Currently, service providers collaborate by way of the Homeless Leadership Coalition, whose members include “nonprofit homeless assistance providers, victim service providers, faith-based organizations, governments, businesses, advocates, public housing agencies, school districts, social service providers, mental health agencies, hospitals, universities, affordable housing developers, law enforcement, people with lived experience of homelessness and others who care about the issues facing our unhoused neighbors” according to its website.
- The most recent Point In Time Count shows a 13% increase in the unhoused population, consistent with the last several years. Though the reduction in chronic homelessness is promising, other demographics like youths and unaccompanied children trouble some officials.
Having a formalized centralized office could take some burden off of service providers, Perkins says. The office would have an executive position, “with the responsibility to connect all efforts to prevent and end homelessness and make sure that the strategic plans and ideas that come out of the Emergency Homelessness Task Force are implemented,” the letter said.
“We cannot keep burdening our nonprofit and our faith community,” Perkins said. “By expecting all of that work to be done by people who are working their tails off every single day, and are at maximum capacity, we need to take responsibility as a city and as a county and as a region to help coordinate and help find these solutions.”
In the proposed joint office agencies would play to their strengths. For municipalities that is directing policies, finding land and working on housing issues. But there are things the City just isn’t equipped to do.
“We are not service providers, and we do not do public or behavioral health. So that's under the county's jurisdiction, for lack of a better word. And because public and behavioral health is run out of the county, we need them as partners in this effort,” Perkins said.
Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Chang said he’s supportive of more collective effort in addressing houselessness, but said he’s wary of characterizing houselessness as only a public health crisis.
“The way that Oregon’s land use system works, cities bear more responsibility for creating housing than counties. To stabilize our homeless neighbors, we need wraparound services— which the County can play a lead role in—and we need at least temporary places for people to live—which our cities should play a lead role in,” Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Chang wrote in an email.
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Commissioner Tony DeBone was more cautious, saying there are avenues the joint office could go down that would fundamentally change the function of the government. “There's a couple ways you can go with this: either this is really just managing a specific issue in our community, or it's reworking all of government and how we manage society, so as to say—that’s a lot of work to be done here,” DeBone said.
DeBone said he supports current efforts around houselessness, but there are a lot of issues that need to be explored before he’d co-sign on a government entity providing housing.
“Anybody would want to help stabilize somebody in need or give somebody resources to go, give them a hand up, but we really got to figure out what we are doing in our Central Oregon community,” DeBone said. “How much is the cost of land, cost effective entry housing, privately owned entry housing is hard. And then addiction issues are hard. And generational poverty, breaking cycles in families, there's all kinds of aspects here.”
Though the letter was only signed by Councilors Broadman and Perkins, Perkins said it has received support from other councilors.
“I think we all agree that the way to do this is to do it through the Emergency Homelessness Task Force, because that group is a city-county group, but also, more importantly, has a large number of service providers that work with this community every day, and we need their guidance on the best way to go about doing this,” Perkins said.