Homelessness in Portland

Homelessness is a real and visible problem in our city. Learn about the causes, responses and how to help.

7 min read

Homelessness is a national issue that is impacting Portland and many other cities, particularly on the West Coast (source). Portland has fewer people experiencing homelessness than many other large cities (source), but, due to a lack of shelter availability for those in need, our unsheltered population tends to be more visible. Learn more about how homelessness in Portland got to this point, what’s being done by local officials, what Travel Portland is doing, and how local nonprofits are addressing homelessness with solutions that visitors can support.

Portland is a compassionate city with local business, nonprofit and community support.

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. As a result, Portland tends to have a more visible unsheltered population, especially in areas of the city where service providers are located.

Tight supply and persistent demand for Portland real estate has also contributed to an affordable housing crisis, further limiting availability of housing for those in need. In 2015, the City of Portland joined several other communities (including Los Angeles, Seattle and Hawaii) in declaring a housing and homelessness emergency (source), which was extended in April 2021 (source). While this declaration was intended in part to enable more temporary shelter, we are a long way from meeting the demand.

For many, being houseless is only one part of the struggle, as individuals often are coping with mental illness, chronic health issues, physical disabilities, substance abuse issues or any combination of these challenges. Portland has an extensive network of people in government, neighborhood associations, nonprofits and the business community who are collaborating to make progress on the issue.

What’s Being Done

Portland is a compassionate city with extensive support — including hunger relief, emergency shelter and work programs — for those experiencing homelessness. The city is committed to humanely caring for this population and has shifted increased resources toward mental health treatment and housing solutions.

Oregon’s Supportive Housing Services (SHS) Measure, which went into effect in 2021, is one of the nation’s most ambitious efforts to fund services that support people transitioning out of homelessness. From July 2021–June 2023, SHS helped 4,984 people move from homelessness into housing; brought 1,409 new shelter beds online; and provided support to help 16,382 people avoid homelessness (source).

The city, state and county have made numerous strides in addressing homelessness in Portland in recent years, including:

  • In 2021, the City of Portland and Multnomah County pledged $1 billion over the next 10 years to housing solutions and basic services that meet people experiencing homelessness where they are.
  • Also in 2021, the city and county announced a joint agreement to invest $38 million in homeless services. The funds would support new shelter beds, outreach workers, behavioral health teams, storage and hygiene units, and camp cleanups.
  • The city began moving homeless camps to equipped Safe Rest Villages (SRVs), which include case management with wraparound behavioral and mental health services, in 2021. As of 2024, seven SRVs are open. These include two culturally specific communities: the BIPOC Village and Queer Affinity Village, as well as an RV Safe Park.
  • In 2022, the Portland City Council passed five resolutions to fast-track construction of affordable housing, move homeless Portlanders closer to services, put an end to unsanctioned camping, increase opportunities for nonstandard work, and enhance access to mental health and substance abuse recovery services.
  • Also in 2022, Multnomah County opened a new Behavioral Health Resource Center in downtown Portland, providing mental health resources to those experiencing homelessness via a day community resource center, as well as 33 shelter beds and 19 beds for people transitioning into housing (source).
  • On Jan. 11, 2023, Governor Tina Kotek declared a state of emergency for much of Oregon due to the homelessness crisis and issued three executive orders to free up resources and provide necessary support to prioritize reducing homelessness.
  • On March 29, 2023, Governor Kotek signed a $200 million bipartisan housing and homeless package, Oregon All In. As part of Oregon All In, and in partnership with the City of Portland, Multnomah County’s Multi-Agency Coordinating (MAC) initiative, Housing Multnomah Now, is focused on rapidly housing unsheltered individuals, particularly in the central city.
  • The city’s first sanctioned campsite, known as a Temporary Alternative Shelter Site (TASS), opened in inner Southeast Portland in July 2023 and had 180 residents by that October. Space is available on referral basis and complements the existing shelter system with a low-barrier option. As of April 2024, a second site in North Portland is in development.
  • In January 2024, the City of Portland allocated $2 million to a new 70-bed behavioral health treatment center in the central city; the new center is expected to open in fall 2024.
  • On March 11, 2024, Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler introduced a new comprehensive Homelessness Response Action Plan to significantly increase housing and shelter options for 2,699 individuals living without homes over the next two years. The plan outlines enhancements to existing care systems, prioritizing racial equity in addressing homelessness, and expanding access to essential services.

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 work with many community organizations ― including Transition ProjectsCentral City ConcernOregon Food BankDowntown Portland Clean & Safe and Street Roots ― to help provide support and find solutions for those in need.

Local Nonprofits Making a Difference

How to Help

Visitors who wish to support long-term solutions for those experiencing homelessness in Portland should consider contributing to one of the following nonprofit organizations:

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. You may also call 311 for non-emergency situations that do not require a first responder. In the event of an emergency, dial 911.