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Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune

A homeless man sleeps Wednesday at Hawthorne Park in Medford . A recent one-day count of homeless people in Jackson County found the problem is worsening.

Numbers prove it: homeless problem is getting worse

An annual count tallied at least 732 homeless people living in Jackson County, an increase from the 633 found by volunteers who fanned out into the community in 2017.

The actual number of homeless people living in the county is likely 2.5 times the number who were found and counted, said Jackson County Continuum of Care Homeless Prevention Coordinator Constance Wilkerson.

“Homelessness is definitely on the rise,” she said. “When I talk to other service providers, they are seeing an increase in the client load. The rise in numbers is a true rise, not just because we made a concerted effort to reach more areas.”

On Jan. 22, teams of volunteers surveyed homeless people they found on streets, in camps, living in their cars and in other areas without adequate shelter. The number of homeless people living in emergency shelters and transitional housing was added in to reach a total figure, organizers said.

Volunteers asked homeless people what caused them to leave their last stable living arrangement in a home.

The largest number, 74, said they lost housing because of a rent increase, an eviction, a foreclosure or because a landlord sold the home.

Another 63 said they lost housing because of family trauma and issues, 56 cited a job loss, 30 named substance abuse, 22 said a relative had died, 15 said health issues were to blame and 13 said they had been incarcerated.

Count organizers said many homeless individuals have income, but they can’t afford housing.

Jackson County has a 1.5 percent rental vacancy rate, and average monthly rent exceeds what average local income can support, organizers said.

The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom unit is $950, but the federal Housing and Urban Development fair market rent figure is $676 — with the federal figure including all utilities, organizers said.

On May 1, only four out of 556 rentals advertised on Craigslist were close to the HUD fair market rent figure, organizers said.

“The point-in-time count indicates there is such a great need for housing in Jackson County — especially affordable housing,” Wilkerson said. “It will take a community effort to increase the inventory of affordable housing so we can house our most vulnerable neighbors.”

On Wednesday, the National Low Income Housing Coalition issued a national report on the wages a family would have to earn to pay for an average two-bedroom apartment while still paying for other necessities such as food and health care.

The report, which can be searched by ZIP code, is available at nlihc.org/oor.

A family would have to bring in wages totaling $16.92 per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment in west Medford, and $18.08 an hour in east Medford.

An Ashland family needs to earn $18.85 an hour, a Central Point family must bring in $18.08 per hour, and those in the Jacksonville and Applegate Valley area need pay of $17.31 per hour, according to the report.

Of the 732 homeless people found during the Jackson County homeless count, 105 belonged to families with at least one adult and one child, with 55 kids younger than 18 living in those families.

Another nine girls and nine boys younger than 18 were homeless and living without any adults.

The number of young homeless parents increased from 15 in 2017 to 54 in 2018.

Volunteers found 95 homeless veterans in 2017 and 117 in 2018.

The vast majority of homeless people were white.

Two-thirds of homeless people were male and one-third were female.

The count found chronic homelessness increased from one in four homeless people in 2017 to one in three this year.

HUD defines a chronically homeless person as someone who has been homeless for a year or more or has been homeless at least four times in three years. The person must also have a disabling condition, such as a physical or developmental disability, a serious mental illness or a substance abuse problem.

“Episodes of homelessness are lengthening,” Wilkerson said. “People are spending longer unhoused. In 2017, one in four were identified as chronically homeless. This year it’s one in three. Generally, the longer an individual experiences homelessness, the more likely they are to experience a disabling condition.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

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