The following piece was produced in December of 2005. Since then, Chelan and Douglas counties have continued the fight to reduce homelessness. Here is the updated status on their plan to end homelessness.
 When you think of homelessness ... you probably picture people living on the streets of a big city. In fact, homelessness is also an issue in RURAL places. But often it's not as visible. Correspondent Austin Jenkins recently traveled to Central Washington where Chelan and Douglas counties have teamed-up to reduce rural homelessness.
In its heyday, the Bruce Hotel was a posh oasis in the town of Wenatchee. By the early 1990s the three story brick building had become a flophouse. Today, the Bruce sits somewhere between posh and flop. Its thirty-eight rooms now shelter homeless men, women and children.
Child's voice: "Mommy, I want that."
Mother's voice: "This is dinner."
Chandal Contreras, her husband Jorge and their three young children all share a tiny room on the third floor.
Chandal: "It's cramped, it's hard, we all get on each others nerves."
Every nook and cranny is crammed with their clothes, toiletries and pots and pans. But they've strung Christmas lights to make it festive for the kids. The family ended up here after their rental house was foreclosed on. Then Jorge lost his construction job - seasonal work in this part of Washington. Chandal's wages as a waitress aren't enough to cover rent which they save would cost them at least six-hundred dollars a month. It's not the first time this has happened.
Chandal: "Used to live here before. Rent is too high out there. Can't afford rent even with two incomes. Rent is just extreme. So just ended up here again."
Currently, The Bruce is full with about eighty-five residents. And there's a waiting list. A survey last January counted 230 homeless people in three shelters serving Chelan and Douglas counties. But that's just the tip of the iceberg says local homeless advocate Phoebe Nelson.
Nelson: "Two hundred and thirty is a significant number of homeless people in a community this size, but we don't think that even comes close to representing the number of people that are without safe and decent housing in our communities."
Nelson says there are many more homeless people who live in abandoned buildings, sleep in cars and during the warmer months camp outdoors. National studies show there are other differences between urban and rural homelessness. For example the rural homeless are more likely to have a job, be married and - says Phoebe Nelson - have kids.
Nelson: "Rural homelessness tends to have more families that are homeless compared to single adults. But the other real difference is the distances you have between communities which means that people are having to travel more to get services."
That's why Chelan and Douglas counties recently joined forces to write a ten-year plan to reduce homelessness. This is something all 39 Washington counties are required to do by year's end. It's the first step in a legislative mandate to cut homelessness in half by 2015. The original goal was to eliminate homelessness altogether within ten year. Cities like Seattle and Portland have adopted that on their own. But State Representative Timm Ormsby, a Spokane Democrat, who was prime sponsor of the bipartisan legislation, says in the end the 50-percent goal seemed more realistic.
Ormsby: "It's outcomes. How many fewer people are on the street. And that gives the taxpayers of the state confidence that their money is being used to deal with a problem and is not disappearing in a black hole somewhere."
Ormsby adds that lawmakers are very serious about achieving the 50-percent reduction - even in rural Washington.
Ormsby: "To those areas that may be in denial that they have an issue, they're going to be put in a position to go and find out what the facts are and in engaging in that exercise they will become very aware and have a much better idea of the make-up of their community and be empowered to something about it.
Reporter: "And mandated to do something about it."
Ormsby: "And mandated to do something about it."
In Chelan and Douglas counties the ten-year plan to reduce homelessness will cost an estimated 15-million dollars. Funding will come - in part - from a surcharge on document filings at the county auditors' office. The key recommendations include: create a homeless outreach team, increase the number of rental assistance vouchers and build more affordable housing units. But there's also an emphasis on providing related social services such as drug and alcohol treatment and domestic violence counseling. Roxi Nanto is a consultant who was hired to write the Chelan-Douglas plan.
Nanto: "I think if you built a large apartment complex and said okay anyone's who's homeless go ahead and move in and have at it I think that many of them would be back out on the street within a few months because often homelessness is the result of something else."
But in this rural and more politically conservative setting, help for the homeless may also come with heavy emphasis on self-reliance. Again Roxi Nanto.
Nanto: "People are willing to give a hand up, but not necessarily a hand out. Philosophically that's just not been a rural way of life. It's like we're going to help you out, but get back on your feet and move and on and help someone behind you when they need it."
That's fine with the Contreras family. Both Jorge and Chandal admit they've made some mistakes.
Jorge: "It's both our faults because we both put ourselves here. Nobody else did it. We did. It's just hard. You just got to grit your teeth and keep going."
Now they're focused on getting back on their feet. They hope to move into transitional housing after the first of the year. They dream of buying a home in the next few years. I'm Austin Jenkins reporting.
Copyright 2005 KPLU