Government leaders across Clatsop County appear supportive of naming a homeless liaison, if the position and how much it will cost can be better defined.
Astoria Police Chief Geoff Spalding broached the idea at a recent meeting of the city’s homelessness solutions task force, noting a 300% increase in calls this year related to the homeless, likely tied to increased awareness of the issue.
The police chief used the example of a similar temporary position added by Gresham and said he’d like to bring a recommendation to the Astoria City Council by the first quarter of next year.
Members of the task force warmed to the idea, seeing it as a way to help the homeless, make residents feel safer and reduce pressure on police, parks and other agencies that often interact with the homeless. But because of the cost and transient nature of the homeless population, it became clear the task force would need buy-in from governments across the county.
Spalding and members of the task force brought the idea to a roundtable Thursday evening between county, Astoria, Seaside, Gearhart and Cannon Beach leaders to gauge their interest. Representatives from Warrenton, which has one of the highest concentrations of homeless people, were not at the meeting.
The police chief summed up the need for a liaison with a quote from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, which has pushed for communities to move from a collection of individual programs to a coordinated, data-driven approach.
“Some of the things we see this person doing would be coordinating all the efforts of all the different agencies,” Spalding said. “ ... The other part of this is collecting data. We don’t necessarily have really good data on the individuals and what their needs are.”
A subcommittee of the homelessness task force has been researching the position and cost. Spalding estimated the potential salary at between $50,000 to $60,000 and said Clatsop Community Action has offered to host the position. Some have raised concerns that there would need to be multiple people in such a role.
Underscoring the difficulty in tracking the homeless population, leaders quibbled briefly over the homeless count across the county.
The closest to a countywide figure is Clatsop Community Action’s Project Homeless Connect in January and the U.S. Census next year. But leaders noted the shortcomings of trying to count homeless people who may move to warmer climates in the winter or not participate in surveys.
Social service providers have estimated there are roughly 1,000 homeless people in the county.
“Merely to bring this to, say, our City Council or the county commission, we don’t necessarily have to have an exact number,” Astoria City Councilor Joan Herman said. “I could foresee just asking our local bodies, ‘Would we be open to considering sharing funding for such a position, or perhaps two positions?’ Because we’re all paying for it now, in police response and various other responses.”