Oregon Has the Fourth Largest Homeless Population in the U.S
ASHLAND, Ore. — Oregon has the fourth-largest homeless population per capita in the country, with one in 10 children from homeless backgrounds attending Jackson County schools.
Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, revealed these figures at the Southern Oregon Homelessness Summit in Ashland last weekend.
Homelessness is Oregon’s Thorniest Problem
Oregon is ranked first nationally for repeat or sustained homelessness. Marsh says Medford’s homeless population increased by 24,000 between 2000 and 2022, a period during which 7,400 housing units were constructed in the area.
Marsh said the problem escalated to such an extent that the Governor, Tina Kotek, issued a state of emergency declaration on homelessness in 2023. Nearly $200 million was set aside for housing production, support, and related services. This initiative created 423 additional beds in shelters statewide, 9,000 households escaped homelessness, while housing was provided to 1,293 individuals and families.
Marsh says other initiatives addressing the state’s homelessness problem include:
- A governor’s office project to build 36,000 housing units annually statewide, nearly doubling present output.
- State funding to assist St. Vincent De Paul of Lane County to open a factory producing manufactured homes.
- Grants allocated to factories producing modular housing, two of which are in Southern Oregon, one in Phoenix and another in Klamath Falls. The average cost is $400,000 to build one affordable housing unit in Oregon.
Turning to Oregon’s drug abuse, poverty and mental health problems, Marsh says these will remain stable if housing is provided. She points out that lack of housing aggravates homelessness, a problem dating back to 2000 when a recession left many property developers bankrupt.
Oregon’s homeless dilemma was aggravated by the pandemic when low-income earners were financially strapped, and the Labor Day fires fueled the problem as thousands of homes were consumed by the flames. Marsh says these events left 6,000 people homeless on the streets.
Summit delegates heard about the barriers affecting the construction of affordable housing from Senator Jeff Golden, D-Ashland. He says Oregonians do not want this type of home “in their backyard”, underscoring resistance to the Legislature’s recent law that requires cities statewide to support multi-family housing construction in the face of electorate opposition. Golden says another problem is the rising cost of housing construction.
Housing Authority of Jackson County Executive Director Jason Elzy highlighted the problems surrounding affordable housing provision. Elzy says the waiting list for accommodation ranges between 2,000 and 3,000 people, and the waitlist period is between two and three years.
He says the problem is further exacerbated by rising costs, with the average house price at $350,000. This means developers must charge $2,000 a month to break even.
Other problems facing the provision of affordable housing are the scarcity of land, high interest rates, and a shortage of skilled labor, says Elzy.
But despite these drawbacks, Elzy told delegates that the Housing Authority will be handing over 288 new homes in the Rogue Valley before year-end.
The Maslow Project founder, Mary Ferrell, resigned from her post with the Medford School District after coming face-to-face with homelessness.
She tells the story of a school classmate who had no school supplies, wore dirty clothes and had head lice. Years later, while working for the school district, Ferrell visited the home of hungry children. Her knock on the door was answered by the now adult classmate.
Ferrell says this brought home the reality of homeless children:
- They are seven times likelier to become homeless as adults and to attempt to commit suicide
- Four times likelier to become ill and stay away from school
- Twice as likely to suffer hunger
She believes the answer to the homeless dilemma is to stabilize families, keep them together as a functioning unit, and keep children in school.
It can be difficult to find somewhere to have a bath when homeless, adding to health risks, says Stacy Brubaker, Jackson County Health Services Division Manager. Another problem posed by homelessness is trauma, causing people to suffer mental illness.
There was an increase of 12% in homelessness throughout Oregon between 2022 and 2023, according to state Field Officer Director of the Department of Housing, Bryan Guiney.
The Point-in-Time count — an annual federally-led count of homeless people — showed an increase of 12% in the number of homeless people throughout the state from 2022 to 2023, said Bryan Guiney, Oregon Field Office Director for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
However, Jackson County experienced a decrease of 8.6% in its homeless population for the same period. Guiney says Jackson County sets an example for the rest of the state to improve the situation of their homeless populations.