Portland study: Homelessness, shelter use both up

Rent increases push people toward homelessness, make it harder to get housing

A homeless camp in Portland, file. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Homelessness in Multnomah County is up but more people are using shelters and have gotten off the streets, a new study shows.

Shelter use by the homeless resulted in an almost 12% dip in those living on the streets, according to the Point In Time count study released by the Joint Office of Homeless Services.

The study’s Point In Time was February 22 and compared numbers to 2015 and found the unsheltered count is the lowest it’s been since 2009. African-Americans, women, veterans and families with kids are among the groups finding increased places for shelter.

In fact, the study showed, there were about half as many unsheltered African-Americans than 2 years ago, though their rate of homelesses is disproportionately high.

Quick stats:
> Rent has gone up 20 times faster than median income
> Homelessness up nearly 10% since 2015
> People using shelters nearly doubled since 2015
> More people in shelters than on the streets

Since the last homeless count, the City of Portland and Multnomah County added more than 600 shelter beds.

Homeless numbers

More than 1600 people were counted sleeping outside during the Point In Time study. The homeless used tents and other visible structures in often highly visible areas. About 72% of the unsheltered have disabilities of some kind, and those who are chronically homeless has also increased.

But those people often have health and addiction issues, which brings more community attention when it plays out in public locations. And shelters are often closed in the daytime, when more people are apt to see these issues play out around the area.

Beds at the homeless shelter in the Shleifer Furniture Building, April 17 2017. (KOIN)

The study found 1752 people were counted in emergency shelters, about double from 2015. But the number of chronically homeless also doubled in that same time span, the study found.

But, the study said, “For the first time since 2005, when our community first counted people experiencing homelessness, more people were counted in emergency shelter than sleeping on the streets.” More shelters for families gets credit for that improvement.

The number of unsheltered people in families dropped 49% over 2 years.

“Too many people are sleeping on our streets. But by investing in housing and wraparound services, we are making a difference in the lives of thousands of people every year,” Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said in a statement.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, also in a statement, said there are serious and varied challenges around the homeless.

“Over the last two years, we created the Joint Office of Homeless Services and have made record investments in homeless services. This report provides reason for optimism that our strategy is working.”

Read: 2015 Point In Time Report

Rent increases noted

Rents in the Portland area have gone up 20 times faster than the median income since 2015, officials said. The high cost of housing not only contributes to homelessness, it also makes it harder for people to get housing once they’ve lost it.

The overall number of people who met the definition of homelessness — sleeping outside, in an emergency shelter or in transitional housing — is up nearly 10% since 2015. The current count of homeless people stands at 4177 in Portland.

People walk down a path in a homeless camp in Portland, February 23, 2017 (KOIN)
People walk down a path in a homeless camp in Portland, February 23, 2017 (KOIN)

A Home for Everyone

The program A Home for Everyone is credited with helping more than 25,600 people with some level of service, helping 4600 people get housing and 5200 with preventive services.

Why count the homeless?

Federal grant money to communities dealing with homeless issues requires a homeless count every 2 years. Beginning next year, Portland and Multnomah County will do an annual count.

This year the count was set for February 22 but took outreach workers about a week. They talked with homeless people, went to day centers, camps and agencies. Officials said despite their efforts, this is still likely an “undercount” of the homeless.

Portland State University is putting together a more detailed report on the findings and will have that ready this summer, officials said.