PORTLAND, Ore. — On Wednesday morning volunteers and outreach workers began the Portland metro area "Point in Time" count of the homeless population. So far 50 surveys have been submitted from Multnomah County, 37 from Clackamas County and 50 from Washington County.
The count will continue until Jan. 31. There are more than 200 volunteers surveying people on the streets. One of the primary questions they're tasked with asking is, "Where did you sleep on the night of January 24th?"
“I’ve been out here three years,” said Kalena Baines who lives in a tent in Old Town.
Baines was one of the people surveyed for this year’s count.
“Challenging, very challenging and it’s hard to focus sometimes down here,” she said of her time on the streets.
This year's count came with a lot of changes — the largest being the integration of all three Oregon counties in the Portland metro: Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington County.
In Multnomah County, it's also the first time that surveyors are using an app to collect the data, which they’re hoping will present more reliable results as opposed to the pen and paper method previously used.
While there are always gaps in this data, these changes are supposed to get a more accurate snapshot of who is sleeping on the street, like Baines.
“This map — that is all of these surveys coming in in real time,” said Jacen Greene the assistant director of Portland State University’s Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative and one of the lead researchers in this year’s PIT.
The PIT is a federally required survey of how many homeless people are in the Portland metro area. That includes shelter and transitional housing census data from the night of Jan. 24.
“It’s pretty stressful. It’s a massive event that launches on one day. This year its launching across three counties at one time,” said Marisa Zapata, the director of PSU's Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative.
Zapata has been preparing for this count for nearly six months.
“It is the only time where we really try to go out and collectively count everyone who is out there,” she said. “We’re not going to get really great information about how people became homeless.”
Also not included in the survey: how many people move in and out of homelessness in a year, the community’s progress in getting people off the streets, and people who are paired up and living with friends, family or loved ones. Culturally-specific providers also argue people of color are underrepresented in the count as a result.
Zapata said the federal government is requiring the surveyors to ask additional questions about health issues, which she doesn’t agree with.
“There are several questions on the forms that I would prefer not to ask at all that HUD mandates, like HIV and AIDS status, because this is very rushed,” Zapata said. “This is not meant to be an intensive, extensive research project it is meant to be a census, a snapshot of exactly what is happening in communities in this period of time.”
The final data will be used to try and get more funding from both the state and federal governments.
Those behind the count are projecting to see an increase in the number of homeless people counted this year because of the changes they’ve made to how they are collecting this data.
Initial snapshot results from the combined data will be released in the spring. An in-depth 2023 PIT report will be released later in the year.
“It’s really important in terms of understanding national homelessness however it’s incomplete without other types of data,” said Greene.