Oregonian – November 23, 1989
The growth in Portland’s homeless population has outraced even the most liberal estimates and demands massive new programs if lasting solutions are to be found, according to a nine-month study released Wednesday by the Housing Authority of Portland.
The study found that 16,669 persons were housed in shelters in the fiscal year ending June 30, a 36 percent increase from the last homeless census in Portland three years ago.
“For one person to be homeless is a tragedy, for thousands . . . it is a calamity,” said Don Clark, executive director of the authority. He spoke at a news conference at a new group home for homeless people on East Burnside.
Clark and Marjorie Ille, the planner who led the study, both said the rapid increase in the number of homeless emphasized the need for new programs that attack the problems that cast people into the street.
“A lot of our resources have gone toward the emergency end,” said Clark. “We need to do a lot more because the emergency shelters are kind of a revolving door.”
Ille said, “Our system is so overloaded, it’s just not working.”
The report said that 1,085 new beds were needed to handle the glut of homeless people in Portland. The study also called for programs to address five factors that exacerbate the problem: substance abuse, lack of affordable housing, mental illness, disintegrating families and substandard wages.
The survey provided a profile of Portland’s homeless population, though it counted only people who stayed in shelters. It did not include people who were living with friends or sleeping in parked cars, under bridges and elsewhere on the street.
Among the report’s findings:
*About 1,200 people seek shelter from the streets on any given night. About 950 emergency beds are in the area.
*Forty-four percent of the homeless are families, including more than 4,000 children, most of whom end up in motels.
*There are 634 children living alone on the streets of Portland. While they represent only 4 percent of the homeless population, their number has increased more than 100 percent from previous estimates.
*Single adults make up the largest and fastest-growing segment of the homeless population: 52 percent are single adults, an increase of 153 percent.
*Nearly all of the street youths and about six in 10 of homeless adults have substance-abuse problems.
The report did not affix a price tag to the Housing Authority’s daunting goal to end homelessness in Portland by the end of 1991. Between now and the end of January, Clark said, the authority will estimate the cost of programs and identify sources of funding.
Clark called the landmark report a “call to action.” He emphasized a solution would require the commitment of the more than 50 public and private entities that signed the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s Master Agreement to End Homelessness.
*Ille pointed out the long-term danger of not defeating homelessness.
“The community has to be aware that there is a compassionate side to this problem,” she said, “but there is an economic side, too.”
Clark said: “Those kids on the street are a time bomb. We’re going to be paying for them forever.”
Clark cited broad community support for ending homelessness.
“I’m reasonably optimistic that if it can be done, it can be done in Portland, Oregon.”
The report stressed that a lack of affordable housing was a leading cause of homelessness. It cited the disappearance of inexpensive single-room units in downtown Portland and estimated that 4,646 of the poorest households in Multnomah County were paying more than 70 percent of their income for rent.
Ille said more affordable housing must be built in order to prevent many of the region’s poorest families from landing in the street.
Don McClave, president and chief executive officer of the chamber, was buoyed to hear of the authority’s report. The chamber has been advocating a comprehensive approach to combating homelessness, a program that attacks the root causes as well as the symptoms of homelessness.
“I’m glad the report’s out because it reinforces the point we’ve been trying to make for two years now,” he said.
“It is an inadequate response to operate only on a crisis basis and deal with symptoms as they develop,” he said. “What we have encouraged is development of case management approach where an effort is made to get people off the street and treat the problems that have made them homeless . . . and then return them to society.”