Over the course of one night in January 2015, volunteers spread out across Jackson County and counted homeless people. They counted 1,358 men, women and children who are homeless in our community. Every year HUD (Housing and Urban Development) requires counties across the nation to count homeless people who are staying in shelters and every two years they require a count of both sheltered and unsheltered people; of course that number is an estimate as it’s believed that the numbers are actually much higher, but it’s an idea of how many people around us are sleeping on the streets.
1,358. Think about that for a minute. Right here, right at your own feet.
On top of that, here in Jackson County, were are facing a housing crisis with a 1% vacancy rate which means that even well-to-do renters are having trouble finding a place to rent. Add in the commercial property companies and their questionable practices (collecting $25-40 application fees which are non-refundable and there is no way to track whether these fees are still collected after the companies have chosen a resident, raising rents and controlling the market in a way that is beneficial to their bottom line and not to the people who need housing, are a few examples) and it’s a perfect storm of displaced people and not enough shelter to meet demand. Over the last year, Jackson County has seen a spike in rent increases, some as much as 50%.
What’s the key to solving homelessness? A home.
A couple years ago, my next door neighbors house caught on fire. It was a small, neighborhood crisis on Halloween night, just as it was starting to get dark. As neighbors began to notice the fire, and converge on the sidewalk across the street, they didn’t just stand and watch. They called the fire department for help and trucks quickly arrived, full of resources to put the fire out. That’s what we do in a crisis, we ask for help and we work together until the problem is fixed.
Jackson County can’t solve this alone. This will take a statewide effort and a declaration of a state of emergency from the state of Oregon, to pony up enough resources to put out this fire, much like what the cities of Portland and Los Angeles and states like Hawaii have already done. By declaring a state of emergency, cities in Jackson County would be encouraged to temporarily loosen some of the city and county ordinances that are criminalizing poverty while funding low income housing solutions such as the tiny house