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Oregon poll: Mental health, housing and addiction services would improve homeless crisis

Tent camps like this one at at Hawthorne Park in Medford have become commonplace. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]

Oregonians share broad agreement about what kinds of social services need expanding in the state, but questions remain about who should provide those services.

Around 1,900 state residents responded to a survey from the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, a nonprofit statewide polling organization. The survey, given between Oct. 6-14, asked about social services needed across the state, with a particular focus on services related to homelessness. The survey’s margin of error was 2.23%.

“Oregon is behind and needs to do much more in mental health, substance abuse and child care services,” Clackamas County Democrat Sharon Anne Johnson wrote in her survey response. “It needs to provide infrastructure support as a given in human services, as identified above.”

Johnson is right about Oregon being behind. The state ranked second-to-last in a nationwide study of mental illness prevalence and access to mental health services and 50th in the number of those needing but not receiving treatment for substance use disorder. Every county in the state was considered a child care desert in the most recent survey.

Most survey respondents agreed on the kinds of services that would make an impact on tackling the state’s homelessness crisis: mental health treatment (79%), long-term or permanent housing (75%) and drug treatment (74%).

“Without mental health and addiction services nothing will work,” wrote Pamela Mitchell, an independent voter in Linn County, in response to the survey.

Smaller majorities of survey takers also said other services would make a dent in homelessness in the state, like workforce training (70%), self-sufficiency skills (66%), temporary shelters (63%) and no-barrier shelters (61%).

“Each person needs care. I have a support system I can lean on, others do not,” wrote Barbara Weiser, a Clackamas County Republican, in response to the survey. “None should end up on the street for reasons that are not their fault. It is always a combination of issues.”

Asked how those kinds of services should be provided in the state, Oregonians showed less agreement.

More people said they’d prefer the government provide incentives for the private sector to address the state’s housing shortage than for the state to address it directly. Renters surveyed were more likely than homeowners to say they’d prefer direct government intervention.

“People need to be empowered to work together to change their lives, not just be the helpless recipients of top-down charity,” wrote Washington County nonaffiliated voter Gayle Highpine in the survey. “That is why I believe that homeless people (especially families) should be encouraged to come together and create housing cooperatives that they govern together, and the government should offer low-interest or no-interest loans to construct the physical housing.”

Government intervention is the preferred approach over market-based incentives for providing mental health services and improving the cost of living in the state. Survey takers were split between the approaches for drug addiction services.

This story was published by Oregon Capital Insider, a joint journalistic effort by Pamplin Media Group and EO Media Group. Reach reporter Zach Demars at zdemars@bendbulletin.com.