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Face of High Desert Homeless Changing


The Bethlehem Inn announced Wednesday it was able to raise more than $80,000 last week during its annual “Spotlight on Homelessness” event. That doubled what the emergency shelter raised at last year’s event.

Organizers say homelessness seems to be a never ending issue in Central Oregon. Though the situation is the same, the faces of those in need of help are changing.

Officials at Bethlehem Inn say you may be surprised at the recent demographics of the homeless in Central Oregon.

The shelter says just five years ago, the average person coming through their doors was in his 30s-40s, and either chose to be homeless or suffered from a form of addiction. That trend is changing.

People from opposite ends of the spectrum, young and old that are finding themselves homeless simply because of the economy.

“There are many people that desperately want to work,” said Chris Clouart managing Director of the Bethlehem Inn. “If they could find a way to do it sustainably.”

“We have younger people, we have older people. Both sides of that equation are experiencing a high level of unemployment,” said Clouart. “When the economy is bad, they are considered surplus.”

It’s the spring season, but officials at the Bethlehem Inn say weather is not always a big factor in homelessness. There are many misconceptions about the homeless, they say.

“A lot of the people we’re getting right now (into the shelter) are not campers,” said Clouart. “They are not people geared towards camping.”

“This is not a seasonal issue, this is an issue of poverty, of coming in and out of homelessness,” Clouart said. “We have to recognize that it’s changed from what it was just five years ago.”

Social services and affordable housing are limited, and the unemployment rate in Deschutes County is close to 11 percent and is higher than other parts of the state.

“People are grasping in straws right now,” said Clouart. “A lot of them are running out of unemployment.”

“A lot of people are running out of the last resources they have, their families, because their families can’t help any more because they themselves are struggling,” said Clouart. “So now people are casting a line for any solution at all.”

Bethlehem Inn officials say they aim to help those who want to help themselves.

There will be an open house next Tuesday, May 22nd at the Bethlehem Inn from 3:30-5:30 pm. Officials there invite the community to ask questions and learn about the organization.

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