Report: 300 homeless in Linn and Benton counties

How do our local governments and service providers learn about the current and ever-changing status of homelessness in communities?

Community Services Consortium (CSC) helps with this by coordinating the annual Point in Time Count in Linn, Benton, and Lincoln counties, a federal Housing & Urban Development (HUD) requirement for every community in the country.

Understanding and examining modern homelessness in comparison to Point in Time Counts from previous reporting years helps local service providers and city and county governments determine how to make changes in funding, outreach and programs to better support and shelter the homeless.

CSC, along with its team of street outreach volunteers from other local agencies and the community, completed the 2022 Point in Time Count of sheltered and unsheltered individuals and families in Linn, Benton, and Lincoln counties.

It’s imperative to know the context of how the numbers were collected to understand their weight and impact. Although an exact count is never possible due to the endeavor’s challenging nature and logistics, there was increased difficulty in tandem with other barriers this year. The federally designated timeframe for the count unpredictably took place during the January COVID Omicron surge. This posed an increased challenge, as shelters are used for the count and were operating with decreased capacities in accordance with state guidance.

Additionally, there were struggles to organize a sufficient outreach team in Lincoln County this year, leading to a lower count than past reporting. Bearing all of that, the report is still the best resource for getting a crucial look into present homelessness in the tri-county region.

This year’s report revealed that more than 700 people are unhoused, living on the streets, in between shelters, or worse, in Linn, Benton, and Lincoln counties. To illustrate the gravity of that number, it is more than the total population of the City of Monroe. And given the disclaimers above, the true number is higher than the reported count.

Karla Garrett, CSC program development and resource advisor, said the count did not specify where the homeless are located, down to municipality or zip code.

But those who work with the homeless in Sweet Home estimate there are some 34 houseless residents in the community.

By county, the report estimates some 300 unhoused individuals in both Linn and Benton counties, and more than 130 in Lincoln. Though, as noted above, that count is less accurate than the counts in Linn and Benton.

Of the 700 total unhoused individuals in the tri-county region, about 6% are reported to be veterans; 5% include families with children, with more than half being unsheltered; 30 to 40% of those counted reported to be “chronically homeless,” meaning they have been unhoused for at least a year, or repeatedly, often while struggling with a disabling condition such as a serious mental illness, substance use disorder, or physical disability.

“Conducting a head count of those experiencing homelessness, particularly those who are not in shelter, is an overwhelming task,” according to the regional count lead, Dina Eldridge, Housing Services Manager for CSC.

“No one truly believes that such counts are complete or comprehensive as there is no practical way to know or find every unhoused individual or family in a community, especially in rural areas like most of Linn, Benton, and Lincoln counties.“

Eldridge further explained, “Homelessness is isolating and scary, and many people who are forced to sleep in their car or pitch a tent in the woods do not want other people to find them. So, we do our best to get a snapshot of the problem with the understanding that the true number is undoubtedly larger, but unknown.”

To learn more about CSC, visit communityservices.us.