Addressing homelessness in Crook County

March 26th, 2015
Dear ROPnet,

Housing insecurity is a crisis that impacts every county in Oregon. We have witnessed the fallout of 30 years of cuts to mental health resources, the systematic dismantling and privatization of social safety nets, the costs of living increasing while wages remain the same, and an economic recession that has hit rural and small town families hard while corporations make record profits. We have seen neighborhoods empty as families are foreclosed on, the number of students on free and reduced lunch programs in schools skyrocket, and folks leaving their beloved small town and rural communities to find work or services closer to cities.
Some of our counties have weakened infrastructure working overtime to meet just a fraction of the need we’re seeing. Some counties have no infrastructure at all.

Human dignity groups across the state have a rich history of showing up to creatively address housing insecurity and homelessness. What that looks like has ranged from helping coordinate the annual homeless count in January that helps counties secure funding to provide services, to convening spaces like Feed the ‘Burg in Douglas County where folks have gathered for over 177 consecutive weeks to eat a hot meal together and build community, to pulling together the faith communities in Cottage Grove to figure out how someone can find a free hot meal every day of the week.
Below, Darcy Bedortha shares the story of how the Human Dignity Advocates of Crook County convened 35 people to start a conversation about housing insecurity and ways the community can come together to create change. The notes compiled from their conversations are included as well — take a look!

Has your human dignity group discussed or taken action around homelessness in your county? Is this a conversation you’d like to bring to your human dignity group?

In Crook County, there’s very few services that support the unhoused. There is one shelter, Redemption House, with a limited number of beds for women and children. They operate Craig’s Compassionate Café as well, and meals are available Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. There is nothing else available in Crook County. Regionally, our rental vacancy is below 1% and affordable housing is virtually non-existent. There are some options in Bend, but basically, Prineville and Crook County have nothing…. Nothing, but a group of people working to change things — and that’s something!
On March 18th, Human Dignity Advocates of Crook County convened a community conversation about the rising crisis of housing insecurity and homelessness in Prineville. Approximately 35 people met at the Crook County Library for a potluck supper and to dig into the issue and explore opportunities for creating change.

We began the evening with a brief presentation on the issue, supported by data from the Central Oregon Homeless Leadership Coalition, the Western Regional Advocacy Project, and Sisters of the Road Cafe. We shared information from the region’s collaborative 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness and the annual Point in Time count (also known as the homeless count), demonstrating an increase in homeless veterans, individuals, and families. It was noted that now, five years into the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness, we still have a lot of work to do.
Challenged to dig beyond temporary “fixes” for those in need of housing and stability, the group moved their dinner plates aside and dug into a World Café conversation prompted by the question, “what are the issues we should be raising and questions we should be asking about root causes of housing insecurity?”

Groups of 4-6 people armed with an assortment of colored markers clustered around tables set with blue tablecloths, bright daffodils, and rolls of paper for note-taking, brainstorming, and doodling. People were encouraged to express their thoughts in conversation and on paper for 20 minutes before wrapping up the first round and regrouping around another table. The notes from these conversations are included below.
The second round of conversations explored the strengths, connections, and resources (human, organizational, and otherwise) available in Crook County for support as we launch into action to address the critical need for affordable and available housing in our region, and particularly in Crook County.

By the end of the second 20 minutes, it was a challenge to redirect the enthusiasm and move the energy into a large circle for the final conversation question – what did we learn, what has inspired us, and where do we go from here?
Ideas ranging from expanding on existing cooperatives in the community and establishing new ones, to improving access to mental health services, to organizing around policy and ordinance changes were shared. Organizations and models for action from other communities, such as the Tiny Home movement and Housing First initiatives were identified, including our own local advocacy organizations and collaboratives, such as Housing Works and the Central Oregon Homeless Leadership Coalition. People were reminded of the work happening at Central Oregon Social Justice Center and that the primary issue of focus for Central Oregon Strong Voice Coalition is affordable housing.

