March 9, 2022 — The Florence Area Community Coalition (FACC) met virtually on March 2, with a special guest speaker from Lane County, James Ewell, as the main presenter.
Ewell, the Lane County Human Services Street Outreach and Coordinated Entry supervisor, gave an update on county plans to address the chronic and growing problem of people without housing in Western Lane County.
The subject of homelessness and how to work with those who live unsheltered is one which has surfaced at city council, committees and social service meetings in and around the area for years.
Homelessness, Ewell pointed out, is growing among not just the chronically unhoused, but also among the working poor who are often unable to find or afford a place to live.
For many, finding affordable housing is extremely difficult and the results of being unsheltered can lead to crime, desperation and violence.
Attendees from many of Florence’s social service groups, including Ken Goddard from First Step Florence, Beth Kilmurray from Florence Food Share and Pat Burke from the Florence Emergency Cold Weather Shelter, participated in the meeting with Ewell.
The FACC meeting allowed Ewell to explain Lane County’s updated “Street Outreach” program, which is designed to begin to address area homelessness.
Lane County Human Services has recently received a marginal increase in funding from Oregon Housing and Community Services and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
“Street Outreach is really about engaging unsheltered individuals who might not otherwise seek assistance or come to the attention of the homeless service system,” Ewell said. “The goal is really to engage folks where they are at and to get them into the larger homeless service system with the ultimate goal to get them stable and get them into permanent housing.”
According to Ewell, Street Outreach is a HUD best practice for communities to create a strategy to communicate with the unhoused where they are.
In his presentation, he introduced Liz Levin, a former volunteer and part-time employee who now works full time helping to coordinate Rural and Western Lane County outreach to the unhoused community, which includes among other locations Florence and Mapleton.
Now that Levin has been assigned to assist Western Lane County residents full time, she has taken a proactive approach to sharing information with the public about the program and the potential benefits those who apply may receive.
“Basically, we reached out to the Florence Police Department, Lane County Sheriff’s Office and Bob (Teter) from SOS (Siuslaw Outreach Services) and had a conversation to get a picture of what the unhoused community in Florence looks like,” Levin said. “Because it does look different then say a metro area. Where they camp, the way they approach services and the way they interact with the community is different.”
The program also put up flyers at local grocery stores, U.S. Post Offices and more.
Next, Ewell talked about Lane County’s Coordinated Entry program, which determines which of the many individuals and families that seek support are most in need of housing assistance.
“Coordinated Entry is intended to be the access point for homeless households across Lane County to be able to access permanent housing programs,” Ewell said. “It is intended to provide equitable access to housing programs funded by the county and to ensure that those with the highest vulnerability are being referred to those programs.”
The county’s Coordinated Entry program was created about 10 years ago to make sure that all who need housing are considered fairly, with no judgements or preconditions. This data is then tallied and the individual or family is put on list to wait for services to become available.
“The hope is all of those folks who need help will access it through one access point, so it’s a well-known entry point,” Ewell said. “We are working on improving Coordinated Entry quite a bit, so this is the long term goal. I wouldn’t say we are completely there yet.”
The county isn’t “completely there yet” with housing solutions, either.
According to Ewell, the majority of those living unsheltered will have a hard time finding either temporary or permanent housing due to an extreme shortage of affordable or available housing.
“To be completely transparent, the majority of people on the list will never be housed by being on it because there are not adequate housing resources available,” Ewell said.
The Florence homeless situation has improved recently with help from the Florence Emergency Cold Weather Shelter, which opened for a few days during the recent cold snap.
According to Burke, the shelter is going to open later this week when colder than normal temperatures are expected.
“It looks like we need to open Wednesday night, March 9, and, if so, we'll stay open through Friday morning to feed and warm up our folks,” Burke said.
Volunteers are still needed to help with intake, meals, driving and more. People can contact Burke to help Florence Emergency Cold Weather Shelter through 541-590-3598, 541-590-0652 or [email protected] People can also visit www.facebook.com/FECWS.
“The shelter is working, giving folks privacy, security and community,” Burke said. “It wouldn't happen without the support and kindness of people like you. I thank you.”
For more information about the FACC, visit www.florenceareacc.org. For more information about Lane County Human Services, visit lanecounty.org/government/county_departments/health_and_human_services/human_services_division.