Volunteers seek High Desert's hidden homeless

Thursday's count goes beyond shelters, brings federal money

One day count seeks the hidden homeless

BEND, Ore. - For the eighth year in a row, Central Oregon volunteers will go out in droves Thursday, counting the region's homeless population.

Carts filled with belongings are an obvious sign of someone who's struggling with housing.

"Most of your day is spent in fear, where will I stay tonight, where will I be tomorrow and will I be safe?" Chris Clouart, managing director of the Bethlehem Inn, said Wednesday.

But the regional homeless count Thursday also seeks information from people who currently have a roof over their head, including those scraping by, living with friends or family.

"You are essentially in a situation in which you're not guaranteed the ability to live there," said Clouart. "One argument with your sister means that you don't have housing tonight -- that is the absolute definition of housing insecurity, right there."

To track down people down, volunteers will go to camps, trailer parks and even motels that offer weekly or monthly rates. The most difficult part isn't finding them -- it's convincing them they should be counted.

"Oftentimes, the answer is, 'Well I'm not homeless -- I live here, I pay rent'," said Gwenn Wysling, executive director for Bethlehem Inn.

Because the count is only done once a year, it does have its flaws.

"It's important to remember the homeless count is a snapshot," Clouart said. "Somebody who may have housing on the day of the homeless count may lose it four days later -- they will not be counted."

The survey is federally mandated for every state, and it serves another purpose, besides providing an idea of how many people are homeless.

"Funding does come to the area based on what the needs are," Wysling said.

The federal money helps fund services for people of every age.

"I think the most difficult part of the homeless count is when you come across the number of children that are homeless," Clouart said. "I think that's the thing that breaks everybody's heart."'

Last year, 2,132 people were identified as being homeless in Central Oregon. More than 200 were under the age of 18.

If you're experiencing homelessness, or you know someone who is, go to one of the locations volunteers will be located. If you can't make it to one of them, you can call 541-280-1137 to take part in the survey.

For more on the locations in this year's count, here's the Central Oregon Homeless Leadership Coalition's news release: One-day C.O. homeless count set

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