PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Citing the chronic housing crisis throughout the nation, Catholic Charities USA has launched what they call an ambitious plan to cut chronic homelessness by 20%.

Portland is one of five cities selected by the national social service agency to be the initial participants in the Healthy Housing Initiative. The goal is to reduce chronic homelessness by bringing together “the resources of the local Catholic organizations.”

A homeless camp at 97th and East Burnside in Portland, September 17, 2018 (KOIN)

The other cities involved are Detroit, Las Vegas, St. Louis and Spokane.

At last count, there are 4,177 homeless citizens, including men, women and children, sleeping in tents, cars or sidewalks in Multnomah County. That number increased by 10% from the previous count. A third of them are chronically homeless, which means they’ve been living on the street for more than a year. Those who are chronically homeless require “significant assistance accessing support services, health care and drug and alcohol addiction programs in order to succeed in permanent housing.”

The work in Portland will be a collaboration between Catholic Charities, Providence Health & Services and the Archdiocese of Portland. 

According to Deacon Richard Birkel, Catholic Charities of Oregon executive director, the initiative will create “permanent supportive housing for up to 300 people in the county.”

“Our first step is to meet with parishes to learn of their interest and support for potential projects that could be built on their property or repurpose existing buildings that are not in use,” he said. “We are working with the Archdiocese of Portland to create an inventory of properties in the area that can help with our goal of serving those who are chronically homeless.”

According to Catholic Charities, the projects will include small buildings with as few as five or as many as 50 units.

In addition to providing housing stability, the initiative also aims to help the homeless become self-sufficient through access to different services, including employment assistance and mental health services.

Old Grant High School lockers were placed at the Kenton Women's Village in Portland, September 14, 2017 (KOIN)
Old Grant High School lockers were placed at the Kenton Women’s Village in Portland, September 14, 2017 (KOIN)

Catholic Charities said the project is expected to decrease hospital readmission rates for the newly-housed individuals by at least 50% and connect 100% of them with primary health care and behavioral health services within 5 years.

“We believe health is a human right, and partnering with Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese is an innovative and meaningful way to make a difference,” Lisa Vance, chief executive of Providence Health, said. “So many people who experience chronic homelessness are also dealing with serious mental illness, disabilities, substance abuse disorders and chronic health conditions.”

This isn’t the agency’s first project helping homeless in Portland. The organization said its housing transitions program already serves more than 1,000 women annually — including Kenton Women’s Village in North Portland.