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Washington County counts homeless

Brad Vanvoorhis grew up in Aloha and joined the Army right out of high school, serving four years that included a stint in the Middle East during the Gulf War.

Now he’s found himself homeless in Hillsboro after his drinking problem led him to lose his job. He’s trying his best to get himself out of a rut.

Vanvoorhis was one of the homeless veterans who showed up at the Hillsboro VFW Jan. 23 as part of the “Point-in-Time (PIT) Homeless Count” organized by the Washington County Community Action team.

Washington County homeless residents had several chances this past week to get a hot meal, stock up on warm clothing, receive medical services and haircuts, look into housing options — and be recognized.

As part of the program, local organizations opened their doors to the homeless, offering free food and services while they tried to get an accurate count of the county’s homeless population.

The 2013 count revealed there were more than 1,100 homeless people living in Washington County. That’s based on the state definition of homelessness, which has expanded to include those staying with other people due to loss of housing, economic hardships or personal safety. The number for this year wasn’t available by press time.

The main PIT event, Jan. 24 at Sonrise Church in Hillsboro brought in more than 360 homeless residents.

Vanvoorhis was hoping to see what kind of clothing was offered at the Hillsboro VFW and chat with veterans’ housing services advocates.

Being in the military “is a whole ’nother world,” said Vanvoorhis, which “you don’t realize until you see your friends again.”

After he came home, Vanvoorhis decided not to tell people he was in the military unless they asked, finding many didn’t know how to relate to his experiences or taunted him, asking him what made him so tough.

Pete Pringle, a reintegration specialist with the Joint Transition Assistance Program, works to connect veterans with the services available to them.

“The military has such a structure,” said Pringle, who served in the Navy for 23 years. “It’s hard to adjust when you lose that structure and are released back into the community.”

“In the military, if you make a mistake you’re punished but you’re still taken care of,” Vanvoorhis said. “But here it’s a whole different fight. You’re fighting for a place to live; for a job. You’re fighting to live.”

Jessie Adams of Community Action said that each year the count gets a little more accurate and adds more services. Adams helped homeless veterans get screened for any benefits for which they might qualify.

“We wanted to get together as many organizations as possible to be as effective as possible,” she said.

The Department of Housing & Urban Development — the federal agency that oversees home ownership, low-income housing assistance, aid for distressed neighborhoods and homelessness — requires the homeless count to take place in January.

“The numbers we come up with determine the federal money HUD gives out,” said Betty Pomeroy, a Hillsboro resident and member of the Forest Grove Elks Lodge, where another homeless count event took place Jan. 27. “But most of our homeless population goes south for the winter.”

Washington County recently received a grant for more than $40,000 from the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs to help with outreach. Vicki Horn of Washington County said they’ll likely use the money to help with advertising on TriMet, direct mailings, and outreach at local retirement homes, senior housing complexes and other group housing units.

“No veteran should be homeless or have people look down on them,” said Pomeroy.

Amy Coplen, a dentist with Pacific University, said she sees a lot of patients with severe dental decay and gum disease and who are in pain. Unfortunately, the dental team doesn’t have the resources to replace missing teeth for people at the event, which makes it hard for them to find jobs, Coplen said.

While working in a homeless shelter, Pacific School of Professional Psychology student Margherita Gaulte said 95 percent of the people she worked with were homeless because of mental or medical problems, so she was there to hand out information on Pacific’s psychology clinic, which focuses its efforts toward veterans, youth and low-income families, offering a sliding payment scale.

“It’s a one-stop shop,” said Saje Davis-Risen of Pacific University. “We want to get as many resources and services for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.”



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