Number of county homeless on the rise
A statewide increase in homelessness is a trend affecting Columbia County, where 285 homeless people reside, either on the street or with friends and family, according to a one-night homeless count conducted by the county's Community Action Team.
Of those who are homeless countywide, 110 are children under the age of 17.
The total number, reflecting a count performed one night in January 2011, is an increase over 2010's count of 256. This tracks a statewide trend of a growing homeless population.
Disconcerting for CAT officials is that the counted number is likely far lower than the reality of the situation.
'If we had a week-long count, or if we could do the count during the summer, we'd probably see triple the number of people,' said Martha Olmstead, a housing manager for CAT.
Each year, regional agencies perform the one-night homeless count for the Oregon Department of Housing and Community Services. The numbers are compiled into reports and used for statistical purposes.
Statewide, the homeless population increased by 29 percent over the previous year.
The chief cause is unemployment, according to state officials, meaning many of the newly homeless have never been in a similar situation before.
For much of the year, the state's unemployment rate hovered above 10 percent, and in Columbia County it was higher than the state average.
Columbia County has been hit particularly hard by the Great Recession, Olmstead said.
'Lack of employment is a big factor,' Olmstead said. 'People are seeing their unemployment running out, and they're just getting maxed out.'
She has seen an increase in seniors opening their homes to their grown children who can no longer afford to pay for rent or mortgages, she said.
Olmstead said she sees no optimistic signs for the future for turning the tides of homelessness, especially with rising gas prices affecting the high number of county residents who commute to work.
'When people receive $600 a month in unemployment and their rent is $900, then it becomes real tough,' she said. The one upside is that people are becoming more accepting of cohabiting situations.