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 as of April 2021 (source). 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, the number of people living unsheltered in Multnomah County (where Portland is located) decreased by 4% from 2017–2019 (source). Over that same period, homelessness also decreased in Seattle, but increased in Los Angeles and Oakland (source).
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. Overall, A Home for Everyone placed 5,130 people into permanent housing and helped 12,240 people stay in their homes in fiscal year 2020 (source).
In June 2020, the Portland City Council approved a budget diverting $15 million from the police bureau to social services (source). Nearly $5 million from the police bureau was redirected to Portland Street Response, a new city program to dispatch unarmed first responders to answer calls involving people experiencing homelessness. Another $1 million was diverted to programs to help the city’s houseless population.
In 2020, Oregon voters passed the HereTogether-Metro Regional Supportive Housing Measure. This measure is one of the most ambitious efforts in the nation in terms of providing critical funding to services that support people transitioning out of homelessness.
Responding to increased shelter needs in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and winter conditions, the City of Portland and Multnomah County opened two new winter shelters at the Charles Jordan Center and the Mt. Scott Community Center. Transition Projects also converted a former Greyhound bus station into a shelter. Additionally, the Bybee Lakes Hope Center offers 225 beds for longer-term stays, and programs to address addiction, mental health issues and abuse-related trauma. These four new shelters provided more than 500 additional beds during a time of critical need and extraordinary circumstances.
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
- Blanchet House
- Street Roots (You can also support Street Roots, a weekly newspaper addressing homelessness, by buying it for $1 from street vendors.)
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. 2007 – 2020 Point-in-Time Estimates by CoC (Continuum of Care) . Published March 2021; retrieved April 20, 2021.
- Transition Projects. 2020 Portland Homelessness Snapshot. Retrieved April 20, 2021.
- National Alliance to End Homelessness. Homelessness: A State of Emergency. Published Feb. 6, 2016; retrieved Dec. 1, 2017.
- City of Portland. Homelessness Toolkit FAQ: State of Emergency. Retrieved April 21, 2021.
- A Home for Everyone. FY 202020 Year-End Report. Published Oct. 20, 2020; retrieved April 21, 2021.
- The Oregonian/OregonLive. Portland approves budget with millions in cuts to police, but short of public demand for $50 million reduction. Published June 17, 2020; retrieved April 21, 2021.
- National Alliance to End Homelessness. The State of Homelessness: 2020 Edition. Published May 14, 2020; retrieved April 21, 2021.
- A Home for Everyone. 2019 POINT-IN-TIME Count of Homelessness in Portland/Gresham/Multnomah County, Oregon . Retrieved April 21, 2021.