A person experiencing chronic homelessness is generally defined as an unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition, who has been homeless for more than one year.
It’s more common for people experiencing chronic homelessness to also deal with a certain disability, mental health condition, addiction or other debilitating conditions that restrict their ability to escape homelessness. Many chronically unhoused people live on the streets, in parks, in cars, or in other places that are not suitable or safe for living.
People experiencing chronic homelessness are the hardest individuals to house and the hardest for agencies to serve. They require the most intensive services to get them off the streets and out of shelters. Continuums of Care (COCs) aim to identify people living in unsheltered situations, including encampments, and connect these individuals with health and housing resources.
Rural areas like ours in the Marion-Polk region can often lack the resources and infrastructure for providing homeless services and permanent housing. Rural areas also require unique strategies to solve challenges specific to their geography.
Who are the Chronically Homeless?
The Marion-Polk region has a disproportionately large population of chronically homeless adults. Assessments of Marion-Polk unsheltered adults without children in the past year found 62 percent were chronically homeless. By comparison, a 2020 snapshot identified 45 percent of unsheltered individuals in Oregon households without children, and 35 percent across the nation, were chronically homeless.
As such, our region has prioritized chronic homelessness in the Alliance’s Strategic Plan and in the recently adopted Comprehensive Plan for Serving Individuals and Families Experiencing Homelessness with Severe Service Needs.
How is the Alliance Helping?
The Alliance board of directors recently approved an in-depth plan to address unsheltered chronic homelessness for people with severe service needs in our region. This plan includes expansion of shelter and permanent supportive housing and enhanced social support services for unsheltered community members. We also applied for special U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) grant funds to further support this initiative.
If funded, this initiative will add on-the-ground outreach to ensure that some of the more vulnerable and harder-to-house community members are able to successfully access housing opportunities, social services, and healthcare resources by making direct connections and referrals to partner organizations.
Even without grant funding, our new plan addresses local needs by promoting partnerships with health care organizations, public housing authorities and housing providers, and people with lived experience with homelessness. Plan objectives include:
- Increase affordable housing options through development of new housing units and landlord recruitment.
- Leverage substantial health care resources and connect people with severe service needs to healthcare resources; designate staff to coordinate initial connections.
- Reduce barriers to people with severe service needs moving from unsheltered homelessness to low barrier, culturally appropriate shelter and temporary housing to permanent housing.
- Use data, performance, and best practices to improve and expand street outreach access to low barrier shelters and temporary accommodations, and rapid placement in permanent housing.
- Demonstrate a comprehensive method to identify and provide street outreach services to individuals and families experiencing unsheltered homelessness and prioritize these individuals and families for permanent housing.
- Demonstrate that the CoC meaningfully includes individuals with lived experience of homelessness in decision making and service delivery activities.
- Support and serve underserved communities in the geographic area and offer equitable housing interventions to address their needs.
Over the past two years, our partners in the Marion-Polk region added 392 emergency shelter beds through Project Turnkey and other repurposed hotel/motel facilities, expanded Union Gospel Mission’s Men’s Mission, and developed micro-shelter villages.
What Can I Do to Help?
Every time we speak to the community, we include these four calls to action: Contribute, Volunteer, Join a Committee, Inform Others. Programs that are working to address homelessness need our community’s support, either through money or volunteers (as we will need soon in January for the annual PIT Count). We also welcome community members to join one of our committees.
If these options aren’t viable for you, we hope you can at least learn more about homelessness issues and share your learnings with others. There is too much misinformation out there about homelessness. A good start in correcting misconceptions is informing other community members about the facts of homelessness.
In general, we recommend giving your time or donations to the homeless through an existing nonprofit organization. Sometimes sharing items or food with the homeless can lead to extra trash or food-borne illnesses. Contributing to local nonprofits with experience in the field is a great solution.