EUGENE, Ore. - An analysis of federal data found Eugene leads the nation in the number of people experiencing homelessness per capita, ahead of both Los Angeles (No. 2) and New York City (No. 3).
Oregon ranked No. 4 in the nation, bested only by Hawaii (No. 3), New York (No. 2) and Washington, D.C. (No. 1).
"I'm actually not surprised," said Sheryl Balthrop, executive director of the Eugene Mission. "Given what I see on the streets every day, I know that we have a significant problem."
For Eugene business owners like restaurant owner Tom Kamis, the numbers speak to the reality he sees outside his business.
"On a daily basis I have drug deals happening out in front of my restaurant," he said.
Local government officials are well aware of the challenge.
"We have some people on the streets who are trying to deal with their addiction or mental health issues so we need outreach teams who can reach them," said Karen Gaffney with Lane County Health & Human Services.
The analysis published by Security.org is based on U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2018 Point in Time homelessness count.
The 2019 Point in Time survey for Lane County showed the number of people experiencing homelessness was up 32 percent.
"Eugene and Oregon were higher than what was happening in other parts of the country and it's an issue we need to address," Gaffney said.
Balthrop said Eugene and Lane County face a perfect storm of issues, which causes the issue of homelessness to grow.
Funding to combat the problem is hard to come by.
"We have a small tax base, and we have individuals with significant needs - individuals that need a comprehensive menu of programs," Balthrop said.
Kamis is concerned that the government response might actually be too little - and too late.
"I think they have a lot of good plans but nothing's really happening quick enough to stem the tide," he said. "There's a lack of will on the City Council to actually do something that will have immediate effect, whether that be uniforms on the street or mental health professionals down here to help these people."
"It's a snowball, and it's going to get bigger," Kamis said. "From this point forward, it's going to get bigger."