Homelessness in Multnomah County jumped about 8 percent between 2009 and 2011, according to a new report that looked at how many people were living on the streets, at emergency shelters or in motels with vouchers earlier this year.
READ – ‘The Portland Housing Bureau, Multnomah County and their partners worked together to produce the “2011 Point-in-Time Count of Homelessness,” a comprehensive report examining a point-in-time snapshot of homelessness in our community.’
Precisely how much worse the picture has gotten amid the recession depends on how one defines homeless.
The report, compiled by the city of Portland and Multnomah County, studied four types of homelessness: people who sleep outside, in short-term shelters, transitional apartments or on the couches of friends and relatives. In those categories, homelessness increased between 7 and 9 percent between 2009 and 2011.
Generally speaking, the number of homeless Multnomah County residents grew from 2,542 to 2,727 in the two-year period. Using the broadest definition of the term, which includes all four categories, the increase went from an estimated 14,451 to 15,563.
“Even one person on the street is too many,” said Portland Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees the Portland Housing Bureau.
Other statistics from the survey, released Tuesday but conducted in January, reveal additional trends. For example, 12 percent of the homeless population identified themselves as military veterans this year, although only 9 percent of Multnomah County’s overall population falls into that category. In 2011, 35 percent of homeless women said they had experienced domestic violence.
African-Americans comprised 18 percent of the county’s homeless population, but only 7 percent of the general population. Native Americans saw a similar over-representation. They accounted for 9 percent of the homeless population compared with 2 percent of the overall population.
The down economy explains most of the uptick, city and county officials said. But better, more exhaustive methods for counting the homeless also contributed to the increase, which they characterized as relatively slight given the historic proportions of the recession.
“The fact that there is anybody who is homeless in our community is something to be concerned about,” said Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury.
The count took place on Jan. 26, because federal rules say the survey must occur when the number of people in emergency shelters is typically highest. If local governments want federal grants to address homelessness, they must provide updated figures for homelessness every two years. The state of Oregon also requires an annual tally of shelter occupants for budgetary reasons.
Doreen Binder, executive director of the Portland nonprofit Transition Projects, said Tuesday the latest snapshot of the county’s homeless population doesn’t account fully for the impact of the recession on low-income residents.
Her agency gives people free laundry detergent, toiletries and food so they can save their money for rent. “Just because they’re not living on the street, doesn’t mean their needs haven’t increased,” Binder said.