Homeless population increases in Sisters
Last updated 4/25/2023 at 4:12pm
The 2023 annual Point-in-Time Survey shows the number of persons living in non-traditional housing in Sisters increased from 55 to 64. In all of the tri-county region of Deschutes, Jefferson, and Crook counties the number increased more dramatically, from 785 to 1,012.
The survey is conducted annually in January by the Homeless Leadership Coalition (HLC). Coalition membership includes nonprofit homeless assistance providers, victim service providers, faith-based organizations, governments, businesses, advocates, public housing agencies, school districts, social service providers, mental health agencies, hospitals, universities, affordable housing developers, law enforcement, people with lived experience of homelessness, and others who care about the issues facing the unhoused.
According to its website, “The HLC works to prevent and end homelessness by improving regional and cross-system collaboration and coordination so that our communities will have a comprehensive response in place that ensures homelessness is prevented whenever possible, or if it can’t be prevented, it is a rare, brief, and non-recurring experience.”
The Point-in-Time (PIT) night-time count is a census of sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness on a single night in January. By law, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires that Continuums of Care conduct an annual count of people experiencing homelessness who are sheltered in emergency shelter, transitional housing, and Safe Havens on a single night.
The number, 64, is thought to be higher, as much as double or more, by those who regularly encounter the homeless, or houseless, as has been suggested to be the more accurate term. Most of the houseless are on public lands, namely the Deschutes National Forest, which has been the topic of numerous stories in The Nugget and letters to its editor.
Reasons vary as to why the count conducted by volunteers and anecdotal observations don’t match. January was particularly cold this year in Sisters, forcing a number of houseless to migrate to warmer areas. About half of the homeless population in Sisters work and some of that subset work night shifts, so they were not around to be counted although the count was taken late into the day.
Of the total tri-county census, 279 surveys collected don’t fit into the narrow HUD definition, HLC said. Likewise, they admit the difficulty in counting families who are more apt to have at least one working member and children at school. HLC and HUD acknowledge the count is flawed because there is some variation in count methodology year-to-year.
The 2023 survey is not fully available. In 2022 the count showed 29 students in the Sisters School District, 12 double-upped and 17 unsheltered. Doubled-up is a term used to describe children and youth ages 21 and under living in shared housing, such as with another family or friends, due to various crises.
The unsheltered in Sisters are different, observers say, than the more urban homeless such as those located in Bend. Comparisons are not easily made to arrive at a consensus model of, say, how many in Sisters have serious mental illness or substance use issues.