CSC Kicks Off P.I.T. Count As FAC Celebrates First Year In Action

Kristy Tallman

On Wednesday, January 24, the Community Services Consortium (CSC) formally kicked off their 2024 P.I.T (Point In Time) count of the homeless.

It’s that time of year when the rural areas of Oregon begin counting the homeless population in an effort to receive funding for their areas throughout the upcoming year. The survey, called a PIT count that’s basically a snapshot of the current numbers of homeless in an area. States are required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to submit the data every year.

According to Kelcey Young, city manager the city’s role in the PIT Count is ensuring all the people who are homeless in the area are counted. Volunteers actually go out and find the homeless and in areas they cannot get to they use drones to do flyovers reporting those areas where encampments are found. Sean Morgan, community liaison for Sweet Home Police Department, will trek in and ensure they too are counted.

“You cannot address anything regarding the homeless population without accurate information.

“Even if it’s not a complete count, it’s the most complete we have to go on. We can’t catch everyone because homeless people tend to be fluid, moving in and out of the area.”

The survey which will be taking place in Linn, Benton, and Lincoln Counties, will be completed by the The CSC helps people in these counties to access tools and resources to overcome poverty and homelessness along with an array of other resources for those communities.

Young says these counts go far beyond just the city knowing how many homeless people are living in the area. For the most part they are responsible for counting those inside the city limits and the county is responsible for outlying areas. She says however, it’s a joint effort by all areas involved to share what they find in an effort to make sure all localities are counted.

“We all tend to work together,” said Young; “If we find additional homeless outside the city limits we make a note of that, then we notify the county. If we find families, with children, then that’s one of the things we really pay attention to. If there’s minors involved that’s critical for us to know about and they need to be in the school system.”

Last year’s PIT count went very well so far as having volunteers and getting the count done but Young says they underestimated the homeless count causing them not to receive the resources they could have had were they able to get everyone counted.

“We started realizing how many families we had, and how many more people we had. That’s why we called for a state of emergency in March 2023 on our homelessness,” said Young.

“This is also part of the reason we are able to get the emergency funding, like the $450k we will be getting,” continued Young. “It’s due to the state of emergency that we are able to get that funding. The money is from the governor. There is a MAC group (Multiagency Coordination groups) which is a group of agencies in Linn County who determined that since Sweet Home led the charge in the state of emergency we were able to get the lion’s share of that money.”

Young says the money will be spent on building additional shelters, however it’s slotted to be used for homeless families due to the fact Sweet Home currently has no shelter spaces available to house families, especially those with children. They hope to be able to build small cottages for families to house them by next winter.

In January 2023 in an attempt to aid the homeless problem in the city, they opened the Family Assistance and Resource Center’s (FAC) Managed Outreach and Community Resource Facility,on a parcel of land east of Bi-Mart.

At the time of opening FAC, Executive Director Shirley Byrd talked about what it was like to finally open the facility.

“It feels really good,” she said. “Just handing them a key to their own place and watching their face light up is amazing. That autonomy that they just don’t get otherwise in other shelters is here.”

Byrd says in one year they have housed over 20 people and one of the gentlemen who stayed was able to get employment with Entek. Byrd said jobs are harder for people to obtain at the shelter due to the lack of transportation which makes it hard for them to get out; however, Young says this is just a temporary issue that will be corrected in the coming months.

“We work together with Linn County Mental Health, Linn County Alcohol and Drug, harm reduction, as well as partnering with the city and the county to make sure the bases are covered for the homeless. We try to get them into housing first, get them stable then we work on getting them help with recovery, job issues or whatever they may need,” said Byrd.

Byrd says her biggest challenge over the course of the last year has been the unexpected.

“We’ve never run a shelter before,” Byrd said, “although we knew many people from outreach we never run a shelter before so it was a peer learning experience. We learned to expect the unexpected. Just when you thought you’ve seen it all, someone will come along and challenge that.”

Byrd says the hardest part of running the shelter over the course of the last year has been the losses of individuals. “In the spring there was a bad batch of drugs that went through the area, Sweet Home, Lebanon and Albany and people were dying a lot. It’s (Fentanyl) a really dangerous drug.”

Byrd said they were not only affected by the losses of individuals who lived at the shelter but they dealt too with others processing the grief of losing friends who were from other areas.

“That was probably one of the toughest times of the year during that time span,” said Byrd. “We had to watch all our people dealing with that loss, we would have to experience that person’s grief. Even if they weren’t staying with us they would come to get their mail or utilize our other services and they would be impacted by the losses too.”

When asking Byrd what her happiest moment over the past year was she spoke of one of the ladies staying with them who had been involved in a domestic abuse relationship. Byrd said she was terrified of her partner finding her so they set out to find a way to make her feel safe.

“The team went to Bi-Mart and bought walkie-talkies to share between her and her friends so she could reach out to others if she got scared or heard a noise or became afraid. She was able to stay in her own hut and she felt safe, that was awesome.”

The shelter has been working very hard over the course of the year to help the homeless in Sweet Home. They offer any who need housing a place to stay so long as there’s space available. The PIT count helps the shelter plan for challenges forthcoming but it also helps the shelter receive the funding it needs to keep offering their services. The actual counting started Monday, January 22, and will go through till January 31, 2024.