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Portland’s homeless population continued to grow in 2014

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

 

Portland’s unsheltered homeless population grew by 10 percent between 2011 and 2013, and experts say it continued to grow in 2014. 

Of that growing population, 28 percent reported living in Multnomah County for less than a year, according to data in a report released Jan. 6 by the City Club of Portland. 

According to the latest numbers from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD)4,441 people in Multnomah County were sleeping outside, in a vehicle or abandoned building, or in transitional housing. 

Multnomah County Human Services spokeswoman Mary Li said some indices, including warming centers and severe weather shelters show the homeless population continued to grow in 2014.

“It's growing," she said. "People, especially youth, are staying homeless for longer, and are showing up with more challenges, a higher level of need than we’ve seen in years past,” she said. More families than were counted in the HUD homeless count are homeless. However, they may not be visibly homeless, for fear of having their children taken away. 

Warming centers and severe weather shelters -- because of Multnomah County's mandate not to turn anyone away -- provide an insight into the increased demand for services. 

“When shelters first opened, 70 people was a full shelter,” said Li. During the latest cold snaps, shelters served closer to 100 people.  A look at calls to the service 211 info, which connects people to various social services, also shows need grew in 2014. 

The National Alliance to End Homelessness president and CEO Nan Roman said cities like Portland draw migration because of growth and potential job opportunities – but sometimes jobs don’t work out, which can lead to homelessness.  

Israel Bayer, the director of Street Roots, a publication that addresses homelessness and poverty, said “There’s nobody clamoring to live without a home in the rainy Pacific Northwest."

Bayer said instead, Portland is not doing enough to create the affordable housing needed to maintain the growth level the city is experiencing.

“People are moving from timber towns and rural counties, but people have been moving to urban centers since the dawn of civilization,” he said.

Furthermore, the demands for street-level services are getting higher, Li said. 

Li said the county is in discussion with Health Share of Oregon for some housing to qualify as an expense covered by Medicaid. 

The City Club report determined there was a lack of data about the capacity of health care providers to care for new Medicaid patients, but that more homeless people in Oregon than ever before were eligible. The report’s primary recommendation was to advocate homelessness as a public health issue.

“Homelessness is a public health issue,” said. “The right dose of services at the right time to the right person.”

 

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