Housing — or the severe shortage of it — is among the major deterrents to the overall health of the community for people in Curry County, a group of AllCare Health partners agreed during an information gathering session Thursday afternoon in Harbor.
Housing, like food, activities, access to transportation and other basic necessities, falls under the umbrella of social determinants of health — and it ties directly into the acute homeless problem Brookings is trying to address.
The session is the second part in an evaluation AllCare conducts every three years to address the health of communities and the issues they face. The information collected will be used to develop goals and plans to bridge gaps in multiple arenas that ultimately affect health.
Housing isn’t the only issue, as they are all intertwined and contribute to the overall health of any community, the group agreed. Others include mental health, youth activities, recruiting and retaining physicians and an emergency department in Brookings.
But the housing shortage, always a problem in Curry County, has recently reared its head after homeless people started erecting tents and campsites on public property throughout the area.
In the beginnings ...
Teaching people life skills, preferably at a young age in school, could go far in helping keep people off the streets, said Betty Pomerleau, the new at-risk advocate at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Brookings.
“Some of these people without a home have never had one,” she said. “Some, their parents were homeless; it’s all they’ve known. They don’t know how to integrate into societal norms. Anyone who’s been living on the ground for more than a few years is not going to remember how to be a socially appropriate person.”
She noted that homeless advocate Mary Rowe of Gold Beach is working to bring Neighborhood Economic Development Corp., which could provide a budget management course for renters. A second course, taught by St. Vincent de Paul teaches people how to be good tenants. The classes have a 90 percent success rate in keeping tenants in their rental units long-term, Rowe said.
Micah Leaver, the child welfare supervisor for the state Department of Human Services, said there is no reason low-income housing cannot be built in the area, noting that a “resident flophouse” in Brookings garners up to $800 a month for a bedroom and shared bath. He added that he’d like to see a low-income housing project under construction within the next two years.
“I’d like to see one finished in three years,” said Brookings resident Teresa Lawson. “We’re in crisis.”
Mental health and a dearth of physicians — notably obstetricians and primary care doctors — needs to be addressed in the next few years, as well, the group agreed.
Lawson cited a much-discussed incident in which a person in crisis was taken to Curry Community Health, transferred to the urgent care clinic, then to Curry General Hospital in Gold Beach before ending up finding definitive care — in Coos Bay.
“We’re never going to get them off the streets if we can’t get (mental health) care,” Lawson said. “And if you get them housed and they still have mental health issues … mental health has got to come to this area.”
A challenge with that is that the Oregon Health Plan doesn’t reimburse coordinated care organizations such as AllCare and Advanced Health for such services; its only contract in Curry County is Curry Community Health.
Attracting physicians is a challenge throughout rural America, and the group said they’d like to see that addressed more in the next three years, as well. Often times, it has been noted by various organizations over the years, a qualified physician agrees to move to the county — only to find out their spouse and children don’t like it, and they move on.
“There’s a lack of providers who will relocate, and most importantly stay, in rural — and frankly, impoverished — areas such as ours,” Leaver said. “It’s a huge barrier, probably as big an issue here as the housing issue.”
He suggested using programs that help new physicians by paying off their student loans in trade for a set number of years of service in rural communities as a means by which to bridge the gap.
Another issue related to children is the ongoing shortage of foster care families here.
“We have massively insufficient foster care,” Leaver said. “We need foster care so badly, I’d give parts of my body to improve that. The kids, they end up moving out of county; they can’t even attend their home school.”
A state program called Every Child is slated to start active recruiting of families in the area soon, he said. And reimbursement rates for families is set to increase, as well.
Curry County is gaining momentum in some aspects of community health, the group concurred.
More caregivers, particularly those who help people stay in their own homes as long as possible, have been hired recently, easing that need in the community.
Curry Community Health has added more therapists, and the Veterans Administration clinic on Railroad Street is getting overall positive reviews of its services, which also remove the onus of long-distance travel to Roseburg for medical help.
A mobile-response crisis unit has made a “phenomenal change” in the outcome to mental health among the homeless, too, a woman said. The unit responds alongside law enforcement to help people in crisis who might then be committing a crime.
Coastline Neighbors is expanding to Gold Beach, new state funds will soon be available to expand transportation options for seniors. Wally’s House has set a goal to become a one-stop shop for at-risk children and their families, the watershed council is working with youth to get them involved in the outdoors and a hoped-for aquatic center in Brookings is still on the front burner.
Jackie Atunes of Wally’s House said she is working with local law enforcement to educate them about Carly’s Law, which requires documentation, examination and photographs of abused children. She admitted, however, there is a “big, huge gap” in getting the families involved in the counseling and assistance they might need.
“Right now, mental health is bogged down,” said Mona Chandler of CASA, a court-appointed child advocate group. “Consistency? It’s just not there. I’ve seen it grow, but consistency is a concern. Our kids are not being served on a continued basis.”
Children who should be seen by a counselor or mental health practitioner are being seen once or twice a month, she said, when many should be seen twice a week.
AllCare will now compile the information it has gathered and draft a list of goals to develop plans to address some of the issues.