McMINNVILLE — According to the Yamhill County Action Partnership's annual point-in-time homeless survey, the overall number of homeless people living in Yamhill County dropped significantly from a year ago, but there is still plenty of reason for concern.
Assisted by numerous community partners, 42 volunteers and local law enforcement agencies, YCAP identified 1,066 people who were experiencing homelessness when they count was made on a single day in January.
That number was down 131 people, an 11.4 percent drop, from 1,197 in 2016. YCAP client services coordinator Mandy Gawf said she believes part of that improvement can be attributed to the addition of two shelters, Yamhill County Gospel Rescue Mission in McMinnville and Helping Hands men's shelter in Newberg. In total, 270 people were found to be living in shelters at the time of the survey.
Gawf said that more than 270 people were living in places not meant for human habitation, such as on the street or in a car, which is a significant drop from 2016. However, the number of people that were categorized as precariously housed, which includes couch surfing or multiple families doubling up in one residence, also rose notably to 573.
"I think it shows that we're doing a better job of getting more people literally off the streets," Gawf said. "They're still not housed stably, but they're at least off the street, so I think we've done a little better job this year, as a community, addressing street homelessness."
Two subgroups, veterans and unaccompanied minors, saw increases from the previous year, while 16 were identified as "parenting youth."
Gawf was most concerned with the results for unaccompanied minors, which grew by five to 84 overall. She added that she was particularly shocked to learn that despite being the 10th most populous county in Oregon, the number of unaccompanied youth between the ages of 18-24 ranked third in the state behind only Multnomah and Lane counties.
"I think it's really significant," Gawf said. "It was kind of remarkable. We're really going to be using those numbers to say that we need more housing and services for this population."
The number of veterans identified rose from 26 to 33, but Gawf said she believes part of that rise is attributable to an increased outreach effort as YCAP hosted a survey site only for veterans.
"We brought in a lot of veteran service providers and really heavily advertised that," Gawf said. "I think we drew in a few more veterans who wouldn't have participated otherwise."
Technically, the number of chronically homeless people in the county dropped from 75 to 71, but Gawf said YCAP considers that level to be steady or possibly even slightly higher because the federal definition of chronically homeless changed from 2016 to 2017 and is now more restrictive.
"You have to be homeless longer for chronic and have a disabling condition of a certain severity, which is really hard to get that information when you're meeting somebody just to conduct a street survey," Gawf said. "I don't think that population is fully represented."
Based on the 2016 results, YCAP applied for and was awarded a federal grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help address the chronically homeless problem in Yamhill County.
Through the Open Door Housing program, YCAP can help four to six households pay for housing and is assessing clients for that program. HUD will pay the "fair market rate" of $1,053 per month on an ongoing basis while YCAP provides intense case management.
Gawf noted that because YCAP must place clients with private landlords amid a tight rental market, the hardest and most time-consuming part of the process is simply finding them a unit.
Though the HUD funding period is indefinite, Gawf said that the amount of time it takes to get off the program can vary widely, which is why cases plans are individualized.
"We've had people transition out into just a general Section 8 voucher when maybe they still need help with rent, but they don't need the case management anymore because they're doing well managing their apartment," Gawf said. "That happens quite often. And some folks just find a job and recover and bounce back to do really well."