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Council reports 133 homeless in county

— The annual “point in time” homeless count revealed 133 homeless people living in Wasco County, but the director of the Mid-Columbia Community Action Council says there are bound to be people the count missed.

“It’s hard because we are trying to catch people in the right place, and there are ones we don’t even know about who are couch surfing and don’t show up anywhere we’re counting,” Jim Slusher said.

The Mid-Columbia Community Action Council also covers Hood River County, where 132 people were counted as homeless, and Sherman County, where 28 homeless people were counted this year.

Slusher said the numbers were slightly lower this year but he’s not sure it reflects a drop in the homeless population — the definition of homelessness the council uses has been tightened and instances of duplication have been greatly reduced.

The count took place in January but Slusher said it took a few months to collect the forms and compile the data. During the point in time count, which happens all over Oregon every January, the Mid-Columbia Community Action Council partners with the Department of Human Services, Community Meals, HAVEN for Domestic Violence and other entities to try to get a good count.

“What we’re trying to do is get a snapshot in Oregon about what the homeless situation is on a particular night in winter,” Slusher said.

Most people associate the word homeless with panhandlers living under bridges, but Slusher said in rural Oregon, which doesn’t have the tent cities of places like Portland, the homeless can be more invisible — and harder to find and count.

A family living out of their van, a teenager staying with various friends after being kicked out of their own home or a woman staying at a temporary safe house after fleeing domestic violence would all be considered homeless, according to the standards used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Originally the Point in Time count was meant to be purely informational, but Slusher said now the number is considered in awarding grants and other funds so it is important to try to find as many of the area’s homeless as possible.

“A lot of people say, ‘Don’t even count me, don’t even worry about me, I’m fine,’ but the count factors in funding,” Slusher said.

“We tell them, ‘If we count you it may help somebody else that we could get some money for.’”

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