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Study predicts national homelessness spike due to COVID-19. Here's what it means for Portland's housing crisis

The study predicted a 40-45% rise in homelessness. Service providers in Multnomah County say they haven’t seen the spike in need yet, but they believe it’s coming.

PORTLAND, Ore. — An economist with Columbia University is warning job losses and other financial hardships created by the COVID-19 pandemic could result in a 40-45% rise in homelessness nationwide by the end of the year.

Service providers in Multnomah County say they haven’t seen the spike in need yet, but they believe it’s coming.

“There's every reason to be worried,” said Marc Jolin, executive director of the Joint Office of Homeless Services. “So far, we've had the benefits of the eviction moratorium and some of the protections that have been put in place for households … but the real worry for all of us is when those protections go away and people have accumulated rent arrears.”

According to the 2019 Point In Time Count, a federally mandated count of each community’s homeless population, an estimated 4,015 people are currently experiencing homelessness in Multnomah County. Close to half, officials believe, are living in shelters, transitional housing or crashing with family or friends. The rest, an estimated 2,037 people, are classified as “unsheltered." That means they sleep outside, in tents or cars.

Jolin said no projections of a rise in need, specific to Multnomah County, have been released.

Looking at the Columbia projection, a 45% spike would make for a total 5,821 people homeless with 2,953 of them sleeping outside in Multnomah County.

Jolin said officials and service providers are doing everything they can to prepare for the tidal wave before it hits.

“We're trying here locally with some of the federal dollars that have come in and some of the state dollars that have come in,” he said. “And that really is about making significant rent assistance investments [for] people who, if we can't assist them financially, may find themselves experiencing homelessness.”

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