(Update: Adding video, comments from NeighborImpact)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) — NeighborImpact is using state funds to help people on the brink of homelessness stay off the streets, but they’re running out of funds to do so.
Molly Heiss is the housing stabilization department director with NeighborImpact.
“This problem is huge, and it’s growing every day,” Heiss said.
She’s helping facilitate Oregon’s Eviction Diversion and Prevention Program or ORE-DAP funds to Oregonians facing eviction for non-payment.
“OREDAP was kind of meant to fill that gap for maybe those folks who are still struggling, because we know that a lot of Central Oregonians are still struggling,” Heiss said.
When the initial state pandemic rent relief program expired in March, NeighborImpact was flooded with requests for help.
“One of the things we’ve had some challenges with is, we ended up with a wait list of about 1,700 households,” Heiss said.
In June, rent relief became available again for those who hadn’t used 15 months of assistance.
However, both people who had rent relief and those who did not were applying.
Since February, NeighborImpact has served 112 households and 260 individuals, for a total of 677 months of rent
It’s spent about 39 percent of ots $2 million allocation, with 370 households left on the list.
“We anticipate getting through the entirety of that 370 household wait list prior to the deadline, with no gap in funds,” Heiss said. “But that will probably deplete our entire allocation.”
Some houses on the initial list used rent relief funds, while others found solutions on their own.
But after 10 years working in housing, Heiss knows right now, independent solutions are becoming harder to find.
“The increase in rents that I’ve seen has just been incredible,” Heiss said. “It’s outpacing everything.”
She said there is not a set plan for when the funds run out, and if rent prices continue to rise, she’s nervous about the future.
“One of the largest groups that are going to be impacted, and I have some fear around this is, those folks on a fixed income, especially our seniors,” Heiss said. “They’re going to be priced into homelessness.”
Here’s a news release this week from Oregon Housing and Community Services:
Preventing homelessness one person at a time in Oregon
Community-wide coordinated approach to break the cycle of homelessness
Oregon’s Eviction Diversion and Prevention Program (ORE-DAP) provides a lifeline to people on the verge of homelessness. The program, the first of its kind in Oregon, was developed by Oregon Housing and Community Services
“Agencies that are a part of their communities, especially those with culturally specific services, are able to best understand the needs and the solutions for the people who live there,” said Jill Smith, interim director of the Housing Stabilization Division at OHCS. “If we want to eradicate homelessness, we must move away from the one-size-fits-all approach and deploy resources in a targeted way.”
With this mindset, the Community Action Organization (CAO) of Washington County, in partnership with the Oregon Law Center and Unite Oregon, is using innovative methods to quickly assist Oregonians who face displacement. They do not wait for tenants who have run out of options to find them; they proactively find people who are facing imminent evictions.
“We have a member of our team reviewing the eviction docket and reaching out to tenants who have upcoming court dates,” explained Kemp Shuey, executive director at CAO. “That is how we found Johnathon. He got a call from our housing specialist who helped him navigate the court process and much more.”
ORE-DAP was designed to assist people like Johnathon, who asked to remain anonymous. When the pandemic hit, Johnathon was partially retired and had been supplementing his Social Security income with part-time work at a bowling alley. COVID-19 forced the bowling alley to close its doors. He lost his job and the supplemental income he relied on to cover his living expenses. He knew he could not afford his rent without it, and he was worried.
“I thought that I would be living in a tent somewhere. I had nowhere to go,” Johnathon said.
His worst fears became real when his landlord served him with an eviction notice because they needed the rental unit for a family member. He did not know what to do. He was already behind on his rent and moving would mean a rent increase and more move-in costs.
Johnathon describes the call as a turning point in his life. “That was one of the best phone calls I’ve ever gotten,” he said. “That meant everything to hear, ‘We’ll be there. You’re not in this alone.’ ”
The CAO housing specialist negotiated with the landlord for more time so she could help Johnathon find a new home. It also gave Johnathon time to get the financial help he needed. He got help with paying his back rent as well as rental assistance for the first year in the new place.
Johnathon is thankful for the assistance. “Community Action helped tremendously,” he said. “I don’t have a feeling of despair anymore.”
And he is proof that when the system works, it breaks the cycle of homelessness—one person at a time.
To find out about ORE-DAP resources in your area, contact a Community Action Agency or call 2-1-1 to be connected. Tenants who are worried about eviction should contact the Oregon Law Center’s Eviction Defense line at 888-585-9638 or go to the center’s website.
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