services
These counts are the source of nationwide data on sheltered and unsheltered homelessness.
This one night count is required of all jurisdictions receiving U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding to provide housing and services for individuals and families experiencing homelessness.
This information ultimately helps the federal government to better understand the nature and extent of homelessness nationwide and direct federal funding accordingly. Homeless Leadership Coalition uses this data to make strategic decisions about projects to prioritize in the annual HUD funding competition.
“We have to put our local issue in the context of a national housing affordability crisis. In communities where cost of living soars, so too does homelessness. Recent investments are just the beginning of what is needed to strengthen our local homeless response system and fill the existing gaps. HLC is committed to a future where everyone in Central Oregon has a safe, stable place to call home, ” said Lindsey Stailing, Vice-Chair of Homeless Leadership Coalition.
About the Point in Time Count:
Counts occurred in La Pine, Sunriver, Bend, Sisters, Redmond, Prineville, Madras and Warm Springs.
The count was a service-based count, leveraging already existing partnerships and services to those experiencing homelessness in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Surveys were conducted for the night of January 20th. Due to COVID-19, surveys were collected between January 20-29th all asking about where the individual or household slept on the night of January 20th. Individuals and families counted through this effort include people living in:
“Doubled up” or precariously housed with families/friends
Camping, sleeping outdoors or in cars or RV’s without full hookup
Other places not meant for human habitation like a shed or storage unit