Houseless have professional advocate

 

Last updated 1/17/2023 at Noon

David Fox works with the houseless community in Sisters Country on behalf of Deschutes County. PHOTO PROVIDED

David Fox spends a considerable amount of time in the forests near Sisters, working with the people who dwell there.

Fox is employed by Deschutes County and serves on the Homeless Outreach Team. The 32-year-old health professional was raised in Bend before moving to Kansas where, upon graduating from college, he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine for two years. Following that he worked six years for the Social Security Administration as a case specialist.

He sees his strength as “navigating bureaucratic systems.” And that is a big part of his job. He’s in Sisters two days a week and the remainder of his week in La Pine or at the County Health Department’s office in Bend.

There are about 100 workers in his group, Behavioral Health, of which eight are tasked with aiding the homeless, or, as is the preferred term — houseless. Fox meets people where they are, and with the houseless in Sisters that usually means individuals or families living in tents, makeshift lean-tos, sleeping bags, their cars, or sub-standard RVs.

He doesn’t go out into the woods looking for clients. They are usually referred to him by somebody else working the forest or streets. Often it’s law enforcement. Just as frequently it will be one of the staff of Sisters Ranger District.

However he first encounters those in distress, the initial task is the same — assessing their physical and mental health. The latter is a specialty of sorts for Fox.

“If there is one shared characteristic — not universal — with the homeless, it’s chronic health issues,” Fox told The Nugget.

The word “health” is in his department’s name, and it’s on his business card.

“Health can cover a broad spectrum and includes a range of issues from food security to addiction,” Fox said. “And it’s not always what’s pictured — a strung-out addict sleeping on the sidewalk. It can just as easily be a mom and her kids living in a car. The same mom who until a month or so ago was in traditional housing.

“It only takes two or three months of severe financial hardship or distress from abuse or a sudden job loss to be on the street or in the woods,” Fox said, “but it can take years, maybe five, to get back to a safe, stable environment.”

The work Fox does is slow and tedious, with many obstacles along the way. He and his team can generally find temporary shelter for the houseless, especially when bitter cold, if they want it. Permanent or longer-stay transitional housing is in extremely short supply.

As always, getting a client clean or sober is the first step toward recovery and the possibility of traditional housing and/or employment. About half of Fox’s cases are with those suffering from addiction. Those who are a danger to themselves or others often are referred to the County’s Stabilization Center.

The Deschutes County Stabilization Center (DCSC) serves children and adults who are in need of short-term mental-health-crisis assessment and stabilization, but do not require the medical capabilities of an acute care hospital or longer-term residential care. The DCSC cares for individuals who walk in when they are experiencing a mental health crisis, or when referred by local law enforcement and other community partners.

The Stabilization Center provides a wide array of crisis services including: adult respite services, the Forensic Diversion Program, peer support, and more. Oregon Health Plan coverage is not required.

From the 2022 Point In Time Count (taken annually in January) there was a 17 percent increase in homelessness in the county over 2021. A total of 1,012 persons experienced literal homelessness in Central Oregon, 79 percent of whom were unsheltered. Sixty percent had been homeless for more than 12 months, and 65 percent of those counted had lived in Central Oregon for more than three years.

Among the numbers, 110 were children under 18 (18 unaccompanied); eight were chronically homeless vets; 165 were families of at least one adult and one child.

Not everybody who is homeless will accept the help Fox and his team can offer, and Oregon has some of the most permissive laws in the country protecting an individual’s rights to live where and how they please, even if that situation may be unsanitary or unsafe.

On July 1, Oregon House Bill 3115 will take effect protecting homeless campers in public spaces. Some concern has been raised in Sisters that homeless campers may take up residence in Village Green or Creekside Park.

For his part, Fox doesn’t see the problem of homelessness ebbing any time soon. He struck us in the interview as striking the right balance between compassion and practicality. The Nugget will report the results of the upcoming 2023 Point In Time Count as soon as the results are released.

 

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