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New survey shows Southern Oregonians agree on scale of homelessness crisis

homeless_camp_tent_jaxco.png
Jackson County Continuum of Care
A homeless camp tent in Jackson County.

A new survey released this week shows the vast majority of residents in Southern Oregon see homelessness as an important issue.

The survey was funded by three Southern Oregon healthcare groups, seeking to gauge public opinion on the homelessness crisis. It was conducted by the Moore Information Group, which surveyed 400 residents across Curry, Douglas, Jackson, Josephine and Klamath counties.

The results showed around 90% of people think homelessness is an important issue, and at least 67% believe the problem is getting worse.

“My running joke for a lot of this is you can’t get 91% of people to agree puppy dogs are cute," said Josh Balloch, Vice President of Health Policy for AllCare Health. "So the fact that it was that significant is telling.”

Balloch said that additionally, around 92% of people want their local governments to take action on the homelessness crisis.

“And so when you have those three things together, you can actually do big public policy changes," he said.

But while those who participated in the survey agree there's a homelessness crisis, the public seems to have different opinions on the root causes.

Balloch said the results showed four major reasons behind homelessness in the region, at least what the public believes are the causes. He said those causes are affordable housing, drug addiction, lax government policy and mental health issues.

"The fact that it was that significant is telling."

Balloch said his organization now plans on doing a survey of the homeless population. By talking directly with folks on the street, he said they can compare what the public thinks versus the actual causes of homelessness.

AllCare Health conducted a similar survey of the homeless population back in 2017 called "A Place to Call Home." That compilation of 250 on-the-street interviews showed that a lack of stable income and lack of access to affordable housing were two of the biggest barriers for homeless individuals.

Balloch is hoping a new survey will provide an updated look at the issues in Southern Oregon. AllCare is hoping to have that completed in the beginning of 2023.

Combing both the public opinion polling and the on-the-street survey will help AllCare and other groups work with local governments to push for change and challenge misinformation. Balloch said the survey showed that many people have misconceptions about what being homeless means.

"For example, to me, couch-surfing is definitely homeless, if you don't have a home and you're jumping around," he said." But not everyone in the community agrees with that."

Only 55% of respondents agreed that couch-surfing is homelessness, with the rest saying it isn't or they didn't know. Another example is living in a motel, which over half of people don't believe counts as homeless or they don't know, but many community groups would consider living in a motel a form of homelessness.

Balloch wants to help present this data to local community groups and city/county governments to show what the public is thinking, and how they can help improve outcomes for homeless populations in the region. He said they haven't set up any presentations yet, but recently talked with the Brookings city manager, who expressed interest in the information.

After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the west coast.