The homeless crisis is visibly worsening, but what do the numbers show? It will all be revealed in the annual Point in Time homeless count, which began on Tuesday.
The count, run by the Central Oregon Homeless Leadership Coalition, is a chance for a check-in on the state of homelessness in our region and a reflection on the work left to be done.
Last year’s data revealed a 17% increase in homeless community members between 2021 and 2022.
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“I foresee that we are probably going to see another increase again this year,” said Colleen Thomas, the Supervisor for the Deschutes County Health Services Homeless Outreach Services Team. “Part of that is because we have better ability to count folks, and we know we have more staff that know more folks and where they’re at and located. But it’s also just the result of the rising housing costs in our community.”
It’s the first year the Shepherd’s House Lighthouse Navigation Center in Bend is participating under its current name, after its change from the Bend Emergency Shelter.
Director of Emergency Services John Lodise said the shelter has been at full capacity for “quite some time now.”
He said he already has an idea of how this year’s count will go.
“We expect to see an increase,” Lodise said. “So when we first opened the shelter as a permanent shelter, we were experiencing between 60 to 70 people. With the winter cold weather, we’ve been seeing numbers of 100, 110. And then we’ve been letting extra people in to warm, so that sometimes we’ve had 130 to 135 people.”
Volunteers will help count data until January 31, all the way from Warm Springs to La Pine. It’s a process those involved know is not airtight.
“The Point in Time count I always say, is just a snapshot of our overall population,” Thomas said. “The survey that is used during the Point in Time count is completely voluntary, and so folks can choose not to participate.”
That snapshot is a crucial step for the future of homelessness advocacy.
“The really important part of the Point in Time count is that those numbers that we report back to the federal government through HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] is how they allocate funding for our region. So the better data that we have, the more resources we can allocate to our community,” Thomas said. “It’s a formula-based thing that the government does, and so that by having that data, it allows us to be receive more funding.”
Despite the numbers from the past several years, these advocates told Central Oregon Daily News that they have to hold on to hope.
“I think we always have hope that the numbers are going to go down,” Thomas said. “We want to work ourselves out of jobs in regards to homeless outreach. There will always be people that are going to live unsheltered, but we want to see that rate go down.”
“You have to have faith that, yes, that is going to make a difference,” Lodise said. “People are going to be helped. Maybe the phenomenon will ripple, right? We help a group of people who then become motivated to help others, and eventually we have more people trying to help those who need it than we have folks who need the help.”
The results from the count are expected to be released in the next couple of months.
This comes after Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek signed an executive order on Jan. 10, declaring a homelessness state of emergency in certain parts of the state that have seen a 50% or more increase in the unsheltered homeless population between 2017 and 2022.
Central Oregon is one of the regions included on that list.