Report: Total number of homeless down, but more living without shelter

Multnomah County

Portland and Multnomah County releases the most recent homeless county, which shows both successes and failures

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — It’s not your imagination — the number of people living on the streets in Portland and Multnomah County has increased over the past two years.

The number of unsheltered homeless increased 22 percent from 2017, jumping from 1,668 to 2,037 people, according to the new semi-annual homeless count released Thursday, Aug. 1.

The 2019 survey found the total number of homeless people in the county actually fell over the past two years, however. Counting those in emergency shelters and transitional housing, the total decreased from 4,177 to 4,015 people, a 4 percent drop.

According to the survey, the increase in the unsheltered count was driven by a significant jump — 479 people, or 37 percent — in the number of people considered chronically homeless. That means they have at least one disabling condition and have been homeless for at least a year. The survey found that roughly two-thirds of those counted as being without shelter fit that description.

At the same time, the survey found that the overall decrease reflected reductions in groups Portland and Multnomah County have prioritized for services. Among women, the count fell by 10 percent. The number of people counted in families with children fell by more than half.

The county was conducted on the night of Jan. 23, 2019. The previous one was conducted around the same time in 2017.

City and county officials praised recent efforts to reduce homelessness for helping to reduce the total number of homeless people.

“We’ve proven that focused, aggressive investments in support services can generate positive outcomes for thousands of people in our community who would otherwise be homeless. That success is reflected in the strides we’ve made helping families and women,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said in a prepared statement.

“These numbers confirm what we’re seeing every day. Too many of our neighbors with disabilities are having to live on our streets. Disability checks and other fixed incomes just can’t cover rising rents, and this is exactly why we are prioritizing not just affordable housing, but the type of affordable housing that comes with a case-worker for people to stay housed. We know it works and we need to do a lot more of it,” Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, said in a prepared statement.

The survey — officially known as the Point in Time homeless count — is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for local social service agencies to qualify for federal funding. Although many jurisdictions conduct the survey every year, Multnomah County does it every two years. County officials said this year’s survey was the most extensive ever, which may have affected the results.

The survey was released at a Thursday morning press conference held by the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services. In a prepared statement, city and county official praised the reduction in total homeless figures, and blamed the increase in unsheltered homeless on the affordable housing crisis and lack of social services for those with mental health conditions, addiction disorders, chronic illnesses, physical disabilities.

You can read the survey here.

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN 6 News media partner

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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