I’m ranting because I’m angry and frustrated, like many others within the social service sector. I’m frustrated because there are days it feels like no matter how much we do to get people housed or provide mental health support, it’s not enough. I’m angry because I’m constantly asked when I’m out at meetings in the community, “Why isn’t (the county, city, ShelterCare) doing anything about the unhoused?” Or “I don’t want my taxes going to waste on something no one is fixing.”
So let me say this clearly: The crisis we see each and every day, with too many people living in tents or in “inconvenient” places, did not happen overnight. It will not be “fixed” overnight. Contrary to common belief, it wasn’t caused by mental illness, poverty, addiction, domestic violence, or any of the other things that make people vulnerable.
Homelessness is caused by not having enough homes in a community to go around. It’s Basic Economics 101: Supply and Demand. The more scarce a product, the more expensive it is, and the people who are vulnerable (see my prior list of some reasons why people may be vulnerable) lose out in the competition for that product.
How did this happen?
According to the Eugene-Springfield Five-Year Strategic Plan for Housing and Community Development:
- Population grew to 163,135 in Eugene (18% growth since 2000) and 60,823 in Springfield (15% growth) in 2017.
- Median Household Income for both Eugene ($47,489) and Springfield ($41,700) is lower than the US ($57,652) and Lane County ($47,710).
- There are approximately 1800 households on public housing waiting lists with typical wait times between 1 and 5 years.
- 54% of Lane County renters are cost-burdened by their housing, 1-in-3 homeowners are cost-burdened, and 1-in-3 renting households are severely cost-burdened by their housing (paying more than 50% of gross income for housing).
- For every 100 units of housing needed for extremely low-income families, only 15 units are available.
- Lane County currently has a deficit of 6,600 units of housing.
Unfortunately, being unhoused causes trauma that compounds until simply finding a home is not enough to heal. The way people react to that traumatic experience can cause others to perceive them as “less than” or undeserving of housing.
Increasing the availability of homes has to include more than just what is called “Affordable Housing”. To address the housing crisis, all types of housing must grow to fit the needs of the population: all incomes, all family sizes, and all service needs. This includes single-family homes and multi-family apartment buildings, urban and rural, at all price points. We have a diverse population so our housing options must also be diverse.
Investment in long-term housing is not an overnight fix, so municipalities, developers, and the community are going to have to commit to making plans, today, to get started on making a dent in the gap Lane County has in access to housing, tomorrow. We’ve waited too long already.
But that doesn’t mean we should give up. In the future, our grandkids and great-grandchildren should be able to look back and thank us for making the effort to create a vibrant community for all–even the vulnerable. Especially the vulnerable.
In the meantime, ShelterCare and our partner agencies will continue to put everything we’ve got into providing emergency, transitional, and supported housing, including behavioral health and case management services to address the ongoing trauma of homelessness.
If you wish to continue the conversation, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at ShelterCare or participate in the many conversations happening through the Eugene Chamber, Lane County, the Cities of Eugene and Springfield, and other opportunities in the community.
We can make change happen. Together.