This is a news feature story writing project I wrote for my Writing for the Media Professional class. It is about homelessness and the homeless culture in Corvallis. There are resources and service around Corvallis, but the population grew from 400 in 2010 to about 1,200 in 2015 and has been stagnant ever since.
“I would love it if my job had to disappear because the problem didn’t exist anymore, but I don’t see that happening.” Ms. Hindes alluded to homeless crisis plaguing the nation. The League of Women’s Voters found that homelessness in Corvallis has grown over 300 percent from 2010 to 2015. It is a national epidemic, in 2017 the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimated over 500,000 people experiencing these problems. Ms. Nicole Hindes, Director of the Oregon State Human Services Resource Center, has worked closely with this community and many others throughout the country. Groups like Community Outreach and the Corvallis Police Department are looking to decrease the number of homeless in Corvallis. The problems only grow when trying to work together due to their vastly different views of the source and how to proceed.
The service and resource center was first proposed in 2008 when the financial crisis first began impacting Oregon. “I had a safety net, my family,” Hindes talks about what made her interested in this line of work, “for me it feels like an integrity piece.” It has expanded immensely from their original vision, a subsidy program for a group of students required to buy health insurance, as stated by their home page. Although there are certain restrictions on who can participate in the program, they are driven to help every student in need, in one way or another. These restrictions on a need-based system, those that are in the most need are often the ones who are given priority depending on their situation. Ms. Hindes stated in an interview that, “there are all levels of help for students in need, going so far as to support travel, so the expense of the program doesn’t hinder them.” The program has spent countless hours working to enhance the program and create a better environment for students. Their 20-page manual, link provided on their website, gives; name, number, address, hours, and description of different resources throughout Corvallis. Whether helping them personally or just finding the support that will allow them to get the services they need, each person strives to better the community.
The current range of the homeless community is anywhere from 800-1,200 people who experience homelessness. Families, individuals, low-income groups that are in a difficult situation due to the continuously rising cost of living. While the average price of living in Oregon nearing $4,000 per month, living at $15/hour ($5 above minimum wage) would only grant someone $2,400 before taxes. The League of Women Voters of Corvallis surveyed the community in 2017, working with shelters and volunteer centers around Corvallis, and found that there could be more than 1200 homeless persons in a year.
Many factors can lead to homelessness; substance abuse, mental illness, social structure, economy, etc.
Jon Sassaman, Chief of the Corvallis Police Department, states that, “In the worst of cases, it is because some homeless groups choose not to utilize these resources.” He also said that their job is to make sure the people in the city are following the laws, no matter the situation or group it involves. The conditions they are in, often do not go out of the town of Corvallis or Philomath. They do not see much homeless living outside the limits of the cities where there are less population and resources.
The way they deal with certain situations, depend on the person they are dealing with entirely. The police department requires annual classes on discerning mental health from alcohol, drugs, or natural behavior. Sassaman talked about his 30 years of experience stating, “some of the things we see, with this population, range anywhere from murder to disorderly conduct.” Without giving specifics as to why or how, he went on to emphasize that five of the seven murders in the last five years, were in the homeless community. Homeless people are often in a vulnerable position with outside influences that affect their day-to-day living; territory issues, stealing from one another, being victimized by the community as a whole for being “easy targets.”
Kaitlin Philipps, a Pell Scholar at Salve Regina University, dove into this subject in her thesis paper. Outlining many of the common problems the public does not see. Defining the circumstances as a “complex series of events over a lifetime that leads to this precarious situation.” There are some obvious factors, whether locally or nationally, that appear when looking deeper. Physical and sexual abuse are sources of many significant problems leading to adulthood. Philipps writes that the abuse has a profoundly negative effect on someone’s ability to cope with certain situations; stress, stable relationships, making good decisions or dealing with similar problems. Referencing Paul Koegel’s study on homelessness, 32% of people reported abuse within the household; as well as lack of food or water (60%) and living separately from their family in childhood (25%).
A report from the Gazette in Corvallis informs the public of the rampant drug culture also affecting homeless communities in the area. Giving the information was a chronically homeless man, Samuel Ward. Having moved from Albany to Corvallis to “get away from the drug use on the streets.” This type of occurrence is not out of the ordinary. There is a lot of skepticism around the good homeless programs and resources do in the long run. Some, like Chief Sassaman, believe that programs like the Men’s Homeless Shelter and Community Outreach (COI) invite homeless travelers, but are not able to get many to be self-sufficient. The National Alliance to End Homelessness implemented a plan in 2010, that was meant to help them, then about 150, homeless people become self-sufficient and provide strategies for future homeless and at-risk groups.
Ms. Hindes made an argument toward the taxation of Oregonians. Praising the work the shelters were currently doing to help the homeless to become self-sufficient. One of the big problems she brought up was the sheer inability and small numbers of shelters throughout Oregon. Hindes brings this up as a lack of awareness as well “Not many people can find us or even know about us.” Homeless shelters and “Housing First” programs do not have the funding necessary to grow enough to substantially decrease the homeless population.
Taxes in other states, such as Texas, are used for these types of programs as well as education. One of Hindes’ provided solutions was to raise the taxation of Oregonians stating, “I’m looking forward to Oregon taxing itself so that we can stop these problems systemically.” She claims that these problems are with the systems and not inherently with the people that are being affected by circumstances.
Five years after the process began, the homeless population was near 1,000-1,200 people. With nearly ten years of work put in till 2019, what is there left to do? The homeless population has not decreased from 2015; some say it is even growing more than before with the new opportunities. There still does not seem to be enough money for homeless shelters and programs, and the resources offered must set strict regulations.
Chief Sassaman has competing beliefs with Ms. Hindes that their situation is not always due to lack of funding or opportunity. Explaining that from his view, “Community Outreach learned that they could not just follow the same path of being a first come, first serve homeless shelter.” He believes that the best way to better the situation is by working together. The accommodations and resources, pooling their money and services together, creating a single set of codes and capabilities that were equal across programs. The sharing of resources would help each shelter or center become sufficient and able to provide legitimate services. Sassaman believed that although combining their funding may not rid Corvallis of the homeless epidemic, it would decrease it drastically due to the greater capabilities of each resource.
Molly Harney, the Community Services assistant for Community Outreach, stated during her interview, the regulations were taking a different approach. Their specific regulations were to entrust that each person got the help they needed, but also allowed their services to those who deserve them — stating, “the policies reflect our mission to help others help themselves.” By following the rules and regulations set out; sobriety, cleanliness, searching for work, they can see who is willing and wanting to take advantage of the great opportunities they provide.
Although they may not be on the same page with the processes to lead to the most significant progress, there is continuing work to better the situation. Hindes working with students, community members, and homeless resource centers around Corvallis. Sassaman is working and training the Corvallis Police department to handle situations and provide services to the greater community.
This crisis affects everyone in some way or another, whether a family member, a friend or an acquaintance. Much of the problem comes from lack of knowledge, lack of education on the circumstances and situations. Each interview gave insight into the truth behind homelessness; providing classes to citizens, helping people be aware of the situation and understand signs of homelessness, equally distributing wealth to better the community entirely. The tricky part will be for these service and resource providers to work together, combining their efforts in an organized and productive way. Their plans for the future hinge upon their ability to work together, organize, and continue to progress as a team for the betterment of the community. Is that not what the city wants, what it deserves?