Officials get look at 'crude' numbers for area homeless

ROSEBURG, Ore. -- Douglas County officials got a look into the needs of the area's homeless on Wednesday.

The homeless were invited to stop by First Presbyterian Church in Roseburg, where they were given flu shots, warm clothing and a hot meal.

Ian Smith of the Douglas County Housing and Homeless Coalition says that the number of homeless people has stayed fairly steady over the past few years, but he doesn't believe those numbers are entirely accurate. "We are actually counting the people who come to the site, and obviously not everyone is going to come here for the count," Smith said. "Not everyone who is legally defined as homeless realizes that they fall within that legal category."

Smith adds that a person living in their car or staying at a friend's house is technically homeless, even though they have a roof over their head at that time.

Smith says that Douglas county's homeless population is a little different than other, more populated areas. "It's a different sort of homelessness in Douglas County than we might see in Eugene or Portland, and that's part of what we're trying to overcome. Rural homelessness is really a different picture. So many people have a very specific image of what homelessness is, they think of it as someone on an urban street corner holding a sign asking for work or change or something like that. But homelessness actually takes a lot of different forms: people living in barns or outhouses or sheds, people living in vehicles or campers. So it's important that we realize that everyone's experience of homelessness is a little different, and it's not just a big city phenomenon."

Those who choose to take part in the annual count are asked to fill out a survey, and Smith says that offers a vital look at the county's needs. "What it does is, it allows social services and other agencies to get an idea of not only the number of people currently experiencing homelessness, so we can better address the problem, but the survey also goes into questions about factors that contribute to people's homelessness, obstacles that they're facing, so that we can direct our resources to where they're most helpful."

Though he says the numbers are crude, the homeless count gives officials a good idea of what Douglas County's homeless population needs.