BEND, OR -- Local homeless advocacy groups are responding to the latest homeless count numbers released earlier this week. Julie Lyche is the Executive Director for the Family Access Network, which helps coordinate community services for students and families in need. She tells KBND the new statistics expose a hidden truth. "Homelessness isn’t just the man sitting on the street with a sign, many of our homeless people are children and you don’t see those children out on the street. They’re doubled up with other families or they’re living in their car in business parking lot."
The latest count revealed that 43% of Central Oregon’s homeless are under the age of 18. "When you’re worried about where you’re going to sleep that night, or if you’re going to eat, it’s hard for our kids to focus on a math test they may have or feel like they’re being successful in school," Lyche says. "Our job through FAN is to make sure these kids stay in the same school and have that stability during the school day, even if they don’t have stability in their housing situation." FAN has seen a jump in recent years in families seeking assistance. Lyche says many of those parents are working but Bend’s tight housing market makes it difficult for them to find a stable place to live.
Lonnie Chapin, founder of Icon City
, says the updated stats reflect what he sees on a daily basis, as he works with 12- to 18-year-old kids. "They’ll get a job, then can’t afford housing. Shoot! I can barely afford housing, let along some kid who’s just trying to make ends meet. A lot of them have siblings that they’re adults all of a sudden, thrown into the working world because Mom is a crack addict and Dad’s in prison." Icon City began in Bend in 2009, as an effort to help meet the needs of homeless kids.
Chapin says he’s pleased the numbers are public, and hopes the new statistics will raise awareness of the thousands of Central Oregonians still struggling, despite the recovering economy. "A lot of times our great little city will try and sweep it under the rug because we don’t want people moving in here to see the dirty and the nasty. But, guess what: We have dirty and nasty. And, if we don’t help the situation, then we’re not going to help anybody and we’re still going to see these homeless counts still sitting at over 2,000 people, still sitting at over 900 kids in Central Oregon, alone." Chapin also acknowledges some teens are homeless by choice, leaving home because they don’t want to follow parents’ rules.
Read more on the 2015 one-day homeless count.