SALEM, Ore. -- Advocates in Salem say Portland’s homeless crisis is on the move, and that leaves them afraid for what’s to come.
Proportionally, Salem’s homeless population is on par with that of the Rose City.
According to the 2013 census, Multnomah County’s overall population is 766,135.
According to the county’s 2015 Point in Time report, which tallies up the homeless population every two years, 3,800 sleep on the streets or in shelters.
In Marion County, the total population is 323,614, while the homeless population is estimated at 1,660.
Each one works out to roughly 0.5 percent.
Many of Marion County’s homeless, like those in Portland, blame a combination of factors, including addiction, mental illness and a lack of affordable housing.
Steve Sullivan, who’s lived on the streets for more than 10 years, said he considers himself lucky to be in one of Salem’s shelters.
“Being a single, adult male, there's not too much out there as far as housing,” he said.
TJ Putman, of the Salem Interfaith Hospitality Network, estimates the cost of rent in Salem has gone up 20 percent in two years.
He said too many people are mistakenly classifying homelessness as a “Portland problem”.
“They absolutely forget that it happens in Salem. Homelessness isn't something that's isolated to big cities. It happens everywhere,” he said. “It’s everywhere, and it breaks my heart.”
What’s more, say Putman and other advocates, is that a small portion of Salem’s homeless moved there from Portland, hoping to find less competition for resources.
He said, to a degree, that’s true.
“You're not fighting with 2 million people that live in the Portland area,” said Putman. “There's the potential that you're working with a smaller shelter that may be able to get you in and a smaller community that may be able to get you a job.”
But Putman says, after watching how Portland handles the crisis, advocates and government officials in Salem are aware their smaller pool of resources could become overwhelmed.
Several leaders in the field met in the Marion County building Monday to talk about ways to attract more affordable housing to Salem.
Putman says it’s one of several meetings being held by the newly formed Mid-Valley Homeless Initiative Taskforce.
They’re holding meetings every few weeks to talk about similar issues, including homelessness among veterans and emergency housing.
He said, he believes Salem as a community is better equipped than many larger cities to address the homelessness issue, but he said even with that collaboration, there isn’t enough help to go around, yet.
“If there was enough, I wouldn’t have a job,” he said.