Jackson County sees increase in number of homeless

MEDFORD — Jackson County saw dramatic increases in homelessness, especially among families, according to preliminary results from a count completed last month, ACCESS officials said.

"The face of homelessness has changed so dramatically in just the past year because of the economy," Ed Angeletti, planning director for ACCESS, which provides food, housing and other services for low-income people in Jackson County.

The county saw an overall increase of 15 percent in homeless people, compared with a year ago, increasing from 899 to 1,034. But there was an even darker side to the numbers: a significant increase in families and children without homes. The statistics showed the number of homeless two-parent families with children growing from 3 percent of those surveyed in 2009 to 29 percent this year, said Angeletti.

Homeless single parents with children increased from 9 percent of those surveyed in 2009 to 26 percent this year, he added.

As part of a statewide count, ACCESS tallied surveys filled out in January by homeless individuals in two dozen shelters and emergency food pantries throughout the county. The non-profit organization also sent 40 volunteers out into the community looking for homeless individuals not in shelters.

"We had volunteers checking for individuals all the way from Shady Cove to Ashland," said Angeletti.

The top responses to the final question in the survey asking, "What caused you or your family to leave your last living arrangement?" were "Couldn't afford rent" (14.8 percent), "Unemployed" (14.3 percent) and "Drugs/alcohol" (10.1 percent).

Angeletti said a local Homeless Task Force will meet on March 5 to further review the data.

The definition of homeless does not necessarily mean a homeless person does not have shelter. Of those who responded, about 45 percent said they were staying with friends or family.

The homeless count in Josephine County showed more than 1,000 homeless people in the county, up by 350 people from 2009. All 36 counties in Oregon participated in the annual count for 2010.

The social services community is working to find solutions to the growing issue, said Angeletti. To help combat the problem, the county has received approximately $400,000 in federal dollars which will be used to fund four separate homeless assistance programs, he added. The funds are from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development..

Jackie Agee, development director with the Salvation Army, agreed that the county's economic crisis has created a new population of homeless.

"The difference between last year's numbers of families and this year's is just astonishing," Agee said, adding half of the people seen by Salvation Army representatives needing assistance over the Christmas holidays were "first timers."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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