Poor farmers in the 'Dell?

Last week, Clark County commissioners received an annual update from Craig Lyons, executive director of the Council for the Homeless.

He told the commissioners that the number of homeless people in Clark County have, despite the economy, been decreasing. He attributed that to efforts to help keep people in their homes. Emergency shelters are crucial, he said, but they aren’t the answer to homelessness.

Commissioner Tom Mielke asked how many people are receiving rental assistance, and whether it would make more sense to reopen the poor farm.

In the early 20th century, the county sent poor residents to live and work at the Hazel Dell poor farm on Northeast 78th Street. In 1949, the poor farm became a Washington State University research station.

The county got the 79-acre site back in 2008 in exchange for agreeing to renovate the research station building.

Mielke asked whether instead of paying mortgages on houses it would be cheaper to put people up at a poor farm. Commissioner Steve Stuart told Mielke that most people who receive rental assistance are living in apartments, not houses, and that studies have shown it’s less expensive to help keep people in their homes rather than let them become homeless.

Lyons said rental assistance is temporary, and by helping people with their rent the money goes to local landlords instead of into a government-operated poor farm. He said a study last year showed that 75 percent of rental vouchers go to private landlords.

In 2010, 792 households received rental assistance, up from 453 households in 2008.

Lyons said each household receives approximately $5,500 to cover five to eight months of rent.

He said only about 15% of the people who receive this assistance come back for more help later.

That’s a very low number, Lyons said.

“We did a study on one particular rental assistance program that was funded through the stimulus that showed only 7 of the 128 households receiving rental assistance ended up needing shelter later,” he wrote in an email.

As for a poor farm, how much would that cost?

Well, he said he just booked a room at McMenamins Edgefield (the former Multnomah County Poor Farm) for $135 a night.

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