A reshuffling of the criteria for homelessness in Lane County has erased the eligibility of hundreds of people for the county’s central housing list, leaving many expectant homeless people on the list feeling crestfallen.
However, the new county criteria also lifts some of the most urgent, life-threatening cases to the top of the list, to more quickly serve them.
A total of 319 out of 394 homeless families and individuals no longer qualify for Lane County Human Services Homeless Coordinated Entry Waitlist, as of a decision made last week by the Human Services office. The new criteria stipulate that a person or head of household must have a disabling condition and have been homeless for 12 months or more or have a disabling condition and have been homeless four times over the past three years.
The criteria were announced on an email sent from Human Services to the 10 homeless organizations in Eugene who help the homeless register for the list. EW has obtained a copy of the email.
Robin Calhoon, a homeless mother of four (one of whom is five months old), signed up for the “rapid rehousing” list five months ago (a sub-list within the entry waitlist) and says her family had advancd to fifth place to be up for housing placement. Human Services says Calhoon’s family was actually 42nd on the list.
After living in the family van for five months, Calhoon found out last week she is no longer eligible for the waitlist at all.
“I’m upset because I did everything they said to do,” Calhoon says. “They weren’t telling us. They just stuck a piece of paper on the wall” at First Place Family Center. She says her slot on the list was one of the last options the family had for housing before winter’s cold weather sets in in Eugene.
“It’s getting really cold out there now,” she says.
The 10 local organizations that help register homeless individuals for the waitlist, including First Place Family Center and Catholic Relief Services, were notified of the changed criteria last week.
Human Services also distributed posters to those service organizations to inform incoming clients they likely have been dropped off the housing waitlist. The county agency also sent out an email to organizations titled, “How to Explain to a Household They Don’t Qualify for the Central Waitlist.”
Human Services staff say the central waitlist had become so long that it was no longer realistic to allow some families to keep hoping their turn would come. Human Services only has 296 housing slots, all of which are full as of Nov. 9. Only one or two open each week.
It is possible Calhoon’s family had a very long wait on the list, with or without the criteria change.
“There’s not enough programs to get everyone housed on the list. It doesn’t seem fair to people who aren’t chronically homeless to keep them on the list when it might be years if we would ever get to them. Chronically homeless folks should be above them,” says Pearl Wolfe, Human Services supervisor for Lane County.
Wolfe says the people getting placed in homes before the criteria change were still the most vulnerable on the list.
Wolfe and the program services coordinator, Amanda McCluskey, both stress they knew there were many people struggling who were dropped from the service, but that, out of fairness, people with the most chronic problems should be seen first.
“We were looking at the data and we started seeing folks who were on the list for a very long time. We want that if a person gets on the list, they move through it quickly,” McCluskey says.
Additionally, Human Services relies on grant funding from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, which recently tightened its own criteria for that grant money to prioritize “chronically” homeless cases over more temporary cases. Human Services’ decision last week was partially in response to the new HUD guidelines.
Staff at First Place Family Center say they’ve notified 47 families in the past week that they were dropped from the central waitlist — the center worked with about 241 families for the month of September, about half of which are homeless. Those 47 families will now be re-evaluated based on the new criteria, says assistant director Diana Wise.
“The list was just not moving,” Wise says, “so it was really not doing very many people much good. I think they just decided it was too big and too unwieldy. So they are going to take people with the highest need.”