Multnomah County Homeless Count Shows More People Living Unsheltered

By Meerah Powell (OPB)
Aug. 1, 2019 8:48 p.m.

According to a report out Thursday, the total number of people experiencing homelessness in Multnomah County decreased slightly compared to two years ago.

The every-other-year Point-in-Time homeless count is a snapshot of how many people experience homelessness on a single given night — whether on the streets, in transitional housing or in shelters.


This year's count took place for a week in late January, when volunteers surveyed the houseless community and asked where they slept the night of Jan. 23.

They reported a 3.9% decrease in the number of homeless individuals in Multnomah County — falling from 4,177 in 2017 to 4,015 this year. Fewer women were homeless and there were fewer homeless families with children, the report states.

But the Point-in-Time report also shows that there was an increase in people living on the streets, unsheltered. That number was at 2,037 — up from 1,668 two years before.

That’s the highest the number of unsheltered people in the county since 2007.

“What that tells us is the folks that are experiencing homelessness are increasingly without shelter, increasingly facing disabilities, increasingly homeless for longer — they’re getting older, having health issues, disability issues,” said Denis Theriault, with Multnomah County’s Joint Office of Homeless Services.

“There’s a sliver of good news — the people we’re helping with rent assistance, that number is up to more than 12,400 folks,” he said. That's better than 50% more people than in 2017.

Homeless populations are surveyed at the county level across Oregon to give the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, an idea of where to allocate funds based on need.


Theriault said this year’s street count was the most extensive yet.

The Regional Research Institute of Human Services at Portland State University lead the effort.

“They had twice as many volunteers and brought in 130 paid outreach workers and doubled the number of survey sites,” Theriault said.

Theriault said they also did targeted outreach to communities of color.

Still, he acknowledged, every homeless count is always inevitably an underestimation.

“Every count is necessarily an undercount because it’s impossible to find every person on a given night who’s experiencing homelessness, especially folks who are camping in placing and sleeping in places that are out of the way,” Theriault said.

He said HUD’s definition of homelessness also doesn’t include populations that could still be considered as homeless.

“The federal government only has us ask if people are in shelter, transitional housing or on the street,” Theriault said. “They don’t count folks who are doubled-up — living with family or friends — and we know that’s where a lot of folks and families are disproportionately represented.”

Along with leading the main count, Portland State University also conducted a separate count of those “doubled-up” individuals.

Researchers gathered data from sources including Multnomah County’s 211 human services hotline. During the Point-in-Time count, callers to the hotline were asked where they slept on the survey night. Seventy-one respondents, or 12.5% of callers, said they were in doubled-up living situations with family or friends.

Also, looking at school district data, PSU found that more than 1,000 students in the Portland Public, Corbett and Gresham Barlow school districts identified as living in a doubled-up situation.