SALEM - The number of Oregon families that received cash welfare or food stamps has substantially increased this year over last.
Cash welfare assistance was up 16.1 percent last month from October 2007, while the number of households receiving food stamps increased by about 13 percent.
The steep increases have welfare workers worrying about the winter, with unemployment growing and cold nights approaching.
Susan Stoltenberg, executive director of Portland Impact, said she started seeing middle-class families turning to her nonprofit anti-poverty agency in late August, just as foreclosures were rising.
"The first people we saw were folks who were losing their homes coming to us for help with the basic needs until they could find another place to rent," Stoltenberg said.
The demand has kept up, though, as people who were just trying to get back on their feet face layoffs and other barriers, she said.
Although the number of people asking for help is on the rise throughout Oregon, some of the hardest hit areas were previously some of the state's fastest-growing economies.
In Bend, the number of households receiving welfare cash rose 30 percent last month compared with October 2007. The story is the same in southern Oregon. In Josephine and Jackson counties, the number of households accepting food stamps was up more than 18 percent.
"I've been here 16 years, and this is more than I've ever seen," said Lisa Lewis, the state's self-sufficiency program manager for the Medford area.
Lewis said that many of the people looking for assistance have never done so before. She said they are dry-wallers, electricians, plumbers - "blue-collar professionals."
In the Portland-area suburbs, aid-seekers grew at a similar clip.
In Washington County, the number of households receiving cash help was up 24 percent over October of last year. The number of households receiving assistance in Oregon City and North Clackamas County was up 23 percent.
Stoltenberg, who has been doing this kind of work in Portland for more than 20 years, says she's never seen anything like this.
At the same time, she said, "We're also seeing more volunteers than we've ever seen."