Homelessness top concern in region

Anita Savio IVN contributing writer

A new poll shows 91% of Southern Oregonians think homelessness is an important issue in their community. Two-thirds say they see more homeless people today than a year ago, and 92% say local governments need to take action.
The telephone poll was sponsored by a group of healthcare companies and sampled residents of Jackson, Josephine, Douglas, Curry and Klamath counties.
“The results of this poll indicate the issue of homelessness touches all communities in Southern Oregon and it is becoming a more noticed issue for a strong majority of residents,” said national pollster Chuck Rund. “This should be a very exciting finding for local leaders because this is one of the rare opportunities where the community sees a need and wants leaders to engage on a pressing issue.”
Perhaps the above results are not too surprising, given that two-thirds of respondents said they have seen more homeless people than a year ago. Ninety-four percent said they see a homeless person on at least a weekly basis.
What is the largest cause of homelessness? There the unanimity breaks down. Twenty-eight percent of respondents identified a lack of affordable housing or the cost of living. Drug addiction came next at 22%. Mental illness or a lack of mental health services was identified 16% of the time. Government allowing it or lax vagrancy or drug laws was identified 12% of the time, while poor life choices was identified 6 % of the time.
But what is to be done about homelessness? Josh Balloch, vice president of health policy at AllCare Health sees the survey results as cause for optimism. Taking together the importance that people are giving to homelessness, that they see the problem as getting worse, and that they look to local governments to take action tells him there is an opportunity for problem solving.
“The public is asking community leaders to engage and solve a problem. And that’s exciting.”
But he added the fact that people don’t agree on the causes is a complication.
“I think the trick now is to communicate properly with the public and really explain what’s going on. Those solutions take a community working together. Because it takes so much money and time and community investments to be able to actually have a solution become a reality. But if we don’t have a level of consensus, we’ll never be able to do it.”
One surprising result of the survey was what was learned about the housing affordability issues faced by the respondents themselves. Thirty-five percent said that in the last five years they have struggled to afford their rent, or mortgage payment, and feared being displaced from their housing. Sixty-four percent said that they pay more than 30% of their gross monthly income to cover rent or mortgage and utilities.
“Clearly many Southern Oregon residents are working hard to stay in their homes,” said Sam Engel, director of social determinants of health at AllCare Health.
“It truly helps explain why so many people feel this homeless issue is so important.”