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 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.
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.
Portland has made strides in addressing permanent housing for those experiencing homelessness through A Home for Everyone, a collaboration among the city, Multnomah County, local nonprofits and business leaders. Instituted in 2013, this program has been particularly successful in supporting homeless veterans. Overall, A Home for Everyone placed 4,010 people into permanent housing and helped 11,610 people stay in their homes in fiscal year 2021 (source).
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.
In 2021, the city began the process of moving homeless camps to equipped Safe Rest Villages (SRVs), which include case management with wraparound behavioral and mental health services. Two SRVs opened in 2022, four opened in 2023, and one more SRV is in the permitting and construction process, as of September 2023. Those in operation include two culturally specific communities: the BIPOC Village and Queer Affinity Village, as well as an RV Safe Park.
In 2021, the City of Portland and Multnomah County also pledged $1 billion over the next 10 years to housing solutions and basic services that meet people experiencing homelessness where they are. Additionally, on Nov. 1, 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.
On Nov. 3, 2022, the Portland City Council passed five resolutions to tackle the issue of homelessness. The resolutions included fast-tracking construction of affordable housing, moving homeless Portlanders closer to services, putting an end to unsanctioned camping, increasing opportunities for nonstandard work, and enhancing access to mental health and substance abuse recovery services. On Dec. 5, 2022, Multnomah County opened its new Behavioral Health Resource Center in downtown Portland, providing mental health resources to those experiencing homelessness via a day community resource center (shelter beds and transitional housing are to come). In March 2023, the mayor announced the site of the first sanctioned campsite, in inner Southeast Portland, which is expected to be operational this summer.
Portland is also getting support at the state level. 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, Governor Kotek signed a $200 million bipartisan housing and homeless package in House Bills 2001 and 5019, which immediately pushes $30 million to local communities. The rest of the funding will become available on July 1, 2023. At the signing, Governor Kotek remarked “This is just the beginning,” and that she plans to recommend further investments.
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 Projects, Central City Concern, Oregon Food Bank, Downtown 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:
- 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. You may also call 311 for non-emergency situations that do not require a first responder. In the event of an emergency, dial 911.
- National Alliance to End Homelessness. State of Homelessness: 2022 Edition. Retrieved March 28, 2023.
- 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.
- Oregon Public Broadcasting. Portland extends housing state of emergency, postpones vote on proposal on to allow more shelters. Published April 1, 2021; retrieved Dec. 21, 2021.
- A Home for Everyone. FY 2021 Year End Quarterly Report. Published Aug. 10, 2021; updated Dec. 7, 2022; retrieved March 28, 2023.
- National Alliance to End Homelessness. The State of Homelessness: 2021 Edition. Retrieved August 17, 2021.
- A Home for Everyone. 2019 POINT-IN-TIME Count of Homelessness in Portland/Gresham/Multnomah County, Oregon . Retrieved April 21, 2021.