Homeless ‘Census’ Tallies 1,000

Oregonian – March 3, 1989

For more than 1,000 men, women and children in Multnomah County, “home” was a public or church shelter Tuesday night.

Results from the Multnomah County portion of Oregon Shelter Network’s most recent count of homeless people in the state’s shelters, were released during a news conference Thursday.

Although the network counted the number of people in all of the state’s 106 shelters, the results will not be available for several weeks, said Jean DeMaster, director of Burnside Projects Inc., a member of the shelter network.

The network is a statewide coalition of community service organizations that provide shelter for the homeless. As part of the network’s project to determine how many homeless people there are in the state, members have counted people in shelters on Feb. 25, 1987; Feb. 25, 1988; Dec. 15, 1988; and Feb. 28, 1989.

Of the 1,036 people who bedded down in Multnomah County’s shelters Tuesday night, nearly one-fourth — 238 — were in family groups. Single men and women accounted for almost three-fourths — or 743 — of those counted; and 55 “street kids” under 21 years old and not in families, made up the rest.

The figures do not include people who stayed with friends or relatives or those who spent the night under bridges and highway overpasses.

Oregon’s shelters, which have a total capacity for 2,939 people, have held just under 2,100 during the past three counts. Shelters in the Portland metropolitan area, including Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties and parts of Yamhill County, took in just over half of the homeless, the surveys showed.

But the solution to the homeless problem cannot be found in shelters, DeMaster said.

“We have to recognize that just coming inside a shelter is not enough,” DeMaster said. “In a shelter, it’s very hard to resolve the problems that make you homeless.”

The shelter network wants an increase in the federal funds available through the Stewart B. McKinney Act for the homeless. Since the fund was established two years ago, Portland has received $6 million for programs for the homeless.

Shelter Network members also will ask the Oregon Legislature to increase funding through the State Housing Assistance Fund. Begun in 1985, legislators appropriated $2 million to the fund in each of the past two bienniums.

Paul Benjamin, who said he arrived from Sacramento, Calif., two weeks ago after a dispute with his wife, said during the news conference that he had spent his time moving from shelter to shelter until he became eligible for welfare March 1. Benjamin said he was a bus driver for 11 years in California but has been unable to look for work because he could not find or afford permanent housing.