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Portland Housing Bureau

Solving the unmet housing needs of the people of Portland.

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2015 Homeless Count Shows Good News, Bad News

Photo of homeless person

Despite rising housing costs and one of the country’s lowest vacancy rates, overall homelessness in Multnomah County has not increased since 2013, according to a report released today by the City of Portland, Multnomah County, the City of Gresham, and Home Forward.

The report identified 1,887 people who are unsheltered (down from 1,895 in 2013), as well as 872 sleeping in an emergency shelter, and 1,042 in transitional housing. Of the unsheltered population, half reported that they had been homeless for a year or less, and most frequently cited unemployment and inability to afford rent as the causes.

The 2015 Point-in-Time Count Report of Homelessness in Portland/Gresham/Multnomah County shows reductions in chronic homelessness and among unsheltered veterans, but troubling increases among African Americans and families with children. The largest increase (48%) was among unsheltered African Americans (from 267 to 396 since 2013)

“This is a call to action,” said Portland Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman. “Our community does a tremendous amount of work to move 3,000 people out of homelessness each year, but this also shows us that we need to do more. Impacting these numbers calls for a new approach.” To that end, he says the Portland Housing Bureau is prepared to focus resources toward improving outcomes for African Americans in particular. 

The number of unsheltered families with children grew from 123 people in 2013 to 152 – a 24% increase. Seventy-two more unsheltered women were also counted this year (a 15% increase) – from 494 to 566. Twenty-nine percent of those were women with children.

“While the economy continues to make a comeback, not everyone is enjoying that recovery. There are still far too many veterans and families with children sleeping in unsafe and unstable conditions. This report validates the significant investment my budget makes to put more families and veterans back into housing,” said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury.

The findings also reaffirm the strategic plans of A Home for Everyone – a community-wide collaborative made up of leaders from the City of Portland, Multnomah County, and the City of Gresham, and Home Forward, as well as a diverse array of stakeholders. Earlier this year, A Home for Everyone put forth a set of action plans to prioritize key investments in vulnerable populations (including families with children, veterans, women, and unaccompanied youth) with a focus on increasing housing placements, improving housing retention, and creating new affordable housing units. 

The report provides A Home for Everyone with some actionable next steps. “With this data, the Executive Committee and Board of A Home for Everyone can determine where it is most urgent to make additional investments and to better collaborate with other systems, like health care and the schools,” said Marc Jolin, A Home for Everyone’s Director. “When we see growing levels of need, like we do for families with children and communities of color, we know where we need to focus our attention.”  

The point-in-time count of homelessness includes both a county-wide street count and shelter count. The street count, led by Portland Housing Bureau staff, captures information on people who are sleeping outside, in a vehicle, a tent, etc. The shelter count, led by Multnomah County staff, tallies people sleeping in emergency shelters and transitional housing specifically set aside for individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Shelter numbers are reported to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development annually, but the full count (including the street count) takes place every other year. The last report was in 2013.

“The cities and the county are stepping up, and that’s great, but this is an all-hands-on-deck issue,” said Portland Mayor Charlie Hales. “We need the faith community doing more, and for people to volunteer more. We need landlords taking Section 8 vouchers and veterans’ vouchers. If only the government responds, it won’t be enough. Each of us has to play a role in this.”

Click here to download the full 2015 report