BEND, OR -- Central Oregon’s Homeless Leadership Coalition released the results Tuesday of this year’s one-day homeless count. The data shows there are 2,087 self-identified homeless in the tri-county area, down more than 300 from a year ago. Bob Moore with Deschutes County tells KBND that despite the overall drop, there was a rise in those considered unsheltered. "These are people that are either camped in cars or camped out in the woods in outbuildings not designed for human habitation, squatting. That population over the last three years has continued to increase and that’s a warning trend that those are folks really with the least amount of housing resources available to them, to the point they don’t have friends or family to crash with."
Moore had hoped improving statewide economic indicators would translate to a bigger decline in the numbers. "The two things the Homeless Leadership has theorized about that, there is a recovering economy, things are getting a little better and folks that are able to get back to work and get back on their feet are able to do that." However, Moore thinks the modest drop isn't because everyone is finding work in Central Oregon. "The other thing we’re hearing from a lot of folks is that there are people who have gotten to the end of their rope and staying in Central Oregon isn’t realistic anymore. They’re moving to Portland and the valley where jobs are being created."
The most common reason for homelessness, according to participants, was rent affordability and unavailable housing. Moore says the most troubling stats came out of Bend, where the number of homeless rose slightly. "Unfortunately, what we have seen over the past few years, when the housing rate is so tight – less than a 1% vacancy rental rate in Bend – it kind of clogs up the rest of the system. The places people can go to get that housing support and get back on their feet are kind of stuck with people that they’re trying to figure out what to do next, and it really just creates a lot of pressure on the system, overall."
Nearly 900 of those who participated in January's one-day count were under the age of 18, that's nearly 43% of the total and a 3% jump over last year. Moore says, "Generally speaking, what we see is a lot more families that are struggling, we’re seeing a lot more kids that are struggling, we’re looking at folks that are working and they’re physically not able to make ends meet with the rising housing cost."
Julie Lyche, Executive Director of the Family Access Network, tells KBND she's seeing the same trend in local schools. "Families might still have their job, but to get back into stable housing has been very difficult for our families. Especially these days when it’s so difficult, even if you do have the capability, to find an affordable rental for your family." She says often people don't realize that many homeless youth are under the age of 12. "You don’t see those younger children out on the streets, they’re very hidden from the average citizen. We’re always very concerned about those younger kids, because it’s harder for us to even get our eyes on them in the first place."