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Housing is top concern for low-income Jackson County residents

A report on low-income Jackson County residents found the lack of affordable housing in the Rogue Valley was their top concern. [File photo]

The social services agency ACCESS released a community needs assessment this week that shows the high cost of housing is the top concern for low-income Jackson County residents.

Residents are struggling not only to make rent or mortgage payments, they’re burdened by utility costs. Those who can’t find affordable housing are living in cars, urban campgrounds, shelters, hotels and transitional living facilities, according to the 145-page report, which included input from hundreds of low-income people plus organizations that help them.

“It’s such a tough, tough problem. It’s so huge. When we saw those results, there was absolutely no surprise. We know that is a driving factor here,” said Dr. Christine Gleason, operations manager for the agency that helps people in need in Jackson County.

Gleason said the Rogue Valley needs to boost the diversity of its housing stock and people need a variety of help — from housing with support services to rent assistance to lower-cost options for first-time homebuyers.

Other recent reports show concern about accessible, affordable housing is widespread.

A December survey by The Chamber of Medford & Jackson County found businesses cited the lack of affordable workforce housing as one of their top concerns.

ACCESS contracted with Southern Oregon Research Center to prepare the community needs assessment. The report included input from 629 people who answered a community survey, plus leaders of Jackson County nonprofit and government organizations who answered a separate survey. Researchers conducted in-person focus-group interviews in a variety of local communities in English and Spanish.

In the rural communities of Shady Cove, Eagle Point and Rogue River, research participants said high gas prices added to their costs to attend health care appointments in Medford or Grants Pass. They said they had to choose between buying more expensive groceries in their small communities, or pay for gas to drive to larger cities. Public transportation is limited in rural areas.

Many people living in rural areas lack internet access and cellphone connectivity because services don’t stretch to where they live, the report found.

Some senior citizens said they don’t have cellphones or computers, or if they do, they need training on how to use those devices.

Families are struggling to find child care, and what they do find is expensive, the report said.

While food from food pantries and public assistance like Oregon Trail Card benefits help people get food, residents without kitchens or places to store food said they struggled to make and eat nutritious meals. Latino residents said pantries often offer unhealthy food that’s not culturally appropriate.

Many Latino residents also said they have many members of their family working, and they try to be self-sufficient. They make too much money to qualify for aid, but not enough to make ends meet.

Gleason said that’s true for many people in the Latino community, and it’s also a problem that affects other demographic groups, as well.

“We see it across the valley with all communities. I would say it ties back to the cost of housing in this valley primarily. And then you add on the inflation that we’ve seen and things like fuel costs, and things get really tight quickly,” she said.

In the survey of residents, 37% said mental health issues impacted their households while 10% said their households were affected by substance use disorder.

Community members said youth need more access to substance use disorder treatment, and the towns of Medford and Ashland need more detoxification clinics.

Detox clinics provide medical care to reduce symptoms and improve safety while people withdraw from drugs or alcohol. Once they’re through that process, they’re better able to participate successfully in substance use disorder treatment, according to medical experts.

Residents said they would like more intensive, in-person help from a single agency worker or advocate who could help them navigate through different bureaucratic processes, like applying for jobs, health insurance and student financial aid for college.

Gleason said the ACCESS community needs assessment is meant to be used by anyone to improve services for struggling residents.

“It’s intended to be used by anybody and everybody — all agencies and groups that are looking for a snapshot and trying to understand some of the challenges. This is a public thing for all folks that would benefit from it,” she said.

To access the full report, see accesshelps.org/access-completes-jackson-county-community-needs-assessment.

ACCESS provides help with food, utilities, shelter and other essential services for Jackson County’s low-income children, families, seniors, veterans and people with disabilities. Last year, more than 76,000 people received assistance from ACCESS.

To request help or see what aid is available, call 541-779-6691 or see accesshelps.org.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.