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Homeless in the Suburbs

OPB | Jan. 25, 2011 9 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 9:50 p.m.

This week volunteers across the country will take to the streets to find out how many people are homeless, and unsheltered, in the United States. It’s a biennial count that attempts to paint a picture of who is living on the streets, and in the parks, and in their cars, without shelter. Volunteers ask the people they encounter for some basic demographic information like the first letters of their last name, their first name, their age and gender. It’s a homeless census, if you will.

It’s been known for a while that Oregon has a big problem with homelessness. On Think Out Loud we’ve had many conversations about homeless issues. We’ve talked to homeless youth, and about rural homelessness. We’ve heard from family members and advocates. And we’ve discussed the role of mental health and hunger. But there’s one — well, likely many, but one for now — part that we’ve missed: the picture of homelessness in our suburban communities.

A Brookings study from a couple of years ago illustrated that the growth in poverty is now happening in the suburbs. A recent column in The Oregonian by Israel Bayer and Joanne Zuhl of Street Roots makes that local and up-to-date. They say:

Suburban homelessness is no longer a projection on a spreadsheet about the future. It’s a reality that’s getting worse by the day.

Take, for instance, the Oregon Department of Education’s homeless student count. It showed that Beaverton School District had the highest level of homeless students in the state: 1,580. Medford and Portland followed. What’s the cause of this growth in suburban homelessness? What can be done to halt it?

Do you live in the suburbs? How is homelessness affecting your community?

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