In the community

People ‘everywhere’ seeking place to sleep as Malheur County counts unhoused

ONTARIO – Ivy Congers lives in her truck.

Another unhoused person, Tammy, spends her nights under layers of clothes and blankets inside her van.

Ivy has homeless for a month, while Tammy has been unhoused for six months.

Both women described their living situation Thursday, Jan. 25, inside a large white tent at Community in Action in Ontario. They were getting a free hot meal and taking part in the annual homeless point-in-time count sponsored by Community in Action to measure the number of unhoused in Malheur County.

The count involved nearly 30 volunteers from local agencies. The findings are key to get state, federal and private funding to address the local homeless.

A line of homeless individuals wait to get a hot meal at Community in Action in Ontario during the point in time count, Thursday, Jan. 25. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

“The count shows rural Oregon has homeless issues as well as other parts of the state,” said Priscilla Garcia, housing program manager for Community in Action.

Agencies and nonprofits such as the Ontario School District, the Malheur County Health Department, Lifeways, Eastern Oregon Center for Independent Living along with local police, helped with the count.

Teams of volunteers – consisting of five to seven fanned out across the county to find homeless individuals and gather information.  The volunteers visited known homeless gatherings spots, such as the area known as “the flats” around 1187 Northwest 22nd Avenue near Love’s Travel Stop, across the county.

At Community in Action and, the homeless who appeared for the on-site count, left with hygiene kits, gloves, hats, hand warmers and blankets.

Volunteers collect information regarding an individual’s mental health, status regarding addiction, whether they are veterans or victims of domestic abuse.

“Hopefully we get as close a count as we can of the unhoused in the community,” said Garcia.

Previous counts showed the number of local homeless people varies from year to year.

In 2020, 377 homeless individuals were identified. In 2021, 198 homeless people were recorded. Last year, the count was 292.

Employees from Los Poblanos Market in Weiser served hot meals for homeless people at Community in Action in Ontario during the point in time count on Thursday, Jan. 25. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

Garcia believes there were more than that in the community in 2023.

 “We know there were some gaps last year,” said Garcia.

Wendy Lopez, a housing counselor for Community in Action, was busy Thursday talking to homeless and gathering information.

 “If we are able to count the number of people it will help the state understand the need in rural Oregon. If we are able to show the need we can get funding to assist them,” she said.

Garcia said Community in Action will compile the data soon and then hand it over to the state.

Congers said the free meal at Community in Action was “awesome.”

She said the situation on the streets is acute.

“Everywhere we go there are people searching for a place to sleep,” she said.

As she stood in line to get a hot meal, Tammy, said the effort to record the number of homeless was “nice.”
“But, at the end of the day, it is a Band-Aid for a much larger problem,” she said.

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

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