A recently released national report shows the number of people experiencing homelessness nationwide has remained relatively steady since 2016 despite the pandemic.
The report also shows what most Oregonians already know: The number of people sleeping on the streets in this state has spiked.
There were 582,462 people sleeping on the streets nationally during a single night in January this year, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — a 0.3% increase since 2020.
Point-in-time counts are meant to provide a snapshot of who is sleeping on the streets on any given night, and they are often considered an undercount.
In Oregon, according to the federal data, there were 14,655 people, an increase of 22.5% since 2020.
Margaret Salazar, who recently ran the Oregon Housing and Community Services state agency and now works for the federal Housing and Urban Development office as a Northwest regional administrator, said the numbers are “heartbreaking.”
She said a new plan from the federal government should help Oregon combat the crisis unfolding on the streets.
“We’re very excited about it. It’s bold,” Salazar told OPB.
The plan sets the goal of reducing homelessness by 25% by 2025 and encourages states to use the federal plan as a strategic guide.
The plan includes ideas on how to boost affordable housing and emergency shelters, but the real focus will be trying to keep people on the verge of losing their home keep it. The federal government also plans to offer more support to state agencies through both technical assistance, using available data to gain a sense of the problem, and also by providing more human power — sending people who can reach out to the unhoused population and help connect them with resources.
There was one notable semi-brighter spot in the federal data: The report shows a decrease of about 18.9% or 248 unaccompanied homeless youth in Oregon.
Kids experiencing homelessness, however, are often referred to as “invisible children” because many intentionally try to go unnoticed.
Oregon Gov.-elect Tina Kotek has promised to make addressing the homeless crisis a priority.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and his colleagues on the Portland City Council are working to ban unsanctioned camping and force houseless residents into large city-run encampments that have yet to be built. Wheeler has also suggested making it easier to force people living on the streets into hospitals, even if they have not committed a crime.