We ended the evening with an invitation to participate in and support the local resource and services outreach effort Crook County Connect, in the planning stages and slated to be held in September.
It is truly a gift to be part of a community that is committed to human dignity, social justice, and positive change

– Darcy Bedortha, Human Dignity Advocates of Crook County

What are the root causes of housing insecurity in Crook County?
Instability: loss of jobs, health, missing pieces in education
Changes in life situation
Lack of support system/safety nets
A home, a connection, a way to get to a job or consistent food supply
No phone, address, or transportation
What’s more important: job skills improvement or mental health issues?
If you’re a felon, jobs are nearly impossible to find
Need affordable housing
House keys, not handcuffs (criminalization of homelessness)
Ashamed, lonely, depressed, embarrassed, desperate
Common paradigm = “Chooses to be homeless. If he/she got their act together everything would be better” à Judgement
Drugs – associated judgement, feeling there are no options
Lack of shelters for both women and men
Lack of human priorities
Funds to other agencies ended
Underemployment, lack of livable wages
We have lost control of our government/oligarchy/need for constitutional reform
Need systems to prevent getting into this situation
My son @ 32, was homeless (couch surfing, sleeping truck) w/ Master’s Degree. A sudden divorce, student loan debt, and depression. He didn’t tell me! Not until he found work, got a contractor’s license. Now he builds homes for others. He was ashamed.
What are our assets and strengths?
People who care!
Builders and craftsmen
Young people
Approachable and concerned local officials
Churches full of people who care and want to help
Retired citizens with skills and gifts to share. Mentors and coaches.
Food banks
Food stamps/SNAP
Free school lunches
Work Source
Organizations and networks like Central Oregon Social Justice Center, Central Oregon Homeless Leadership Coalition, HAD
Educate and organize citizens for action
St Vincent de Paul, Redemption House
Housing Works
Space –land-closeness to the land.
Empty homes and buildings, owned by banks or businesses
Companies like Facebook/Apple. High speed internet and promote people moving here for jobs
Innovative housing ideas
Shipping containers for houses: See High Country News, 3/14/15 backpage. It’s already happening.
Eugene passed ordinance for tiny houses
Housing First in Portland
Local grant opportunities, businesses and companies for donations
Foundations and philanthropic funders
Surround yourself with positive people
Support groups
Training programs to repair cars, etc
Cooperatives (Co-ops)
Community Gardens and Food co-op
Meal preparation co-ops
Car repair co-op
Housing co-op and co-housing
Child care co-op
Guerilla Gardening and Food Forests
Questions and Next Steps
What is the first asset a person needs to become stable and employable and healthy and connected to the community?
Free from substance dependence and addiction?
Root of these is pain and trauma. How do we heal that?
Housing and safety are critical needs for healing
How do we change the conversation from fear and scarcity based to an exploration of using resources more efficiently?
How do we appeal to the emotional driver of large-scale change with a clear direct action plan?

How do we change the “public housing” image?
What is already working in other communities? How not to reinvent the wheel.

How to get banks to open up housing and vacant apartments?
Can we get the city/county to purchase?
Who do we talk to to utilize empty properties?
How could we reach out to farmers/ranchers for employment options?
WWOOF model?
Sustainable living center/community
Who should/will join/sit on committees or leadership coalitions?
Central Oregon Homeless Leadership Coalition
Youthbuilders- is a nonprofit with mission to build affordable housing. Partner with funders?
How do we incentivize building (or acquiring) affordable housing? (Housing Works is taking action!)

Local/county ordinance?
Zoning issues
Building codes
Land use and planning
Prineville is often seen as a retirement community – what effect does that have on economy/housing/education/jobs?
Need for term limits on politicians – they make $174,000 a year, make them live on the average income

Crook County Connect, putting a framework in place when planning the annual event
Seeking volunteers and leaders! Next meeting: April 29 @ Mosaic’s conference room
Intention is to build capacity for connection beyond a one-day band-aid
Housing Works is actively seeking movement in Prineville around ordinance changes and building capacity for affordable housing and transitional support/education programs – “Ready to Rent”, etc.