SPRINGFIELD — With Oregon’s stay-at-home order still being enforced, concerns are growing about the effect on unhoused populations, county and community leaders said.
Lane County and Catholic Community Services officials have been working to bring in extra resources to support vulnerable populations in the area.
County officials have combined with multiple agencies to help streamline efforts.
“We are truly stronger together,” said Jason Davis, Lane County Health and Human Services. “By leaning on those strengths through working as one cohesive effort, we maximize our ability to get insurmountable feats accomplished in short order.”
The general theme of the strategies that Public Health has looked at is what is needed to help them “stay home,” what can be done at a policy level, communicating the message and what hurdles are created by broad policies and how to overcome them.
Davis said one of the challenges on the first issue is many services and shelters are restricted right now, so the CDC has recommended assisting individuals where they are at, provided that’s a safe place.
“This is primarily accomplished by 1:1 interactions, assessment for service needs, and then coordinating those services for the individual,” he said, adding that Lane County also has respite shelters at the fairground and memorial building in Springfield.
One of the challenges with providing mass care, however, is ensuring that the virus doesn’t spread. County environmental officials made recommendations on how to provide adequate sanitation for food services and distancing — especially those who have symptoms and those who don’t.
Catholic Community Services is another agency trying to help homeless families through its Oasis program. Chris Pickering, Self-supporting Families Programs manager, said that they’ve coordinated with the City to bring in extra services, such as an onsite trailer for showers, a portable hand-washing station, and separating laundry facilities. They have also been preparing food boxes for families and supplying hygiene items.
Oasis allows families to “shelter in place” in its parking lots; some of the homeless preferred to camp outside of town or stay with family members who could shelter them.
Pickering said they have also been working with the library to get hot spots running to help keep their children in school because internet access is difficult.
Other challenges county staff has been facing include stress, safety and health, and overextension of service providers.
“First and foremost, you have to recognize the inherent stress and anxiety for everyone during this pandemic. Now imagine coupling that anxiety with not knowing where your next meal is coming from or whether you have a place to sleep,” Davis said, adding that the agencies they work with – St. Vincent De Paul, Carry it Forward, Occupy Medical and White Bird – have trained professionals who can help with that.
Davis said there has been an increased demand for services. That, coupled with a shortage of volunteers, has led to shortages.
Both Lane County and Catholic Community Services have advocated that donations to service providers – especially Food for Lane County – is one way the people can get involved. Davis added that donations of underwear for all genders, feminine hygiene products, and masks are needed.
Overall, Davis said he hopes they can protect vulnerable populations, keeping them healthy, securing access to care and recovery, and acknowledge parts of their lives are disproportionately impacted, and help them recover at the same rate as individuals in a housed situation.
Amy Wilson, Oasis Program manager, said services are still available: “We’re doing everything we can – despite limitations – to keep it business as usual.”