With mental health funding cut and shelters at capacity, hundreds sleep on Portland streets

By Elissa Harrington, KOIN 6 News, July 17, 2013

Outside the Portland Rescue Mission

Outside the Portland Rescue Mission

It’s a problem the city of Portland already spends $10 million on annually.

“Mental health funding has been cut,” said one observer. “Housing prices haven’t gotten any better.”

And so the shelters Portland does have are often full.

On a given night there are more than 2,800 people who are homeless in Multnomah County, according to the latest street count. About 1,900 of those are unsheltered and sleeping on the street. That’s a 10% increase from 2012.

The city’s $10 million is spent on rent assistance, supportive housing and outreach. But there also are services not financially supported by the government, such as the Portland Rescue Mission men’s shelter at 111 W. Burnside St.

PRM Executive Director Eric Bauer said they serve about 600 meals a day, and right now all of the mission’s beds are full.

“We’re at capacity on our shelter,” Bauer said. “And as far as funding, we’re always on a shoe string as far as what we would like to be doing.”

Homeless numbers also are growing among women. Women’s services are in such high demand, over at the Union Gospel Mission on 3rd Avenue “We’re seeing growth in particular with women,” said a UGM spokesperson. “We are turning women away from the program — about two a week.”

The Portland Rescue Mission is renovating an entire floor for women’s services. It should open in the fall and will include beds, showers and a day room.

“I have yet to meet a person who really wanted to be out on the cold and wet hard sidewalk,” Bauer said. “But the options they had, that’s the one they took.”

Even though the Portland Rescue Mission is at capacity, it still offers food and counseling. Both the Portland and Union shelters reported serving more than 500 meals — on average — a day, and said ending homelessness starts one person at a time.

Take Angela, a homeless woman camping outside Portland’s City Hall since April.

“When I lost my house the whole family broke up,” Angela told KOIN 6 News.

She said she calls the sidewalk home because she can’t get help elsewhere. The woman’s shelters in Portland are known for being magnets for thieves. A number of shelters also don’t have facilities such as showers, and won’t let occupants stay during the day.

“I’d rather come here with people I’m comfortable with,” said Angela, from her spot along SW 4th Avenue among the homeless camped there. “[I] know they’re watching my back.”

Meanwhile, city services such as supportive housing, outreach and short-term rent assistance are believed to make a dent.

“It can either help somebody who is about ready to become homeless make that bridge, so that they don’t,” said Tracy Manning, director of Portland’s Housing Bureau, “or it can rapidly get somebody off the street.”

Note from KOIN: KOIN 6 News this week has been looking into some of the issues surrounding Portland’s homeless population. On Monday KOIN set up a camera outside city hall. It didn’t take long for us to catch people passing pipes — and drinking in public. Portland Mayor Charlie Hales spoke out Wednesday about the behavior of City Hall’s homeless campers. Also on Wednesday, homeless encampments in outer Portland were blamed for two TriMet bus driver stabbings.