Most Oregonians see homelessness as a major issue

PORTLAND, Ore. (PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP) – When Oregon’s legislative leaders unveiled a plan to tackle homelessness last month, they emphasized that it was not just a Portland problem, nor even an “urban” problem.

“Those who are homeless and homeless are as diverse as our community itself,” said Rep. Jason Kropf, a Democrat whose central Oregon district is flanked by the Deschutes National Forest and includes much of of Bend.

The regional concern on display in the capital last month reflected the views of Oregonians, most of whom — regardless of zip code — want local leaders to make tackling homelessness their number one priority. .

More than three-quarters of Multnomah County residents and other urban Oregonians said it was very important or urgent for leaders in their communities to make ending homelessness their top priority, according to a report. recent survey by the Oregon Values ​​and Beliefs Center.

“Reviving the economy is an important first step. Treating people with addictions and mental health issues is the next step,” said a Multnomah County resident.

But even in rural and suburban areas, at least 60% of residents surveyed in November identified homelessness as a high priority topic.

Most Oregonians identified mental illness, addiction or lack of affordable housing as the main reasons people become homeless.

Erin Bunday, who lives in Klamath Falls, said she believes high rental costs are leading to homelessness in her southern Oregon community.

“I have several friends here who are ‘career women’ and parents, who have often had to stay with friends, family or in run-down hotels, who spend all their earnings, making it impossible to save for a home,” Bunday said.

Bunday was a volunteer with the Habitat for Humanity program in Bend, where she lived before the bank where she worked closed. Briefly homeless, she and her son moved to Klamath Falls in 2013.

“In Bend, programs like NeighborImpact and Habitat have been able to include families in the process of buying or building a home, empowering them to really want and work toward that goal,” Bunday said. “I don’t see that here.”

Klamath County’s Habitat program was closed in 2014, and while there are still services for homeless people in her community, Bunday said it was difficult “when a person wants to take a shower, find a job, earning income, but doesn’t have a home base or a regular meal, laundry. I’ve seen a lot of people give up quickly.

Like many Oregonians, Michelle McDaniel is frustrated that nothing more has been done.

“It seems like they keep talking (about solving homelessness) and they’re not actually doing it,” said McDaniel, who lives in the small community of Otis on Oregon’s central coast. . “Then they talk about studies on it.”

McDaniel said high rents and destructive wildfires are forcing people out of their homes.

Nearly 300 structures in Otis were destroyed in the Echo Mountain Complex Fire in September 2020, representing a small fraction of Oregon’s homes lost in the 2020 fires.

McDaniel said she had “lost faith in Oregon’s leadership” in response to the housing crisis.

McDaniel moved to Portland from California in 2015 with decades of property management experience. Vacant units were quickly filled in the rental properties she managed in Portland, despite steadily rising rents.

“People are being hit with huge increases. People are upset and they say they’re going to move, and then they look around and they see everything is so high and they’re stuck,” McDaniel said. “As for trying to buy a house, it’s almost impossible for the average person.”

She eventually left Portland, discouraged and exhausted by how difficult the rental market was to make it hard for people to survive.

Otis is located just outside of Lincoln City, where the local economy is largely driven by tourism.

“People who work here in this town, mainly housekeepers, hotel workers, people who work in the restaurant industry – they can’t afford to live here, so they come from ‘other cities by car,’ McDaniel said.

Lawmakers who pushed forward with their $400 million program to reduce homelessness and promote low-cost housing have been careful not to claim victory.

“I want to be clear that these investments will not solve all problems overnight,” said Rep. Julie Fahey (D-Eugene). “But Oregonians have immediate needs right now.”

More Oregonians now view homelessness as a pressing issue

Overall, 70% of Oregonians polled in November said it was very important or urgent for leaders to make homelessness their top priority. To a similar question in an October 2020 survey from the Oregon Values ​​and Beliefs Center, 50% of residents answered very important or urgent.

While seven in 10 Oregonians thought ending homelessness should be a top priority for leaders, only six in 10 agreed that with the right policies and resources, homelessness could be solved in their communities. communities.

Rural Oregonians were slightly more pessimistic than urban and suburban residents. Some respondents favored a tougher approach, forcing homeless people off the streets and into shelters. Others said that while a few people may refuse help, the right policies and resources could allow most people to return home.

“Homelessness and lack of affordable housing are issues we could solve if we had the compassion, understanding and political will,” said a respondent from Multnomah County.

Pamplin Media Group is a media partner of KOIN 6 News

With local and state elections approaching in May, homelessness is likely to become a key issue across the state. And, according to the survey, those seeking employment are likely to face tough questions, as less than 12% of Oregonians are satisfied with homeless services where they live.

About Ian Crawford

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