Despite an improving economy, the number of homeless individuals and families is worsening on the High Desert, the results of an annual Central Oregon count showed Thursday.

The "Point in Time Count," conducted Jan. 30th by the Homeless Leadership Coalition, shows homelessness is up in all three counties this year.

A total of 2,410 individuals self-identified as homeless, which includes 116 veterans. That's a jump of 420 individuals over 2013.

Meanwhile, 172 more households also experienced homelessness. Those numbers were particularly higher among the youth, elderly and the disabled.

The most startling number is the rise of those defined as "chronically homeless," which now stands at 522, an increase of 266 over last year.

To be considered chronically homeless, an individual must be 18 years of age, have a disability, and have been homeless for at least a year or experienced four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.

Every community in Central Oregon saw that number increase.

Kenny LaPoint of Housing Works and co-chair of the Homeless Leadership Coalition says current market conditions are making it nearly impossible for people to find adequate housing.

"Vacancy rates for rental units are at less than 1 percent for all of Central Oregon, and Housing Works issued 200 vouchers to qualified applicants in March, but I anticipate only 30 percent being used," explained LaPoint. "That's because the lack of available housing options is astonishing."

According to the Central Oregon Rental Owners Association, only 37 units are currently available out of 3,862 surveyed throughout the entire region.

Those who responded to the Point in Time survey said a lack of affordable housing and unemployment were the two main reasons they experienced homelessness.

Scott Cooper, executive director of NeighborImpact, which provides many of the region's emergency services, noted, "Lack of stable housing options is a huge and growing concern.

"We don't have enough resources to meet all the needs of the disadvantaged now. The journey to self-sufficiency begins with stable housing and is impossible without housing options."

(NeighborImpact is a "21 Cares for Kids" partner.)

The coalition has worked this past year to preserve affordable housing units at Healy Heights and Ariel Glen and is currently working on funding a youth drop-in center.

LaPoint admits the numbers are discouraging, but the coalition will continue its efforts to promote affordable housing options and better educate community groups about the negative impacts of homelessness in Central Oregon.

For details about the homeless numbers across Central Oregon, view this file:

2014 C. Oregon homeless count data (PDF)

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