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Point-In-Time Counts Survey Oregon’s Homeless Populations

Image of two men taking blankets out of boxes.
Erik Neumann/JPR
Joel Setzer (left) takes emergency blankets out of their packaging to be put in backpacks to be given to people experiencing homelessness during Jackson County's point-in-time count on Monday.

Counts of homeless people, known as “point-in-time” counts are taking place across Oregon this week, including in Jackson County on Monday.

At the Continuum of Care office in Medford, a dozen volunteers stood around an assembly line of folding tables on Friday afternoon, filling backpacks with supplies to give out to homeless people in the Rogue Valley.

“We have gloves, hats, huge woolen blankets, toiletry kits,” said Connie Wilkerson, the manager of the Jackson County office.

Wilkerson will be giving out backpacks on Monday night to people during the Jackson county point-in-time count. She’ll also be surveying people to collect demographic information about the local homeless population.

“We gather that data so that we can see all the different barriers that individuals have to obtaining service and what they’re particular needs are,” Wilkerson said.  

Point-in-time counts are mandated to be done every two years, according to Wilkerson, though Jackson County does theirs annually to connect people to services and to record trends. She said different counts are done during the same 10-day period so data is comparable at different locations.

Past surveys have shown about 95% of people living on the street were already living in Jackson County when they became homeless, she says. During the 2019 count the 55 and older age group accounted for 23% of the unsheltered count and they’re seeing a rise in disabled people.

“If you’re experiencing homelessness and your disabled, your needs are just exponentially greater,” she said.  

After the counts are complete the data is submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to address barriers in different counties. The numbers from Monday’s count will be available later in the summer.

Joel Setzer was organizing blankets to be put in backpacks at the Medford office on Friday. Setzer is a veteran and is formerly homeless himself. His background helps him connect with people during the counts, he says, which he’ll be doing on Monday night.

“I can connect more with people that aren’t vets also,” Setzer said. “Because I have a little more compassion, maybe. Because I’ve been there.”

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.