Homelessness increases in Jackson County, data shows

MEDFORD, Ore.– In late January of this year, homeless assistance agencies, city and county employees, and volunteers from across Jackson county conducted a full spread survey of homelessness in the area.

In an attempt to gather just a snapshot of the situation, teams visited people experiencing homelessness on the streets, in camps, and areas where some choose to stay in their cars. On Tuesday, the Jackson County Continuum of Care released the numbers, showing an increase of the homeless population from the year before and the largest number of homeless individuals within the last seven years.

The Point In Time count, as it’s referred to, found that there are currently 732 individuals experiencing homelessness – an increase of 99 individuals from last year’s count, according to the Continuum of Care data.

Constance Wilkerson, homeless prevention coordinator for the continuum, says that number may be even higher though.

“When I talk to other social service providers, they feel that the number needs a multiplier of about 2 1/2,” said Wilkerson. “Because they truly believe there are that many individuals experiencing homelessness here in Jackson County.”

This survey has been conducted for more than a decade, highlighting how this isn’t the highest the homeless population has ever been (1,049 in 2011) or the lowest (527 in 2016). But the highest this population has been in a seven year period should be understood more.

“I think some of that is because we extended the count out into Shady Cove, Prospect, Butte Falls,” said Wilkerson. “Some of the outlying areas of the county.”

It might also have to do with the recent formation of the Continuum of Care six months ago. The wide coalition has brought 15 agencies and over 150 volunteers together to form a group driven to find solutions to the homeless situation.

“We also have 10 work groups who are looking at particular parts of homelessness and trying to find creative solutions,” said Wilkerson.

Creative solutions to problems that have pushed many residents in the county to the brink of homelessness or unfortunately, over it. The continuum is looking to be efficient and assertive in handling the homeless crisis and are on the right path by joining together and having these in-depth and collective conversations, something Wilkerson said hadn’t really been happening before.

With so many taking part, Wilkerson said it’s possible the numbers increased this year because of a more collective effort but by no means is it the only reason for the increase.

“It’s housing, it’s hourly wages, it’s rental rates, all those things are coming into the equation,” she said. “And the end result is that homelessness is increasing.”

The 2018 data showed a striking number for several subpopulations within the homeless population as well.

One, the number of veterans in 2017 was 95. In 2018, 117.

Two, there were 15 homeless parenting youth between the ages of 18 and 24 in 2017. In 2018, that number hit 54 – more than quadrupling the previous year.

Finally, chronic homelessness – people homeless for a year or more – rose significantly this year to where about 1 in 3 homeless residents in Jackson County fit the description.

Wilkerson says that she expects the total population number to continue increasing next year but hopes that with the continuum and possible the willingness of the community, the county can be successful in lowering those numbers.

One thing that comes to her mind, “It would be wonderful if the community would embrace more affordable housing units in every neighborhood.”

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