It's been years in the making, but on Tuesday a group of local volunteers announced that they were ready to release a comprehensive 10-year plan to eliminate homelessness in Central Oregon.
The issue of homelessness is one that has gained increased attention over the past several years as unemployment has forced more working families out of their homes and into the streets.
According to the most recent homeless statistics, which were compiled during a January 2011 count, there are roughly 2,300 homeless individuals living in a mix of shelters, transitional housing and makeshift accommodations across Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook counties. More than a third of that population consists of children under the age of 17. By way of contrast, there are only 84 beds in the region's largest homeless shelter, Bend's Bethlehem Inn.
"It doesn't even come close [to meeting the demand]," said former Bend Mayor Bruce Abernethy who helped to author the report.
In all, more than two dozen representatives, ranging from elected officials to service providers to ordinary citizens, helped craft the 82-page plan. Abernethy estimated that it cost less than $1,000 to develop and write the plan, thanks to the volunteer efforts of committee members. Deschutes County, one of the stakeholders, printed the document at no charge.
While the price tag on the plan was negligible, implementing its 35 recommendations is another matter. The report's authors estimate that the tri-county region will need to invest roughly $10 million if it hopes to eradicate homelessness over the next decade. Abernethy acknowledged that it's not likely that kind of money will be forthcoming anytime soon in light of a decrease in charitable giving and the quickly evaporating pool of state and federal funds. Still, he said the plan represents a starting point. The authors also deliberately included a number of cost-neutral steps that could be taken to improve the current approach to homelessness, including more emphasis on intervention and prevention.
"We purposely did not put all of the eggs in one basket," Abernethy said.
While neither he nor the other stakeholders expect a flood of dollars as a result of the report, Abernethy said existing service providers, both public and private, could use the report to leverage additional state and federal dollars.
"Our hope is to try to plant these seeds everywhere throughout the region and see where it goes... We're trying to find champions," he said.