[Hpn] Finding solutions for homelessness

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Thu, 20 May 2004 19:54:29 -0400


May 20, 2004

Forum focuses on country homeless

www.newsreview.info

STACY D. STUMBO



Douglas County's Commission on Children and Families is trying to assess the
prevalence of homelessness in the region and find solutions.

Tuesday afternoon, the organization held a forum, attended by about 35
people, to discuss the problem.

With the help of the League of Women Voters of the Umpqua Valley, the
commission undertook a two-year study of the issue last spring. It presented
its preliminary findings during the meeting. Data for the county remains
vague, but statewide, an estimated 25,000 homeless people utilize public
services each day.

"The state wants us to develop information on the nature and scope of the
problem," said Gillian Wesenberg, the commission's director. "What we've
learned is there's no one cause."

The League of Women Voters focused its portion of the study on homeless
teens. Members interviewed representatives of 30 local agencies, schools,
law enforcement, and homeless shelter directors in and outside Douglas
County.

Homeless youth, league member Linda Clary said, aren't simply rebelling by
running away from home. The survey showed substance abuse within families,
gender issues in teens, domestic violence, hunger and unemployment play a
role in their homelessness, she said. Without assistance, homeless teens
resort to theft and prostitution.

"There's not a magic solution," she said, but it's important for people
communitywide to try and find one. "We have a social responsibility to do so
... Our community's in denial."

Earlier this year, Roseburg's Phoenix School counted 36 homeless teens,
Roseburg public schools knew of 72, Samaritan Inn had 15, and the Umpqua
Community Action Network, another 15.

Ron Breyne, executive director of Phoenix School, said there are myriad
reasons kids find themselves alone. One of his students, a teenager named
Tiffany, came to the meeting with her 2-year-old son. She told the audience
she first ran away from home when she was 15. By the time she was 17 she was
pregnant. She went home for a while, but was on her own again within two
months.

"I needed someone to talk to," she said. Her problems with her mother, she
said, stemmed from a lack of communication and control issues. Tiffany said
she hopes to do better by her son.

Breyne said kids usually leave home for a reason, and homelessness is not a
foreign concept for many who have been raised in substandard housing.

"Children are parenting themselves," he said.

The Douglas County Housing and Homeless Coalition began its own survey of
homelessness, which looks beyond teens, in February. Still in the draft
stage, only 18 agencies countywide have contributed information so far.

Michael Kurtz, the county's Department of Human Services community
development coordinator, has been responsible for collecting data. He said
agencies each have their own definition of what it means to be homeless, but
most agree it applies to anyone without a permanent address or reliable
housing.

Human services is currently providing 394 homeless people with food stamps
through its Roseburg and Canyonville offices.

"That's just a base line," Kurtz said, since no data is available from the
Reedsport office.

UCAN counted 258 homeless people during a one-night shelter survey in March,
data revealed. That number did not include the Roseburg Rescue Mission,
which houses approximately 50 people each night.

Kurtz said agency responses to a questionnaire suggest the primary causes of
homelessness locally are financial, linked to unemployment and credit
issues. Alcohol and drug addiction, mental problems and a lack of affordable
housing were also recognized as triggers.

Suggested solutions included increased access to transitional housing and
shelters, emergency assistance funds, better access to mental health care
and more employment opportunities that provide a living wage.

Clary noted Casa de Belen, a transitional shelter being developed in
Roseburg for homeless families, could do a lot to address the problem. Local
volunteers are currently remodeling the former Grandview Care Center to get
it ready for its first tenants.



* You can reach reporter Stacy D. Stumbo at 957-4230 or by e-mail at
sstumbo@newsreview.info

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