By Molly Walker
Of the News-Register
Participants in this year’s Yamhill County homeless count tallied 815 people getting by with some form of makeshift shelter, up from 747 last year.
However, Lee Means, executive director of the Yamhill Community Action Partnership, thinks that may reflect more accurate and efficient counting and a different approach to compilation of data rather than an actual rise in numbers.
Of the 815 people counted by the volunteers, 382 were under the age of 18 – 47 percent, or almost half. Only 203 – 26 percent, or about one quarter – were in some type of emergency or transitional housing.
The crew counted 381 males and 433 females. Its tally included 58 children in the 0 to 5 age range, 203 in the 6 to 11 age range and 121 in the 12 to 17 age range.
Some 324 of those contacted by counters agreed to answer questions designed to get a better understanding on the characteristics and needs of the local population. Some 26.5 percent indicated that they had suffered a disability, 26 percent that they had fallen victim to domestic violence and 9 percent that they had served in the armed forces.
As reasons for their homeless status, they cited lack of rent money, unemployment, drug or alcohol addictions, evictions by friends, relatives or landlords, criminal histories, flights from domestic violence, poor rental histories and medical problems.
“We’re still seeing a huge issue,” Means said. “It’s not going away. There’s still a significant segment out there because we’re in the middle of a bad recession that doesn’t seem to be going away.”
Means becomes even more concerned when she reads about layoffs in both the public and private sector, and thinks about those serving abroad in the military who are now returning home. She noted that while National Guardsmen can typically return to their old jobs, that leaves others without employment.
Means said her agency was beginning to run out of funds supplied under President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which provided low-income residents with weatherization money, serving to cut their utility bills, conserve energy, ease fossil fuel depletion and employ construction workers.
The program, she said, had been a big success, helping contractors provide jobs while helping low-income residents reduce their utility bills and strike a blow for energy conservation and environmental protection.
Means also noted there are only about 250 emergency or transitional shelter beds available countywide. That leaves a lot of homeless people looking at other options, including couch surfing, living in cars or erecting makeshift shelters in the cold.
And funding for such beds has been cut back badly in both state and federal budgets, she said.
YCAP itself operates three transitional shelters, and Means said the waiting list is up 119 percent from three years ago.
The agency ran a deficit of about $20,000 on its shelter program last year and is suffering a like fate so far this year. But Means said YCAP has decided to persevere.
“There are too many families who desperately need help to get on their feet again,” she said. “We don’t feel we can close shelters at this time.”
YCAP also houses families, not just individuals. It typically has 10 or 11 families in its shelters at any one time.
Means said the catch phrase in helping the homeless is “housing first.” Helping agencies need somewhere to place individuals, even those suffering from drug and alcohol addiction, where other services can be included, she said.
Without such an option, she said, many end up on our streets, in our jails or in our hospital emergency rooms, which ends up costing us a great deal more in the long run.
“It’s a lot cheaper to house them,” Means said. “People don’t realize the cost of having this many homeless on the street. It’s phenomenal.”
More than 50 volunteers contributed more than 200 hours to complete the count. They identified people in shelters, schools and street locales.
To conduct the street portion of the count, volunteers checked known homeless camps, as well as bus stops, meal sites, laundromats and other places where the homeless are known to gather.
See story at NewsRegister.com