PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Multnomah County recently released its full Point in Time Count for 2022. For the first time since the pandemic started in 2020, the count also reports COVID-19’s impact on homelessness.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires an annual PIT Count of people facing homelessness who live in shelters or transitional housing, as well as a count of those living unsheltered in public places.
As part of this year’s report, more than 2,000 people facing homelessness were asked if they would attribute COVID-19 as a reason for their homelessness. Twenty-four percent of them answered “yes.”
Those in the homeless community often have underlying health conditions and the inability to take certain safety measures, like avoiding public places and eating foods that boost the immune system. Because of this, there was already concern about whether the affected group would die from COVID-19 complications at disproportionate rates.
According to the report, however, officials were less sure about how the pandemic’s economic outcomes would lead more people to homelessness and therefore impact the services for the pre-existing homeless population.
The count, conducted on Jan. 26, reported that 5,228 people across Portland and Multnomah County were experiencing homelessness. Of the total number, 58.5% of people were unsheltered, 28.4% were placed in emergency shelters and 13.1% were living in transitional housing.
Compared to 2019’s pre-pandemic numbers, there was a 30.2% increase in the homeless population this year. The PIT Count states that “those who reported being unsheltered, in tents, vehicles, or other places not meant for human habitation” account for most of the increase.
The count also considers race and ethnicity, and how those identities may impact homelessness. Although Black, Indigenous and other people of color are only 34.3% of the Multnomah County population, 38.9% of the homeless people surveyed identified as BIPOC.
Officials have reported that “people identifying as American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and Black or African American, in particular, are significantly overrepresented in the HUD homeless population.”
Officials also say that the racial disparities could be even greater if the HUD’s definition of homelessness included the “involuntarily doubled-up” population — or people who share living spaces with others for economic reasons.
The full report can be found here, but the data more than likely undercounts the area’s unsheltered population.
“No matter how comprehensive the counting strategy is in the best of times, there are inherent difficulties in finding and surveying everyone who is living unsheltered in a week’s time,” the report says. “And among those who are located, they can be counted only if they agree to participate in the survey and provide enough information to ensure the same person is not counted multiple times.”