In the community

Community in Action director says housing shortages remain a lingering problem

ONTARIO – Community in Action Director Jody Warnock considers the recent transition of nine households from the tiny home shelter in northwest Ontario to more permanent housing a clear success for a nonprofit that tackles homelessness in Malheur County.
The tiny home shelter – behind the former Origins Church at 312 N.W. 2nd St. – opened for the year at the end of the November and quickly filled with more than 30 people.
When an individual or a family qualifies for a tiny home through Community in Action, they can stay until the project closes in April. Yet Warnock said Community in Action works for short stays at the 17-unit shelter by finding other suitable housing.
“We want people in the shelter maybe 30 days,” she said.
That goal, though, is often stymied by a lack of housing across Malheur County.

“We need to work together if we are going to make a dent in solving the homeless issues.”

–Jody Warnock of Community in Action

“The housing market, the rental market, there just are not a lot of rentals in our area,” said Warnock.
The transition of the nine households was a victory for Community in Action but the reality is that as soon as one family or individual moves out there is a long line of people waiting for the empty tiny home.
The project also depends on funding from the state. This year, said Warnock, Community in Action got a $150,000 grant from Oregon Department of Housing and Community Services to operate the tiny homes.
“If we had not got that funding they may have been open only 30 days,” said Warnock.
Community in Action is one of several local agencies and nonprofits that provide services for the homeless. The nonprofit will spearhead the annual homeless count scheduled Jan. 25. The count is a cooperative effort between nonprofits with other agencies such as the Ontario Police Department.
In 2023 the count identified 266 homeless individuals in Malheur County.
The data is used to establish state, federal and private funding to provide services for the unhoused.
Warnock said she expects to record more homeless in the county this year.

“We are building more partnerships and relationships and know more of where they (the homeless) are staying,” said Warnock.
Now, said Warnock, the homeless situation locally is unchanged. More housing is needed, she said.
Some improvement on the housing situation in Ontario is on the way as the renovation of the former Mills Manor Apartments on North Oregon Street in Ontario is nearly finished, said Warnock. The 17-unit project was made possible through a $4 million Project Turnkey grant.
“It is going to help. We will start housing people in the next couple of weeks,” said Warnock.
The goal will be to get people into permanent housing within six to 12 months, said Warnock.
Warnock said Community in Action employs eight housing advocates who help people move from temporary shelter to a permanent home.
“We are also in the process of recruiting two new advocates,” said Warnock.
Warnock is fast approaching her one-year anniversary as the director of Community in Action.
In that year, the nonprofit opened of a new youth center in December inside the former Ontario Aquatic Center. The youth center provides tutoring and job search resources for youth between the ages of 14 and 24. There is also a shower at the center and a place to do laundry.
“It is a great opportunity for Ontario and Malheur County,” said Warnock.
“We’ve discovered there is a great need for it,” said Warnock.
Warnock said among challenges her first year was addressing perceptions of what Community in Action does. She said she also continues to work to get “community leaders to recognize that homelessness is not just one agency’s problem.”
“We need to work together if we are going to make a dent in solving the homeless issues and provide the necessary resources,” said Warnock.
She also said no agency or organization can force someone to leave the street.
“I think there is a public perception we are able to, but we can’t make people participate if they don’t want to. Ultimately, it’s up to them,” said Warnock.
There are no easy answers to addressing the homeless situation, she said.
“Everybody is different. Some have been homeless for a very long time and some are not successful (moving into permanent housing) because they are not ready,” said Warnock.
Finding funding, she said, is also always a difficult task.
Warnock said her 2024 goals include expanding operation of the tiny home shelters to year around and provide more services at the youth center. She also wants to create a shelter open around the clock.
“We are looking for a building and the staff,” said Warnock.
To find out more about Community in Action or to seek services, contact 541-889-9555.

New tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

Previous coverage:

New Community in Action director believes in helping people, building relationships

Community in Action utilizes state grant to create new teen center

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