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Portland Housing Bureau

Solving the unmet housing needs of the people of Portland.

Phone: 503-823-2375

fax: 503-823-2387

421 SW 6th Avenue, Suite 500, Portland, OR 97204

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Frequently Asked Questions

When is the bi-annual Homeless Street Count?

The most recent count took place on Wednesday January 30, 2013.

What is the purpose of the Homeless Street Count?

The Homeless Street Count is an effort to learn more about the individuals and families experiencing homelessness on a given night in Portland/ Multnomah County. It captures a snapshot of those who are "unsheltered"--sleeping outside, in a car or abandoned building--on a given night. In combination with the One Night Shelter Count (see below), which is conducted on the same night, it provides important information about the level of homelessness in our community and the need for services.

What is the One Night Shelter Count?

The One Night Shelter Count (ONSC), gathers information on people sleeping in (or turned away from) emergency shelters, motels, and transitional housing as well as those receiving rent assistance and permanent supportive housing. It will be conducted on the same night as the Street Count. 

Who coordinates the counts?

The 2013 Homeless Street Count is coordinated by consultant Kris Smock on behalf of 211info and the Portland Housing Bureau. The 2013 One Night Shelter Count is being coordinated by staff at Multnomah County. The results of both counts will be combined into a single "Point-in-Time Count" report.

Why does Portland/ Multnomah County conduct a Homeless Street Count?

Communities that receive federal funding for homeless services are required to conduct a comprehensive Homeless Street Count every two years in order to maintain funding eligibility. The data collected from the count also helps the City, County and their nonprofit partners plan for the funding and services needed to meet the needs of homeless persons in our community.

What geographic areas does the Homeless Street Count cover?

The count covers all of Multnomah County.

Why should community organizations participate in the Homeless Street Count?

The Homeless Street Count methodology relies on the participation of hundreds of organizations across Multnomah County who help to administer a short survey during the week of the count. If your agency comes into regular contact with people who are experiencing homeless and who are unsheltered, your participation is essential to making sure the count is as accurate and comprehensive as possible. Having an accurate count enables our community to be eligible for federal and state funding for homeless services. In addition, by enabling us to better understand the demographics and needs of those experiencing homelessness in our community, an accurate count helps to ensure a more equitable distribution of resources to meet the needs of the different populations.

Should my agency participate in the One Night Shelter Count or Street Count or both?

If your agency serves people who are in emergency shelter or transitional housing, or who are turned away after seeking these services, then you should participate in the One Night Shelter Count (ONSC). If you serve people who are unsheltered, then you should participate in the Street Count. If you serve both populations, then you should participate in both counts. However, only one form should be filled out for each individual. If an individual or household is in shelter or transitional housing or was turned away from these services, you should use the ONSC form. If an individual or household is sleeping outside and is not being turned away from shelter services, you should use the Street Count form.

What is the Homeless Street Count methodology?

The Homeless Street Count methodology aims to be as comprehensive as possible by incorporating the following elements:

  1. Outreach: Outreach workers from more than a dozen community organizations will coordinate efforts throughout the week of the count to visit camps and reach out to people sleeping outside. Outreach workers will complete surveys for anyone they encounter who slept outside on the night of Wednesday, January 30.
  2. Data from agencies and programs that serve people who are unsheltered: More than 150 sites that serve unsheltered people will provide data for the count by administering a short survey with anyone they encounter during the week of the count who slept outside on the night of January 30.
  3. Coordination with One-Night Shelter Count: The One Night Shelter Count collects data on those turned away from shelter, transitional housing, or short-term rent assistance on January 30 who plan to sleep outside. This information will be checked against the rest of the Street Count data to avoid duplication; any unduplicated data will be incorporated into the overall count. 
  4. Identification of camps: Key partners from agencies such as law enforcement, parks, and public utilities will provide information on the location of homeless camps throughout the county. Outreach workers will visit those camps during the week of the count as part of the coordinated outreach strategy.

What is the definition of homelessness used for the Homeless Street Count?

The Homeless Street Count focuses on people who are unsheltered and sleeping in a place that is not intended for human habitation. This includes streets, sidewalks, parks, alleys, transportation depots or other parts of transportation systems, all-night commercial establishments (e.g., movie theaters, laundromats, restaurants), abandoned buildings, farm outbuildings, caves, campgrounds, vehicles (e.g., cars, trucks, RVs, trailers), and other similar places. (Note: Per the federal government’s requirements, the Homeless Street Count only focuses on unsheltered homeless persons. It does not include people who are in shelter or transitional housing, or who are "couch surfing" or doubled up with family or friends.)

Why is the count held in late January?

Both the Homeless Street Count and the One Night Shelter Count occur at the end of January as mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD requires homeless counts to happen during the last ten days of January in order to capture data when shelter use peaks due to weather. It requires the counts to happen at the end of the month because that is when those who cycle on and off the streets are most likely to be homeless, having depleted their monthly income or benefits.

How does the count avoid duplication of data?

The Homeless Street Count survey form and the One Night Shelter Count turnaway form collect basic identifying information for each individual who is counted (first three letters of last name, first letter of first name, age and gender). This information is used to eliminate any duplication across the surveys. If identifying information is not available, or if outreach workers do not wish to disturb a campsite, an alternative form can be used to collect information on the location and approximate number of people sleeping at that location. Because this data cannot be unduplicated, it is included in an appendix to the Street Count report, but not in the official Street Count number.

What if someone refuses to participate in the Street Count?

Participation in the Street Count Survey is optional. If an individual who is clearly homeless and unsheltered on January 30 refuses to participate, that information will be noted on a tally form. The information from the tally forms will be summarized in the Street Count report appendix. However, as noted above, no data will be included in the official Street Count numbers unless it comes from the official Street Count form and includes basic identifying information that can be used to eliminate duplication.

What information does the Street Count collect?

The Street Count survey form gathers basic demographic information as well as information on household structure, where people slept on the night of the count, the length of their homelessness, how long they have been in Portland, and information related to disabling conditions, veteran status, etc.

What about people who are couch surfing or doubled up?

People who are doubled up or couch surfing represent a significant portion of the individuals and families experiencing housing instability in Multnomah County. However, the federal and state guidelines that determine the methodology for the Homeless Street Count and One Night Shelter Count do not include those populations. As in previous years, the final report for the counts will draw from data collected by partner organizations to provide estimates of the doubled up and couch surfing population in an effort to provide a more complete picture of homelessness and housing instability in our community.

How are the data used?

Data from the Homeless Street Count and One Night Shelter Count are used to inform policy, planning, resource allocation and evaluation of homeless services. For example:

  • Count data are required elements of federal competitive grants such as the Continuum of Care, as well as the Consolidated Plan for Gresham, Portland and Multnomah County.
  • Local governments and nonprofits use the data to help inform planning and coordination of homeless services. For example, data from the 2011 count helped to inform the recent work of the Reset Committee for the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness.
  • The federal government uses data from the Homeless Street Count to evaluate our community’s effectiveness in preventing and ending homelessness.
  • Knowing more about the specific needs of those experiencing homelessness allows local governments to direct resources to meet those needs. For example, data from the 2011 count that showed an increase in unsheltered families helped to inform the creation of two new housing placement specialist positions funded by Multnomah County to help families get off the streets and directly into housing.