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Portland Area Report Finds 'Highly Troubling' Rise In Homeless African Americans


While the size of the Portland metro region’s homeless population hasn’t significantly changed during the last two years, it has increased among people of color, families and women.
 
There are 1,887 unsheltered people in Multnomah County, according to the 2015 Point-In-Time Count of Homeless report, which was released Wednesday. That’s down from 1,895 unsheltered in January 2013, when the county last did its survey.
 
“This homelessness is a result of economics,” said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury. “All the other reports that we have coming out of Multnomah County … target single women with children and people of color as being the most economically depressed in our community.”
 
The homelessness survey was conduced the last week in January.
 
Unsheltered means people sleeping in their cars, a tent or outside. The county’s report found another 1,914 people were in emergency shelters or transitional housing.

Most Affected Populations
 
The report highlights what the county describes as a “highly troubling” rise in the number of unsheltered African Americans. From 2013 to 2015, there’s been a 48 percent increase in unsheltered African Americans in Multnomah County.

The report found the factors driving that trend include everything from racist landlords to lack of affordable housing.
 
“The recently released State of Housing in Portland report indicates that African Americans in Portland have median incomes that are less than half the median income for whites,” the report states. “There are no neighborhoods in Portland where a two bedroom apartment is affordable to the average African American renter, and only one neighborhood where a one bedroom apartment is affordable.”
 
Women and children were another focus of the report. There was a 24 percent increase among unsheltered families with children, and that a majority of unsheltered families – 65 percent – were newly homeless. There was also an increase in homeless women.

“The number of unsheltered women increased by 72 (15%) compared with the 2013 count,” the report states.
 
Affordable Housing

The Portland area’s rapid increase in housing costs was a major factor contributing to homelessness, according to the report.
 
Gerard Mildner, academic director at Portland State University’s Center for Real Estate, said there’s not enough housing being built for people with low incomes.
 
“We see a lot of cranes all over town, we see the appearance of housing construction. But if in fact you look at the numbers, we’re producing about 30 percent fewer housing units than we were in 2000 and 2007,” he said. “All new housing is targeted to people of higher than average income.”
 
More people moving to the region is increasing competition for housing and contributing to the shortage of options for people in the Portland metro area. And the issues playing out in Portland are similar to those in southwest Washington.
 
“We have a very tight rental market in Clark County,” said Andy Silver, executive director for Clark County’s Council for the Homeless. “One way that affects the homelessness system is that people who are chronically homeless usually have very high barriers to rent.”
 
Even with rental assistance, the Council for the Homeless is having a hard time finding landlords willing to rent to people with past criminal convictions and bad credit.
 
As the housing market has improved and rents have increased in Portland’s inner core, Silver said, people who have lower incomes have moved to the suburbs.
 
“We’ve seen an influx of people who are not homeless, but are on the lower end of the income scale and are now coming into our community and competing with people who we’re trying to help get those few affording apartments that are left on the market,” Silver said.
 
“The amount of money people make here does not correspond to the cost of housing and that’s a big problem.”
 
There was some good news in Multnomah County’s report.
 
Homelessness among unsheltered veterans dropped slightly from 2013 to 2015, with more veterans in emergency shelters and transitional housing.
 
That’s likely because there’s been an increase in programs both locally and nationally aimed at helping end veteran homelessness, according to the report.
 
Despite the improvement, veterans remain overrepresented in the county’s homeless population.

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