Housing and Homelessness
Housing and homelessness are two of the largest challenges facing Lane County. Often people think the answer is to just build more affordable housing, thinking that will accomplish both goals. However, our housing needs are for more than just low-income housing, and addressing homelessness takes more than just having enough affordable places to live.
Many think of housing and homelessness as one issue. While a lack of affordable housing does affect homelessness, they're connected-- yet separate-- issues. Our housing challenges are across the spectrum, where we need to build a variety of housing. Homelessness can only be dealt with when we look holistically at the root causes of homelessness. In Eugene, 51% of people are renters, and their living options are directly tied to the housing available. As your Commissioner, I will work with the City of Eugene to advocate for a renters protection bill to keep people in their homes. Families deserve to stay in their homes and to have easy access to basic services (healthcare, transit, fresh & local food, and green spaces).
I believe that the needs of our homeless population are complex and varied. Having available housing provides the necessary stability to help get people off of the streets, but it is not the entire solution. We must look at providing the necessary support services that also contribute to chronic homelessness; such as mental health services, addiction treatment, medical care, child care, and workforce training. We have children coming to school without having had breakfast or adequate rest, and struggling not because of their lack of trying but because of undue stress from their home life instability. The stress and strain on teachers having to address homeless children is unacceptable and many neighbors in District 3 have coworkers or friends who are struggling to find a reliable and stable place to sleep each night. As a community and for myself as an individual, this is an unacceptable situation for our community to be in.
Lane County Board also provides a key part of much-needed local behavioral health and addiction treatment services. The lack of such treatment is often the catalyst for housing instability or homelessness. We cannot use the county jail as a mental health facility. Recognizing that the funding for these services does not fully lie on the county (as it is mostly funded by the state) does not absolve the county from doing everything it can to fund this issue.
Formerly incarcerated people are one specific population needing targeted supports. Approximately 50% of folks released from custody are released into homelessness. We must do more to ease their transition by working with the Public Safety Coordinating Council and area nonprofits designed to help. We must also look at alternatives to punishment, especially for non-violent, first-time offenders. In District 3 we are almost entirely within the City of Eugene; as such public safety and police response is covered by local law enforcement, but we need to look at public safety as a county wide issue. Public safety resources should be focused on prevention, and on victim and survivor-centered services.
I support the recommendations outlined in the TAC report and am committed to working cross-jurisdictionally to secure the resources and implement the strategies as soon as possible to aid those who need it now. We need compassion and decisive action in recognizing the variety and vulnerability of homeless folks in our community--for examples LGBTQIA+ youth and those who are aging into poverty and homelessness. Many in our community are one unexpected car repair or other expense away from losing their homes. We have to do what we can to keep our safety net strong and stabilize individuals and families to stop the cycle of poverty and housing instability in Lane County. Even if we had no unhoused people today, by this time next year hundreds likely will have fallen off the edge into homelessness because of high rents, stagnant wages, and inadequate services. I am a strong advocate of finding a site and creating a low barrier shelter for our community as soon as possible. In order to do so, we must work on streamlining our siting and permitting to ensure new housing is well integrated. We’re lucky to live in this beautiful place with many available resources, and I believe there is a way to share space and resources that doesn’t compromise our existing neighborhoods.