June 12, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

State of the County 2024: We exceeded our own expectations on homelessness

6 min read
Lane County Commissioner Pat Farr: "Adults, all around us, living in homelessness. And yes, children living with hunger, living with homelessness. And it often looks like nothing's being done to help, but Lane County is working strategically to focus our efforts to help improve their lives—and by improving their lives, improving everyone's living experience in Lane County."

The chair of the Lane County Board of Commissioners looked back at 2023, shared a list of accomplishments and spoke at length about homelessness. On Jan. 8:

Pat Farr (Chair, Lane County Board of Commissioners): Thanks for being here this morning at the 2024 State of the County message. So let’s ask: What is the state of Lane County? When refining the county’s strategic plan in 2022, we commissioned a survey and we asked a scientifically selected group of citizens: What is the state of Lane County?

[00:00:28] The first general question was: How do you rank Lane County as a place to live? Well, no surprise: 74% of the people said Lane County is a good or excellent place to live. That didn’t surprise us. But as we dig deeper, we find deep, commonly-held concerns about living in Lane County.

[00:00:46] The first among those things that people want to talk about is: What is your biggest concern in Lane County? Overwhelmingly, more than two-thirds of the people in Lane County said: ‘Homelessness.’

[00:00:56] When asked if it’s easy to find an affordable place to live in Lane County, a similar number said, ‘No, it’s not an easy place to find a place to live.’

[00:01:05] And as I reflect over the past year, taking stock of Lane County’s accomplishments, I think about our stated mission, to improve lives. Are we making a difference in people’s lives?

[00:01:15] Today, in no small part, based on the input we continue to receive, I’m thinking about those among us who are the most vulnerable; those who seem to be in the most urgent need of services.

[00:01:26] Every day we see people on the street. You see them on the street corners, you see them camped in cars beside the street. They’re in tents. Sometimes they’re in the middle of the street getting in the way of traffic. And sometimes they’re very quietly hidden underneath the overpass. Adults, all around us, living in homelessness. And yes, children living with hunger, living with homelessness.

[00:01:46] And it often looks like nothing’s being done to help, but Lane County is working strategically to focus our efforts to help improve their lives—and by improving their lives, improving everyone’s living experience in Lane County.

[00:01:59] We’re working together to help homeless individuals, helping people avoid homelessness in the first place, and working on innovative programs and responses to help them find stability.

[00:02:09] Lane County staff maintains an up-to-date data sheet on the progress toward the goals of 23-02, Gov. Kotek’s order. I looked at that dashboard this morning to see how we’re faring toward our goals.

[00:02:20] We set a goal of stabilizing 741 households in housing. As of this morning, we’ve hit 104% of that goal and placed 767 households, or 1,835 people, in homelessness prevention programs.

[00:02:34] Along with our partners, such as the Alliance for Community Wellness, the Arc of Lane County, Centro Latino Americano, ShelterCare, Siuslaw Outreach Services, Laurel Hill Center, Catholic Community Services, and others, we’re exceeding even our own expectations.

[00:02:50] In rehousing programs, we set a goal of permanently housing 247 households. As of this morning, we’re at 169, leaving us about 78 households short of our goal. But the news is that over 100 more households have registered. We plan to exceed the goal.

[00:03:07] And in emergency shelter efforts, we have, through strong relationships, exceeded our goal of improving or creating 230 beds, by providing to date 274. That is 119% of our goal for emergency shelter beds. That’s not possible without our partners such as the city of Eugene, and the city of Springfield, and Oakridge, and Cottage Grove, and Florence.

[00:03:28] Also our nonprofit partners like St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County, Everyone Village, Square One Villages, Looking Glass, ShelterCare, and more.

[00:03:36] Rent and utility assistance was a major focus in 2023 and was provided on new levels. Between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30, 2023, 6,310 low-income households comprised of 12,965 individuals received utility assistance to help stabilize their households, avoid disconnection, and keep their households healthy.

[00:03:59] Between January and June of that same year, Lane County Rent Relief Program assisted 1,348 households with $6.5 million in state and federal rent and utility funding. These funds were distributed by two Lane County programs and five community organizations.

[00:04:14] On July 1, 2023, the rent team pivoted to assist with the ‘All In’ efforts, and the internal Lane County team has assisted since 97 households with $410,000 in eviction prevention funds.

[00:04:28] I love our Dovetail care coordination. It reaches out to vulnerable people where they’re camped. Imagine that work: You’re reaching out to the people who are living on the streets, living next to the waterways, wherever they may be living, reaching out to people who otherwise wouldn’t have the wherewithal or the means to seek service.

[00:04:46] Its most notable accomplishment this year lies in the collaborative efforts and commitment to community and well-being through direct service. Dovetail community health workers provided ongoing case management to 221 individuals, made 920 health and social service referrals with a 71%, a 71% successful completion rate, and hosted a remarkable 21 outreach events across seven organizations and served 311 households—the most vulnerable, hardest-to-reach households in our entire county.

[00:05:16] To help alleviate the current housing shortage, county staff authored new land use code, making Lane County the first county in Oregon to adopt allowances for accessory dwelling units (ADUs) outside of urban growth boundaries. That is a big deal.

[00:05:29] John Q: He outlined many successes across county departments. In addition to the housing emergency, he noted Eastern Lane County’s major wildfires in 2023.

[00:05:40] Pat Farr (Chair, Lane County Board of Commissioners): Lane County successfully activated the Emergency Operations Center, the EOC, in response to the 2023 wildfire season, specifically the Bedrock and Lookout fires, supporting first responders who assisted with evacuations and were fighting the fire.

[00:05:55] During a disaster, the Sheriff’s Department becomes the lead agency. The Sheriff’s Office works with our partners to efficiently conduct an evacuation. The Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team utilizes a system that immediately transmits evacuation data collected in the field directly to the Lane County Emergency Operations Center.

[00:06:13] Managing the EOC is helped by aid provided by local and regional partners that regularly lend staff to assist in Lane County’s EOC, including teams from the City of Eugene and Springfield and Oakridge, the counties of Lincoln, Benton, Wheeler, Clatsop, and others.

[00:06:29] With the University of Oregon School of Planning, Policy, and Public Management (Go Ducks!), we hosted an Oregon Summit on Wildfire Recovery, convening policy makers and practitioners from across the state to reinvigorate the urgency of recovery, to build depth in our collective expertise, and sharing lessons learned across the communities, and to set the agenda for future policy to work, to build Oregon’s capacity to recover from future disasters.

[00:06:54] So as we plan this coming year, knowing now so many things that we did not know four years ago or even a year ago, we must judiciously work with our own people, with our nonprofits, with business community, and with our cities and other jurisdictions to maximize how we provide the services we know we can do better at.

[00:07:13] John Locke said, ‘Do not let the things you don’t have prevent you from using what you do have.’ And we have plenty in Lane County. We must make the most of what we have and leverage the things we need into truly making Lane County the best place to live, work, and play.

[00:07:30] John Q: Pat Farr, chair of the Board of Commissioners, addresses the homeless emergency during his 2024 ‘State of the County.’ Check out their ‘All In’ website for the latest progress.

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