Being homeless can be a life of struggle, fear, and humiliation. No locking doors, nowhere to run, no toilet, sink or shower, no heating when it’s cold, no cooling when it’s hot. Shelter beds are few and far between, pushing people to sleep in cars or camp in the woods.
Several local organizations in recent years have worked to paint a clearer picture of homelessness in the Corvallis area. It’s hard to pin down the number and demographics of homeless people because of their transience.
In 2017, the Housing Committee of the League of Women Voters of Corvallis published a report that concluded as many as 800 to 1,200 homeless people live in the Corvallis area, mostly Oregon-born people in their early to mid-40s. The most conservative estimates put the number of homeless people at 300 to 400 in Benton County.
In 2019, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that while the rest of the country saw a decrease in homelessness that year, significant increases in unsheltered and chronic homelessness on the West Coast, particularly California and Oregon, offset nationwide decreases, causing an overall increase in homelessness of 2.7%.
A 2020 update on the numbers added information from Benton County, school districts, and health care organizations. It should be noted that data collection ended before COVID-19 took hold in the U.S. While the data admittedly does not tell the full story, it does indicate the problem is only increasing, and it won’t go away on its own. The most recent unemployment statistics suggest that the true homelessness rate is probably significantly higher today than in early 2020.
The January Count
In January of this year, a Point-In-Time Count was conducted in Lincoln, Benton, and Linn counties. It found in Benton County that around 61% of the homeless population is unsheltered. Around 59% are men and 40% women, a higher ratio for men than the typically even divide. The mean population age for men is 42 years old and 40 for women. Around 3% of women and 16% of men reported being military veterans.
Slightly more than half of both men and women have been homeless for more than a year, and around two-thirds have lived in the area for more than a year, suggesting limited mobility. Among the unsheltered portion of population, the percentage of the group living in the community for a year or more increased to more than 80%.
Ethnically the homeless population is predominantly non-Hispanic white at 82.4%. Native Americans are overrepresented relative to the general population at 8.2% for all three counties. Representation of this group increases to more than 10 to 12% in Benton County. Also overrepresented statistically are Black people, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders, the disabled, veterans, LGBTQ, those with behavioral health and/or substance abuse issues, and victims of domestic violence.
A report on the PIT Count said the homeless population suffers extreme racial and ethnic disparities, particularly for Native American and Black people, and that the population has extremely vulnerable demographics within.
Data presented for the Benton County Home, Opportunity, Planning and Equity Advisory Board showed that in 2018, Corvallis Police Department reported 305 illegal campsites and issued 30 citations. In 2019, CPD reported 400 illegal campsite and issued 23 citations. Corvallis Fire Department data showed 39 fire calls and 98 medical calls at locations where homeless people were known to congregate in 2019.
Among the concerning increases reported to the HOPE Board was a rise in homelessness of school-age children in Benton County. Children in grade school and transition-age youth at community college saw racial and ethnic disparities and highly vulnerable populations. And those in transitional housing saw heavy racial and ethnic disparities, highly vulnerable populations, and safety concerns.
CitySpeak Homeless Panel
The Advocate sits down with leaders in Corvallis homeless services on Tuesday, Nov. 17, ay 6:30 p.m. Watch live on CorvallisAdvocate.com or Facebook page, with generous time allotted for questions from the public. Video of the forum is available after CitySpeak adjourns for the night.
Viewer questions are always encouraged. Submit questions before and during the forum. Before the event, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org, message us on social media, or just post your question on one of the social media posts of the event. During the event, you can still email or message us on social media, and you can also submit your question on the Facebook posting of the live event.
By Cody Mann