By Peter Starkey, Executive Director, CARE Inc.
The sun is finally shining outside my office, the temperature is rising, and I can see the flowers starting to bloom. Spring appears to have finally arrived at the Tillamook Coast. The warm weather combined with the release of the COVID-19 vaccines might make it seem like things are getting back to normal, but for too many of our friends and neighbors in Tillamook county, things are far from normal. The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is still being felt by many of our workers and small business owners. With the virus continuing to spread in our community and with economic activity curtailed as Tillamook county once again moves into the “high risk” category,” the conditions that caused so much economic hardship in 2020 seem poised to remain through 2021. As a result, many Tillamook county families continue to live on the edge of poverty and homelessness.
This past year was a hard year for all of us, but especially for our Tillamook county families working in the service and hospitality industries that were particularly hard hit by the pandemic. Today, unemployment across Tillamook county, while lower than its peak last spring, continues to be higher than any other time since the Great Recession. Our seasonally adjusted total employment figures for the beginning of the year are also lower than any time since 2014. And, we still have three times as many unemployment claims than we did before the pandemic, with low-wage hospitality and service jobs continuing to be the leading source of unemployment claims in our community. All of this is occurring while housing costs in Tillamook county continue to soar. The typical price for a home in Tillamook county set a new record last year, at around $350,000. This is up from just over $220,000 in 2012, an increase of almost 60% in less than 10 years! That is good for investors, but it is not good for working families looking for an affordable home to own. Yes, it is true that the eviction moratorium is still in place in Oregon, but these prices mean that fewer Tillamook county renters can become homeowners. This not only invites increased uncertainty into these families, but it also increases the scarcity of affordable rentals for those experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity.
At CARE, we daily see that the struggle is real for many of our friends and neighbors in Tillamook county. Every day we have clients calling or walking into our offices because they are struggling to pay the rent, or even find an affordable place to rent. So far this year, CARE has worked with more than 550 clients who are either homeless or struggling to remain housed, and we have distributed more than $135,000 in housing assistance in only the first three months of this year. As the weather improves and tourism traffic increases, many of those experiencing homelessness in our community can seem to fade from view, but do not lose sight of the many people in Tillamook county who are still struggling because of the pandemic and job losses in our low-wage industries.
If you or someone you know is experiencing poverty or homelessness, or have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, CARE is here to help! Contact CARE at 503-842-5261. If you want to help your friends and neighbors in Tillamook county, please join CARE for our annual CARE-A-Thon fundraiser to Knock Out Poverty. To learn more, visit www.careinc.org.