Governor’s Homelessness Emergency Declaration Leaves Out Rural Areas – Coast, Eastern Oregon; Oregon Coastal Caucus Calls Out Exclusion, Requests Opt-In

“Homelessness is not just an urban issue,” stated Erin Skaar, Chair of Tillamook County Board of Commissioners, on the weekly Community update today, January 17th, “Rural Oregon has historically had higher rates per capita, based on population, of homelessness. Now that the urban areas have ‘caught up’ with us, and there’s funding, rural areas should also have access to the money.”
Commissioner Skaar’s comments came following information shared by State Representative David Gomberg that referenced the letter below that states the Oregon Coastal Caucus’ disappointment that rural coastal communities were not slated to receive emergency support through the executive order, and recommends an “opt-in” process.
The order was one of three the governor signed on her first full day in office last week to help tackle housing and homelessness. The other orders include a state target to increase home production and a directive for state agencies to prioritize reducing homelessness in all areas of the state.
Oregon has the fourth-highest rate of homelessness in the country and the highest rate of homelessness for families with children, according to the state.

(Oregon Coastal Caucus letter – 1/11/23)
Madam Governor,

The members of the Oregon Legislative Coastal Caucus thank you for taking swift and decisive action to address the rising rates of homelessness in Oregon through Executive Orders 23-02 and 23-03. We agree that there is a pressing problem. But we are disappointed that the Balance of State Continuum of Care (Rural Oregon Continuum) was not designated to receive emergency support through Executive Order 23-02. As a result, the vast majority of our coastal communities will not be benefitted by the Order.

Across the Rural Oregon Continuum, you find Oregon’s least populous counties and smallest cities. It is important to note that smaller communities such as ours have fewer resources to complete a thorough and accurate Point In Time (PIT) count. In 2022 for example, with a COVID surge looming, Lincoln County relied on a simple “windshield survey” in which volunteers were tasked with driving up and down Highway 101 to survey for individuals contending with unsheltered homelessness.

However, even in the best conditions, PIT counts have their limitations. As you acknowledged in the text of EO 23-03, these PIT counts are an “underestimate of total need.” Knowing this, we are concerned that the methodology behind the exclusion of the Rural Oregon Continuum from EO 23-02 may ultimately lead to our coastal and rural communities being overlooked and underserved throughout this process.

While most Continuums are comprised of one or two counties, the Rural Oregon Continuum contains twenty-five. Aggregating PIT counts across the Oregon Coast, Eastern Oregon, Gorge regions, and much of Southern Oregon will statistically invalidate unique local circumstances which are not lost in more compact Continuums and likely result in outcomes that underrepresent homelessness in western regions.

Weather patterns, the economy, and visitor dynamics are dramatically different between Harney and Clatsop County. Fewer unsheltered individuals linger in sub-zero regions. And the hospitality industry suffered closures and layoffs during the pandemic which left coastal residents disproportionately homeless.

Finally, we note that the Point In Time surveys exclude homeless students who may be temporarily sheltered. The 2022 Lincoln City PIT Count Report indicates the count does not tell us how many students may be living involuntarily doubled-up on couches, living room floors, or in basements. As many as one-in-five coastal students do not have a safe, secure, long-term place to sleep, and tragically, these students are often disproportionately young people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

We are pleased that your order Directing State Agencies to Prioritize Reducing Homelessness (23-03) is intended to reach all areas of the state. However, that order references “spans across Eastern Oregon, parts of the Columbia River Gorge, portions of Southern Oregon, and the Southern Oregon Coast”. We are troubled that the North Coast and Central Coast were excluded.

The use of outdated, potentially unreliable, and Continuum-aggregated PIT Counts has led to the exclusion of Coastal Oregon from the attention and resources our communities will require to address serious homelessness needs.

In an era of increasing rural-urban divides, we members of the Legislative Coastal Caucus urge you to consider providing the same level of care and attention to the Rural Oregon Continuum as you have demonstrated to the rest of the State. Homelessness is not just an urban issue, but an Oregon issue.

Providing a pathway for counties and cities within the Rural Oregon Continuum to opt-in to receive the same level of emergency response and resources outlined in EO 23-02 would send a clear message to rural Oregonians that their communities have not been forgotten.

Sincerely,
Rep. David Gomberg, Chair
Sen. Dick Anderson, Vice Chair
Sen. Designee David Brock Smith
Sen. Suzanne Weber
Rep. Boomer Wright
Rep. Cyrus Javadi

For more about the Governor’s declarations: Executive Orders 23-02 & 23-03