PORTLAND, Ore. – The number of homeless people in Multnomah County increased 10 percent between 2015 and 2017, according to the final 2017 point-in-time count report released Monday.
The report reveals additional details about the county’s homeless population, which has a disproportionate number of people of color and people with disabilities.
For the first time, the count also asked people who sleep outside whether they sleep in a tent.
The report comes on the heels of KGW’s Tent City, USA documentary project, which surveyed 100 homeless tent campers in Portland about who they are and why they live in tents.
Read more: Tent City, USA
Portland State University released the full report of the 2017 Point-in-Time Homeless Count that it conducted in February with Multnomah County, the cities of Gresham and Portland, and local nonprofits.
The count found 4,177 homeless people in Multnomah County, up about 10 percent from 2015. The good news is that about 12 percent fewer people are living outside; however, shelters have taken in about 30 percent more people since 2015.
The report cites some likely causes of increased homelessness, including rising housing costs, lack of access to mental health services, and the opioid epidemic.
This year, the homeless count also surveyed the 1,668 people who slept outside to find out where they sleep. About 15 percent said they slept in vehicles. Of the remaining 1,396 people, about one-third (458 people) said they slept in tents and one-third (469) said they did not. One-third (469) declined to answer or said they didn’t know.
The county notes the volume of unknowns makes the data difficult to analyze, but it’s a start in learning more about Portland’s unsheltered homeless.
“We don't believe the data is rigorous enough to draw meaningful conclusions about the entire unsheltered population,” said Denis Theriault, spokesman for the city and county’s Joint Office of Homeless Services.
KGW’s Tent City survey found that the majority of Portland’s tent campers have lived in Portland for more than five years, and one-third of the people KGW talked to have lived in Portland their entire lives.
The one-night homeless count also found that a majority of homeless people in Multnomah County are not newcomers. The report found that 67 percent of Multnomah County’s homeless population has lived here for more than two years. One-fifth said they are originally from Multnomah County.
Many homeless people in Portland have at least one disability, the report found. About 60 percent said they have a disability, and that number grows to 72 percent among the county’s unsheltered homeless population.
Other key findings from the 2017 count:
- 15% of homeless people are families with children
- Native Americans are 400% more likely than white people to be homeless in Multnomah County
- There is an over-representation of people of color (37%) among homeless, as about 29% of Multnomah County’s overall population are people of color
- 34% of homeless people have experienced domestic violence
- The count didn’t include people who are “doubled-up” in other homes, but local school district data indicates there are at least twice as many homes with kids attending public schools who are doubled up now compared to 2015
- Seattle, Los Angeles and Oakland also saw increases in their homeless populations. Those cities also saw a rise in the number of homeless people who sleep outside.