New data shows decrease in Jackson County’s homeless population

MEDFORD, Ore. — In 2018 more than 700 people experienced homelessness in Jackson County.

1 in 3 were considered chronically homeless and that number was expected to increase this year.

“It has decreased to 1 in 4,” said Constance Wilkerson, manager for the Jackson County Continuum of Care. “That means that episodes of homelessness are briefer, becoming more rare, and non re-occurring.”

Whether living in cars, tents, or on sidewalks, people experiencing homelessness are all around us.

But according to new data released by the Jackson County Continuum of Care on Wednesday, the number of people who are homeless in Jackson County has actually gone down.

“Our point in time count actually decreased in 2019,” she said. “It’s a very small percentage… about 3 percent.”

Wilkerson says, with the help of 75 volunteers, the non-profit took to the streets at the end of January for their annual “point in time” count.

“The majority of the count happens that one night when we go out to campsites and other places where individuals are gathering,” she said. “And do those one-on-one interviews with individuals.”

Wilkerson says 37 percent of those who were homeless were unsheltered. That means they were living places like vehicles or tents.

Others were living in seasonal shelters, emergency shelters, or transitional housing programs.

That’s all according to the housing and urban development or “HUD’s” definition of homelessness, however, the Department of Education has a different definition.

“They allow individuals who are doubling up with friends or family or couch surfing and so that’s why when we see numbers being released by school districts or other educational systems, their numbers seem quite higher than ours,” she said.

“We know if somebody’s couch surfing, they’re homeless,” said Chad McComas, executive director of Medford non-profit, Rogue Retreat. “They might have a couch to sleep on, but they don’t have a place to live.”

McComas says the count is as accurate as we can be, but it doesn’t show the whole picture. From what he sees every day,  he says homelessness is growing locally.

“On that one time they count, that one night or that one two or three days of that one week, we may not catch people,” he said. “And it depends on how many volunteers we get to go out and find them, some year we might have a bigger effort and get more people out for that count.”

Although opinions may differ, both non-profits agree the homeless population is here and it’s not going away anytime soon.

“The need is very great… to identify 712 people who are not having a permanent and stable place to live,” said Wilkerson.

“No matter what that count says, we can see it with our own eyes on the streets,” said McComas.

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