Homelessness is a national issue that is impacting Portland and many other cities. Portland has fewer people experiencing homelessness than other large cities (source), but, due to a lack of shelter availability for those in need, our unsheltered population is more visible. Learn more about how homelessness in Portland got to this point, what’s being done by government and public safety officials, what Travel Portland is doing, and what visitors can do to help and stay safe.
Homelessness in Portland: How We Got Here
The city’s Housing First model, which emphasizes transitional and permanent housing as opposed to short-term or emergency shelter, has resulted in a large gap in shelter availability for those in need. So, while there are not necessarily more homeless individuals in Portland, there is a more visible unsheltered population.
Demand for Portland real estate is contributing to an affordable housing crisis, which adds to the limited availability of housing stock for those most in need. In 2015, the City of Portland joined several other U.S. cities and states (including Los Angeles, Seattle and Hawaii) in declaring a housing and homelessness emergency (source). Portland’s emergency declaration is still in effect. While this declaration was intended in part to enable more temporary shelter, we are a long way from meeting the demand.
According to Transition Projects, while fewer people lived on Portland’s streets unsheltered in 2017 than did in 2015, the overall homeless rate in Portland has increased 10% over that time (source). From 2015–2017, homelessness increased in all major West Coast cities, due largely to a shortage of affordable housing (source).
Public Safety Concerns
In 2017, there was an increase in violent crime in Portland’s central city, mirroring similar increases across the western United States. In response, the city has increased police foot patrols in high-foot-traffic areas and enhanced the Clean & Safe program, which provides security, cleaning and social justice services. As Portland residents who work downtown every day, we can assure you that Portland is still a safe place to visit and do business.
What’s Being Done
Portland is a compassionate city with local business, nonprofit and community support — including hunger relief, emergency shelter and work programs — for those experiencing homelessness. The city is developing more shelter space as well as expanding service programs.
Portland has made strides in addressing permanent housing for those experiencing homelessness through a collaborative partnership (called A Home for Everyone) between the city, Multnomah County, local nonprofits and business leaders. This program has been particularly successful in supporting homeless veterans. In December 2016, Portland became the first West Coast city to effectively end homelessness among veterans. Overall, A Home for Everyone placed 4,889 people into permanent housing and helped 6,139 people stay in their homes in the fiscal year 2016-17 (source).
What Travel Portland Is Doing
Travel Portland understands that people experience homelessness for many reasons, and we’re committed to helping the city support those in need. We are also working with nonprofits ― including Transition Projects, Central City Concern, Oregon Food Bank and Street Roots ― to help provide support and find solutions for those in need.
In July 2016, Transition Projects launched a pilot initiative made possible by a grant from Travel Portland and bolstered by support from other local entities. This program engages two full-time staff members (peer support specialists who were previously homeless themselves) to help people living outside access essential health, shelter, hygiene and housing services. In its first year, the program assisted more than 550 people, finding shelter or transitional housing for 173 people and permanent housing for 29 individuals. The program has been expanded in its second year to partner closely with Transition Projects’ Peer Health Navigation and Coordinated Access teams and with the City of Portland’s Homeless Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program. Travel Portland’s ongoing financial commitment is essential to this project.
Through our Community Action Committee, Travel Portland engages with elected officials, senior Portland Police Staff and nonprofit advocates. In addition, Travel Portland participates in community forums to build support for aligned strategies to address bad street behavior as a public safety issue distinct from homelessness.
What Visitors Can Do
How to help
We discourage giving money to panhandlers. Rather, those who would like to make a difference should consider contributing to one of the following nonprofit organizations:
- Transition Projects
- Oregon Food Bank
- Central City Concern
- New Avenues for Youth
- Street Roots (You can also support Street Roots, a weekly newspaper addressing homelessness, by buying it for $1 from street vendors.)
Portland Charity Cocktail
Launched in April 2018, the Portland Charity Cocktail program supports local nonprofits dedicated to assisting people experiencing homelessness in the city. When you buy the featured cocktail at a participating bar, $1 will be donated to a worthy nonprofit. In 2018, purchases supported the Transition Projects Mobile Engagement Unit.
How to Get Assistance
If you are in the downtown area and need non-emergency assistance with a safety or livability issue, call Clean & Safe at 503.224.7383. In other parts of the city, call the Portland Police non-emergency number: 503.823.3333. In the event of an emergency, dial 911.
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress. Published November 2016; retrieved Dec. 1, 2017.
- National Alliance to End Homelessness. Homelessness: A State of Emergency. Published Feb. 6, 2016; retrieved Dec. 1, 2017.
- Transition Projects. 2017 Portland Homelessness Snapshot. Published August 2017; retrieved Dec. 1, 2017.
- A Home for Everyone. Outcomes: FY 2016-17. Published Aug. 21, 2017; retrieved Dec. 1, 2017.