As public officials mull how to address the homelessness problem in Malheur County, a local nonprofit medical group is seeking a $100,000 grant to develop strategies to tackle the problem with a network of public agencies in southwest Idaho and eastern Oregon.
In January, Valley Family Health Care, a primary health care provider serving people across Malheur County and southwest Idaho, applied for a year-long rural network planning grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Jesse Sandoval, planning and development director with Valley Family Health, said the organization would find out in July whether they would receive the grant.
Sandoval said the intent is to detail the scope of homelessness from social, economic and health perspectives. The idea is to work with seven agencies in Malheur County and in Idaho with, Payette, Gem, and Washington counties, he said.
Sandoval said the others include Saint Alphonsus Medical Center-Ontario, Malheur County Health Department, Idaho’s Southwest District Health, Four Rivers Healthy Community, Northwest Housing Alternatives and cities, including representatives from Vale and Ontario.
Sandoval said most of the funding would pay for a full-time person to conduct planning work and networking with the seven partners. That work, he said, starts with getting better data from across the four counties.
“We need to get better at assessing the needs of folks who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes,” Sandoval said.
He said communities are not documenting from a social, health and economic standpoint what is driving the homelessness problem.
Sandoval said the research would identify key players in the region and the expertise they have.
Additionally, with a potentially hefty large state appropriation for housing and homelessness possible out of the 2023 Legislature, the grant would support coordinating how that money could be spent locally.
Sandoval said Idaho and Oregon differ in approaches to handling social services. However, he said that given that Valley Family Health Care has locations on both sides of the border, the organization has experience working across borders.
He said one aspect of the project would consider rental housing available in Idaho and Oregon. Additionally, Sandoval said the group would need to look at the minimum wage in Idaho and Oregon
He said some of the initial work might occur in Malheur County given that there will likely be more money from the state. Nonetheless, he said, Valley Family Health has been impressed by the efforts of local leaders in Payette to address homelessness and affordable housing.
“I think there’s hope for both sides of the border to improve,” he said, “and to look at how we can become more compassionate about some of these issues.”