ASTORIA, Ore. — Plates filled with pizza, fruit and local greens made their rounds to homeless people gathered at Astoria’s Life Boat Services on Tuesday afternoon. For many of the people there, it’s the only meal that they can count on.
”It feels like filling empty bellies. We make people happy. It makes their day,” said Rob. Once homeless, he now works at Life Boat Services and hands out pizza every Tuesday.
Life Boat Services is one of the only groups in this corner of Clatsop County helping the homeless. The county as a whole was belatedly added to Governor Tina Kotek’s homelessness state of emergency after initially being left out. County commissioners spent weeks petitioning and applying to be included, pointing to rates of homelessness per capita that are near the highest in the state.
“It doesn’t make sense in my opinion why we weren’t included in the first place, but we definitely appreciate (being added),” said Osarch Orak, who runs Life Boat Services.
After a recent review, Oregon Housing and Community Services found that Clatsop County met the state of emergency criteria since they declared a local homelessness state of emergency last month. The rate of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Clatsop county in 2022 was 99%, which exceeds the state’s minimum threshold of 80% or more.
However, Clatsop County was not the only rural area left out that applied to be a part of the governor’s homelessness state of emergency. Wasco County also applied, but was denied because of a rate of unsheltered homelessness in 2022 that was 71%, which did not meet the minimum threshold of 80% or more. Yet they too struggle with a lack of homeless services.
“It’s been a little backwards,” said Orak.
Now, with the state’s help, the vacant 22-room Columbia Inn off Marine Drive will soon be converted into Astoria’s first overnight emergency shelter, something homeless people in the area say is necessary.
“We have to have it. It gets cold and windy — there has to be somewhere to go,” Rob said.
KGW reporter Blair Best asked Orak, who will be working on the new shelter project, if it will be enough to serve the number of homeless people in the area. As of 2022 data, there were at least 529 people experiencing homelessness in Clatsop County.
“There’s absolutely going to be people falling through the cracks no matter what we do, but if we don’t start somewhere nothing’s ever going to happen and the problem is only going to get worse,” Orak said.
The governor’s office will reach out to Clatsop County’s emergency management team soon to begin the emergency response. Governor Kotek's office wanted to remind counties not included in the state of emergency that it doesn’t mean they won’t receive money through her other proposed investment packages intended to help reduce homelessness statewide.