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People are not often homeless by choice

You reported recently that there were approximately 700 people in Jackson County who are currently homeless. What percentage of that population are homeless due to mental illness, alcohol/drug addiction, unfortunate circumstances or by choice?

— Bryan

You are probably referring to the Jackson County’s most recent point-in-time count, Bryan, which we mentioned in an article this fall about the need for emergency shelters as the temperatures drop.

That count, which Jackson County Continuum of Care performs in January, offers an annual snapshot of the state of homelessness. We’re not able to answer all of your questions about why people are unhoused, but this year’s report offered some insight.

The point-in-time count identifies people who are “chronically homeless,” which is defined as experiencing homelessness in one of two ways. The first is experiencing homelessness for 12 consecutive months with a disabling condition, and the second is experiencing homelessness at least four different times in the past three years with a disabling condition.

Disabling conditions, according to the study, include a diagnosable substance use disorder, a serious mental illness, a developmental disability or a chronic physical illness or disability. Some people have two or more of these conditions.

Staff asked unsheltered people to report the underlying issues that led to their lack of shelter. Of those, 62% reported one or more disabling conditions.

Among the 202 people who reported at least one disability, 358 disabilities were reported. Mental disabilities showed up with greatest frequency in those reports, with physical disability a close second. Only 70 people identified chronic drug abuse as a disabling condition.

From the answers of 459 people who responded to a question about the root causes of their homelessness, Jackson County Continuum of Care compiled a list of the top 10 reasons given.

Beyond physical and mental disabilities, some of the reasons might also fall into what you could consider “unfortunate circumstances.” Job loss, rent increases and other financial hardships, as well as breakdown of family relationships or divorce showed up in that list. Domestic violence and abuse also made the top 10.

“The top cause of homelessness is relational and includes family discord, breakdown of relationships and divorce (24%). Other primary reasons included financial/economic hardships (17%), job loss (17%), and evictions (7%),” the report said.

The report contained no information suggesting a significant percentage of the county’s homeless population are homeless by choice.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.