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As stats show homeless problem in Oregon growing, one formerly homeless man is thankful

Volunteer remembers being on the other side of things, “I was right out there on the sidewalks, dirty, broken, hungry and tired and had nowhere to go,” said McKenize.
Credit: KGW

PORTLAND, Ore. — A new report shows how states across the country rank when it comes to the homeless crisis and the news is not good for Oregon, which ranks among the top in several categories.

The report, compiled by Housing and Urban Development (HUD), shows Oregon ranks second-highest in the nation for homelessness. California is first.

In downtown Portland, volunteers at the Union Gospel Mission know they can't solve the whole problem, but they’re doing what it can to help those around them, including 40-year-old Brian McKenzie.

On Wednesday, McKenzie was in the kitchen helping prepare a meal of stuffed peppers for dozens of guests coming in from off the streets. As he pulled a tray out of the oven, he remembered being in their shoes.

“I was right out there on the sidewalks, dirty, broken, hungry and tired and had nowhere to go,” said McKenize.

A year and a half ago, McKenzie walked into the Union Gospel Mission and became a resident in recovery. He said he was finally ready to give up a 27-year-long addiction to meth and 8 years living on the street.

“It's amazing, my life has done a complete turnaround, I don't even feel like the same man I used to be,” said McKenzie. “I had no hope, now I have hope. I didn't know what to do or where to go, now I have purpose.”

RELATED | The homelessness problem in Oregon is growing

Not everyone on the street shares McKenzie’s story but the number of homeless people in Oregon is growing. According to the HUD report, Oregon has the highest growth rate for homelessness with a 6.8 percent increase over last year. Oregon has the highest rate of homeless families with children, and it faces a huge challenge caring for homeless veterans. The national average shows 18 out of 10,000 vets are homeless. In Oregon, it's 43 out of every 10,000.

“[Those statistics] definitely feel accurate,” said Courtney Dodds, communications manager with Union Gospel Mission. Dodds said the reasons people end up on the street vary greatly, from struggles with mental health and addiction, to being priced out of their homes. Because of that, she doesn't think there's a one-size-fits-all solution.

“Not one organization or one person is going to solve this issue,” said Dodds. “I do think it'll take coordination between nonprofits, the city, whoever it is—everybody has a part to play.”

Back in the kitchen, McKenzie is grateful for a safe place to get his life back on track and focus on his goals: having a family and becoming a contributing member of society.

“At the end of the day, I want to be like yeah, I gave something back today,” said McKenzie.