Since the city’s 2015 homeless crisis, millions of dollars worth of funds have been funneled into various resources in an attempt to cut the homeless population in half by 2017. It is now the summer of 2017, and that has not happened. Instead, Portland’s homeless population has increased 10%.

Back in 2015, there was such rampant homelessness that Mayor Ted Wheeler declared it a state of emergency. The homeless population was 3801. Today, it is 4177 despite record spending ($30 million) by Multnomah County and the City of Portland to bring these numbers down. Funds have been placed toward permanent housing, shelter, and programs that help prevent people from becoming homeless, as well as rent assistance, yet the rate at which the homeless are becoming homeless has outpaced these efforts due to a blossoming housing crisis and other factors.

While the increase is unfortunate, it does not prove that efforts to curb homelessness have not paid off in some way. For the first time since the city began counting the homeless population, there is a greater portion of homeless people in shelters than on the streets. The number of unsheltered homeless persons has decreased 12%. This was made possible because these funds have contributed to an increase in shelter beds throughout the city. Roughly 630 more beds were added since January 2016, making room for families, women, people with pets, and others experiencing homelessness. Over 3500 people were also placed into permanent housing.

Why are numbers increasing?

In the summertime, Portland traditionally experiences an explosion in the homeless population as many transients make their way to Portland from other areas. In addition, many sources point to skyrocketing housing costs and lack of availability of affordable housing as a key driver of homelessness.

Generally, homeless men and women are attracted to urban areas that have the resources they need to survive. Homelessness is decreasing nationally in rural areas, while many large cities are grappling with a serious homeless problem, including New York, L.A., and Seattle which all have over 10,000 homeless people living on the streets or in shelters.

In Portland, the number of chronically homeless individuals rose 24%. Of those, 71% go without shelter. Yet the number of homeless families living without shelter decreased by 50%, although the total number of homeless families remained about the same since 2015. There has also been an uptick in the number of homeless women and people with disabilities. The length of time in which people experience homelessness has also increased, as 41% of homeless surveyed said they had been homeless for two or more years, compared to just 23% in 2015.

These findings and others come as the city is once again planning to funnel several millions more into resolving the homeless crisis. This year, Multnomah County and the City of Portland have set aside over $50 million for the Joint Office of Homeless Services so they can continue placing people in homes, preventing them from falling into homelessness, and providing emergency shelter.

The city is also awaiting the outcome of House Bill 2004, a bill that would implement protections for tenants, such as ending no-cause evictions for tenants nine or more months into their lease. A prohibition on landlords hiking rents more than once within a 12 year period was also proposed but omitted last month. The bill is currently being considered by the state legislature.

Homeless Safety Issues

Residents and business owners throughout the city have experienced much tension and frustration with the homeless and the city’s response to the crisis. Though more are in shelters, a portion of the population who choose to stay on the streets, or cannot enter a shelter, present a clear and present threat. In downtown Portland, several businesses have complained to the mayor’s office. Some have sent pictures and videos of the graphic activity they encounter each day on their way to and from work, and others have left downtown altogether.

Ad agency SQ1 has photographed and filmed multiple homeless people engaging in sex, drugs, and defecation right outside their office building in an empty lot that has yet to be developed into a micro hotel. Sometimes, they claim the homeless walk into their building to loiter or defecate in the elevator. They have contacted the Portland Police Bureau and mayor Ted Wheeler’s office for help, but have yet to receive a response.

Owners of a nearby dance studio, Nia, announced they were relocating from the historic Pythian Building claiming safety concerns over encounters they have had with homeless campers in the area. A lawsuit has also been filed by developers of the Grove Hotel against the owners of a lot that has for years permitted a self-run homeless camp.

The future of the homeless crisis in Portland remains unclear, but what you can count on is honest legal representation on your behalf. Rizklaw handles personal injury claims in Portland, Oregon. Contact Richard Rizk at (503) 245-5667 or rich@rizklaw.com.