Will Unhoused Neighbors Survive the Winter?

Categories:
Author: Terry McDonald, SVdP Executive Director
Date: Thursday, October 24 2019

The article below appeared on the Opinion page in the October 19, 2019 edition of The Register-Guard.

Despite Increases, Shelter Capacity Cannot Meet Potential Need

     In my five decades working for St. Vincent de Paul, I have never been as worried about a winter as this year. I have serious reservations that as a community, we are prepared for dealing with our unhoused population in a way that ensures that they can survive a winter emergency. Let me explain.

     Normally, St. Vincent homeless programs do not reach capacity until the onset of colder and wetter weather, generally around mid-November. So, for example, in October 2018, St. Vincent was not open for the Dusk to Dawn camping program, and the Lindholm Center for homeless singles was housing around 100 at the service station per day. When we did open Dusk to Dawn on Nov. 1, the total number of unhoused singles in our facilities was 80. Last year on Nov. 1 we had 80 in tents. This year, one month earlier, (because it is open year-round) we are at 192 with 30 on the waiting list as of Oct. 1.

"...35% represents unhoused individuals we have never seen before, and the vast majority of these individuals are from Lane County.

     The safe parking program opened on Nov. 1, 2018, with five spots and increased each month to a total of 27 guests by mid-February. Egan Warming Centers did not activate until Dec. 2 in 2018, and then did not fill entirely for a couple days. Last year, like most years in the past, seemed to follow an identifiable pattern.

     This year is different.

     St. Vincent is now operating the Dusk to Dawn camping program year-round. The program houses up to 200 individuals, and it reached capacity at the end of last month. There is currently a wait list of 30 unhoused to enter Dusk to Dawn. The Lindholm Center is also entirely at capacity. Even more disturbing is the trend we are seeing of “new to us” homeless, which since July has increased by 35%. That 35% represents unhoused individuals we have never seen before, and the vast majority of these individuals are from Lane County.

     All of this is coming too early in the year. It indicates to us that the issue of homelessness in Lane County is becoming more severe. We also recognize that the TAC report and the efforts of Lane County and the city of Eugene to end homelessness are ongoing, and both governments are committed to large investments to a low-barrier shelter and permanent supportive housing over the next few years. We are very supportive of this and other efforts to which our public sector is committed. Unfortunately, the issue I see is this winter. I pray that it is a mild winter and we do not have a serious cold and wet spell (in the past we have had mild winters). But if we do not, I do not see the capacity in the not-for-profit sector to meet a winter challenge. Time is short before the true winter arrives. And I am very worried.