A Night that Counts

The last week of January is the annual One Night Homelessness Count, when Community Action Agencies (CAA) count the number of homeless people in each county. I’m afraid of what we might find. But discovering the real dimensions of what we are facing provides us with the necessary documentation and the critical awareness to move to crucial and creative solutions. Solutions that dig down to the roots of our families’ and communities’ economic insecurity and plant a new, more principled (and perhaps more homegrown) way to use and distribute our communities’ economic, social and environmental resources.

The count is a huge job that can require many volunteers. Members of at least three ROP member groups, Yamhill Valley Peacemakers, Human Dignity Advocates in Crook County, and the West County Council for Human Dignity in Washington County, are already planning to help out. Can you offer the services of your human dignity group (or maybe just yourself and a couple of friends) to assist in this counting process?

Dear ROPnet,

I narrowly escaped the "arctic blast" in Oregon last month with a trip down to El Salvador to visit some dear companeras/os in the struggle for justice. What I didn’t escape was the economic crisis. Communities in the economically precarious global south – and especially families who depend on income from relatives in the north – are feeling the impacts of this crisis much more acutely than many of us here.

It’s no surprise. Inevitably, it is the most marginalized and vulnerable among us who suffer the most when times get tough. And these days, these bitterly cold days in our own communities, it is Oregon’s homeless (and the many thousands of Oregonians who are on the brink of losing their homes) that are feeling the scalding heat of the financial meltdown – when what they really need is a place to call home for more than a night or two.

The last week of January is the annual One Night Homelessness Count, when Community Action Agencies (CAA) count the number of homeless people in each county. I’m afraid of what we might find. But discovering the real dimensions of what we are facing provides us with the necessary documentation and the critical awareness to move to crucial and creative solutions. Solutions that dig down to the roots of our families’ and communities’ economic insecurity and plant a new, more principled (and perhaps more homegrown) way to use and distribute our communities’ economic, social and environmental resources.

The count is a huge job that can require many volunteers. Members of at least three ROP member groups, Yamhill Valley Peacemakers, Human Dignity Advocates in Crook County, and the West County Council for Human Dignity in Washington County, are already planning to help out. Can you offer the services of your human dignity group (or maybe just yourself and a couple of friends) to assist in this counting process?

Last year when ROP groups reached out to offer our support, some counties said frankly that they didn’t use volunteers because they didn’t have the resources to do a real count. They would just call the area shelter and use that number. Meaning that people who were under bridges or in their cars or sleeping on friends’ couches or in tents on the side of the road stayed invisible – to the community, to the state, and to the people who allocate resources based on needs.

This year let’s make sure that the needs of our communities go on record. It is tough out there, but now is the time to get real about what this crisis means in our own backyards and to build relationships with those most affected and those who have the skills to organize to meet the needs of our communities – whether by taking our stories and demands to the legislature with ROP on March 15th and 16th or by coming together locally to create our own homegrown solutions. Scroll down for more info on how to help out.

Sarah


ONE NIGHT HOMELESS COUNT

DEPT OF HOUSING/ COMMUNITY SERVICES, SALEM

Contact: Rainy Gauvain, Rainy.Gauvain@hcs.state.or.us, (503) 986-6702
The one night homeless count takes place in all counties in Oregon during the last full week of January. The homeless count is one of the factors used by Oregon Housing and Community Services to determine the amount of funding a county receives to provide services to homeless people. For the purpose of the count the definition of homeless includes anyone living in places not meant for permanent habitation. So it covers couch surfers, car sleepers, tents, encampments and those staying at shelters, with relatives or in transitional housing. Each county selects it’s own date. Due to the inaccuracy of counting only those who are sheltered, some have a plan to do both the sheltered count and a street count. Street counts require lots of volunteers. Some have set up central locations in outlying areas and will be sending teams out to some of the local camps. Many will be giving out socks, gloves, hats and hygiene products as well as hot food. Many of the folks we need to count may be people you already know and they may really appreciate seeing you. Join your local effort by contacting your local community action agency.

Tip #1: Think about who from your group or community you could ask to volunteer with you. This might be just the kind of event that will bring in folks beyond your usual suspects – and a great chance to get them more connected to your group and build their analysis of the relationship between social service provision and the need for systemic change.

Tip #2: Carry this one step further and write an op-ed before or after the homelessness count. Explain why your human dignity group is participating and make the links between homelessness, the economic crisis, the cost of war, and the priorities that we lift up (or not) at all levels of governance. (For help on developing this language, email cara@rop.org).

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