PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Creighton Martz and Caitlin Thomas are sophomores at Jesuit High School. They’ve watched the homeless population growing in the Portland metro area and were inspired to launch a student-led service project called Handle With Care PDX.
“We can see it outside everyday. There is just people out in the cold, obviously as the winter months are coming. It’s definitely a growing problem,” Thomas told KOIN 6 News.
“I looked up a lot of the stats for homelessness in Oregon and I saw how horrible it was — and I saw the need to make an impact in our community,” said Martz.
On a given night in 2019, there were about 15,876 people homeless in Oregon, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Statistically, there are 37.9 homeless for every 10,000 people in the general population.
The Alliance’s statistics show that between 2018-19, Oregon’s total homeless population shot up by 10%. Those staying in shelters went up by 3% — and those without shelter went up 14%.
The biggest increase — 20% — came from homeless youth.
“I noticed that the homeless student population was significantly greater,” Martz said, “and that, as a student, that hits me really hard.”
“It’s just really sad, seeing it outside and looking at the actual stats, there is just a really big need, obviously,” Thomas said.
Martz and Thomas noticed youth have been hit especially hard. So these teens spent nearly 100 hours making up care kits in coordination with Blanchet House to distribute to the growing population living on the streets.
“We have a guide to services here,” Thomas said. “A tarp, some water, some hygiene care products, some snacks and then these little cards some of the kids in the community made — just with encouraging words.”
They feel like they can be part of the solution and hope to grow the mission of Handle With Care PDX.
“In the future, we want to expand to other high schools,” he said.