State sees significant rise in homeless people

From the Portland Tribune, May 29 2009

One-night count could be skewed by weather and agency improvements

Oregon’s sagging economy could be behind a large increase in the number of homeless people across the state.

Information released Friday by the Oregon Housing and Community Services found a 37 percent jump from a year ago in the number of homeless people counted during a January one-night statewide census.

The count found 17,122 people who were homeless, up from 12,529 people in January 2008.

Skyrocketing unemployment numbers and some wage reductions during the recession could have contributed to the number of people who live on the streets.

“The numbers confirm what we already knew, families and individuals can’t afford to pay for one of their most basic needs – a place to live,” said Rick Crager, Oregon Housing and Community Services deputy director.

“It’s a new face of homelessness that we’ve not seen before,” said Corky Senecal, director of Housing and Emergency Services at Neighbor Impact in Central Oregon, an area hard hit by unemployment and resulting homelessness. “Last year these people would have read the stories in the paper, watched them on the evening news – and very possibly would have written a check to an organization that helps the homeless. Today, they are homeless.”

Among the state’s most dramatic differences discovered from last year:

    • A doubling in the number of homeless veterans.
    • A 100 percent increase in the number of childless couples who are homeless.
    • A 150 percent increase in the number of people tallied in the street count.
    • More than four times the number of households living in doubled-up situations with friends or family.
    • An additional 1,150 people who said they were camping.
    • A 32 percent increase in the number of unaccompanied youth who were living on the streets.

In the most recent count, 9,890 individuals – nearly 60 percent of the people identified as homeless – did not receive services or shelter, according to the state information. People in more than 2,000 households are on the streets or living with friends or family. And close to half of households counted had a member with an emotional, mental or substance abuse issue.

Crager said the one-night census numbers, while dramatic, could have seen big increases because local agencies have improved the way they find and track homeless folks. “There are more homeless on the streets, and we’re better at finding them,” he said, citing homeless numbers rising from 3,294 on the street in 2008 to 8,561 in 2009.

Weather can be another factor, Crager said. In snow in 2008 hindered efforts in some rural Oregon towns to count homeless people. “In urban areas, cold weather can attract people to warming centers and other services, making them easier to find,” he said.