The number of individuals experiencing homelessness in Benton County has increased more than 95% since 2015. (Photo provided by Benton County)

Benton County enters into collaboration to develop a coordinated entry system that connects community members to housing and services, officials announced on Tuesday.

Benton County, the city of Corvallis, Community Services Consortium and key health and social service providers are partnering with the Community ROCKit (Resource Organizer for Communities Kit) program.

According to officials, the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in Benton County has increased more than 95% since 2015.

“Solutions to homelessness are a priority for our community and Benton County is committed to addressing affordability and homelessness by engaging the whole community in assuring safe, healthy and affordable housing for all community members,” Benton County Commissioner Nancy Wyse said in a press release. “Tackling this project is an important step toward developing local solutions. Working with ROCKit gives us an opportunity to leverage our community’s resources and attributes.”

Statistics show that Benton County has one of the highest rates of income inequality in Oregon. Forty percent of all renters pay more than half of their income on rent. For extremely low-income individuals, that number rises to 83%. For every 100 families in Benton County with extremely-low income, only 14 affordable rental units are available, county officials reported..

Benton County’s collaboration with ROCKit will build off the efforts of the Home, Opportunity, Planning and Equity (HOPE) Board, a joint effort to facilitate a comprehensive, coordinated response to homelessness. The HOPE Board included coordinated entry in its recommendations to the city and county for addressing homelessness. 

An effective coordinated entry process helps Benton County prioritize the most vulnerable people in the community ensuring that people who need assistance the most can receive it in a timely manner. Coordinated entry processes also provide information about service needs and gaps to help communities plan their assistance and identify needed resources.

“We don’t need data to see that homelessness is a problem in our community,” said Dina Eldridge, Housing Services manager of Community Services Consortium. “We need data to help us solve it. That’s where ROCKit comes in, to help identify how we can implement coordinated entry in order to prioritize better connecting the most vulnerable individuals to housing opportunities.”

With assistance from ROCKit, the agencies will participate in a 90-day process to develop a roadmap for community resource and capacity inventorying, commitment to actionable items, asset mapping, ongoing process measurement and hands-on help facilitating and implementing the process. 

“ROCKit is all about catalyzing the people, capacities and assets that communities already have and using them in new ways to address those local challenges,” said Christine Bechtel, Community ROCKit co-creator. “We’re honored to support Benton County in its goal to connect vulnerable individuals to housing opportunities by inspiring participation in an effective coordinated entry process.”  

The grant-funded Community ROCKit program has previously partnered with Umatilla, Tillamook, Morrow and Gilliam counties to help those communities identify solutions to local challenges such as childcare affordability, access to mental health services and emergency housing crisis.

Community ROCKit is available at no cost to selected communities.