Addressing homelessness in Southern Oregon: by Jerry Allen, LMFT, MPH

Oregon scores 46th or 47th among the states in worst housing crisis. Grants Pass is ranked by real estate stats as the third worst housing crisis of all towns in the U.S. The state estimates that Oregon is 500k units short in housing and 180K short in Southern Oregon.
A New York Times article predicts there are 30 million people who are heading north from California-Arizona-Texas etc. across the Oregon border. These are climate migrants with money in their pockets heading to Oregon and Washington. They will out-bid most of the working families in Oregon who are looking for homes. As that happens, the housing crisis is worsening. That puts more pressure on the rental market and squeezes out many working families. A large number of our homeless have jobs but no housing except tents and sleeping in vehicles; many lost homes in fires.
At the same time our employers have nowhere to house all the workers they want to bring in. Actual lack of housing is a major driver of our homelessness and a dominant factor in our inability to bring in and retain essential workforces like fire, police, school, government and medical staffs.
Mental health problems and substance abuse are cited by many as the root causes of homelessness and the reason it can’t be fixed. That is faulty logic. While it is true that those with mental health and substance abuse issues, including trauma-damaged veterans, are harder to help; framing the homelessness problem as primarily a mental health and substance abuse issue is inaccurate. Shinn and Gillespie (1994) argued that “although substance abuse and mental illness contribute to homelessness, the primary cause is the lack of low-income housing.”
A more effective approach: By putting a major focus on affordable, fire and quake resistant, owner-occupied housing we will eliminate a major part of the homelessness and create housing for the much needed essential workers. At the same time, there are many people on waiting lists for transitional housing right now. Most are clean and sober and have jobs but still camp out in tents or car seats as mentioned previously. Those people are good candidates for transitional housing and we need to build it for them. They can then pay rent while they continue to strengthen their employment and credit history, which will in turn help them qualify for owner-occupied homes.
The feeder population for transitional housing can be the recovery programs in our communities, which do an important job for the hard to help. So this is a ladder-of-success program to get people permanently settled as working, tax-paying members of society. A critical missing link in that ladder-of-success is permanent, affordable fire and quake resistant housing. Building that housing will employ thousands, learning critical skills and earning a living.
Subsidized housing has largely failed because they made it all rentals and didn’t build the success ladder. When they tried an experiment in the 1970s and turned some housing projects into condominiums, virtually all the residents wanted in. They did it and before-and-after studies showed that crime in that area dropped 92%. Ownership gives people a stake in the place. If people have a home of their own and a job, their self-esteem goes up. Everybody benefits – Crime goes down and the wasting of time and money for law enforcement goes down, allowing law enforcement to focus on violent crimes.
Meanwhile critics say we can’t afford to build affordable, fire and quake resistant housing for those without housing. The true facts are that we are already spending that money, over and over again in failed subsidized housing and broken lives.