May 12, 2023 - News

Portland-area homeless count jumped 20% in 2023

Data: Multnomah County; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Multnomah County; Chart: Axios Visuals

New numbers on Multnomah County homelessness came out this week, showing a 16% drop in chronic homelessness but a 20% rise in overall numbers.

Why it matters: This is the second year that the county has used a method that expands the traditional one-night street and shelter survey to include people who sought housing services over the past year and were likely unsheltered on the night of the count.

Context: One January night every year, local governments send researchers out onto the streets and review shelter rosters to get a rough figure on homelessness.

  • They send this data to the federal government to track national trends.

Yes but: There are always people experiencing homelessness who are not counted by this method, including those who have sought help from local governments.

What's happening: This year's one-night survey included unsheltered people who were on an "active housing search list" within the past year and didn't show up elsewhere in the count, Multnomah County spokesperson Denis Theriault told Axios.

  • No contact was made with these people during the survey, but they were considered "very likely unsheltered."
  • "Everyone always used to say the unsheltered number felt small," Theriault said. "This is another way to find people."

By the numbers: Overall, the street count of unsheltered people dropped only slightly in Multnomah County, from 1,641 in 2022 to 1,604 this year.

  • The expanded count of people presumed unsheltered found an additional 2,340.

The intrigue: Over a third of people approached in the street count declined to participate, lead researcher Marisa Zapata of Portland State University told Axios.

  • She says counting people on the housing search lists may pick up some of them.

Meanwhile, racial disparities persist. This year's count found that the rate of homelessness among people in the Portland area who are Black, Hispanic, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander grew more rapidly than among people who are white.

The bottom line: These numbers offer only a limited view into the scope of homelessness here.

  • Up to 8,000 people go through publicly funded shelters each year, according to Theriault.
  • No annual count tracks those staying with family or friends.

What's next: Zapata's research center will finish a much more detailed analysis in July.

  • One of the questions they'll try to answer is whether people became homeless while living in Portland or arrived here unhoused.

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