Counting the homeless ‘is challenging work’

Count is necessary to be eligible for federal money

A homeless couple lives in this van in Southeast Portland, February 23, 2017 (KOIN)
A homeless couple lives in this van in Southeast Portland, February 23, 2017 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — City and county officials are in the process of counting the homeless in Multnomah County which, until now, was done once every 2 years.

This year’s count was scheduled for late January but icy weather postponed. Officials with the Joint Office of Homeless Services said that postponement will likely provide more accurate numbers. This count is schedule to last through February 28. The previous count in 2015 showed 3800 homeless people, with about half of those living on the streets.

The Joint Office of Homeless Services, a partnership between the City of Portland and Multnomah County, said the now-yearly count is necessary to be eligible for federal money — about $22 million a year. Overall, their budget is about $43 million.

More importantly, the agency wants to know how many people are outside and inside shelters and who they are — critical demographics to provide the right programs for the homeless.

“(Counting the homeless) is challenging work,” said Marc Jolin with the Joint Office of Homeless Services. “No count is going to be perfect but we have a good deal of confidence in the methodology we have that we’re doing everything we can to get an accurate number recognizing that it’s not going to be perfect. It will give us the ball park of what the level of need is in our community.”

A homeless couple lives in this van in Southeast Portland with their dogs, February 23, 2017 (KOIN)
A homeless couple lives in this van in Southeast Portland with their dogs, February 23, 2017 (KOIN)

A homeless couple — a man named Paul and a woman who declined to provide her name to KOIN 6 News — were warm and safe inside their van next to a handful of tents tucked under an overpass. They said many of their neighbors, by nature, don’t want to be found.

“You don’t even come out for the counts because once you make it known that you’re part of that homelessness, you lose a lot of your rights, your anonymity,” she said.

Jolin told KOIN 6 News months of planning go into this count. They gather information from first responders, police, fire and sheriff’s deputies, in order to know where to deploy the counters.

“We have more than 200 sites that we have volunteers out at collecting information, trying to visit all of the places that we know and that the community has helped us identify people that are living outside,” Jolin said.

But Paul told KOIN 6 News there’s a better method.

“Have the homeless do it (the count),” he said. “Yep. We know where everybody’s at or where they would hide.”

A homeless couple lives in this van in Southeast Portland with their dogs, February 23, 2017 (KOIN)
A homeless couple lives in this van in Southeast Portland with their dogs, February 23, 2017 (KOIN)