A Guide to Homelessness in Portland

Unfortunately, homelessness is an issue that is affecting Portland as well as many other cities in the United States and across the world. According to the HUD Exchange, Portland, Oregon has fewer homeless people when compared to other big cities. However, due to a significant lack of help in terms of shelter, Portland’s homeless people are much more visible in the community. 

This guide aims to show you how homelessness became an issue in Portland, what the public safety and government officials are doing to help, and what the people of Portland and its visitors can do.

Portland’s Homelessness: an overview

Helping the homeless in Portland Oregon

Portland is home to the Housing First Program, which aims to help families who are experiencing homelessness to get into a suitable home quickly. There are two components to the Housing First Program. These are Rapid rehousing and Case Management. Rapid Rehousing helps people move back to a permanent home as quickly as possible, usually, this is less than ten weeks. The organization helps the families to pay a security deposit as well as up to twelve months’ rent.

The Case Management side of things aims to support families to keep their newly acquired housing long-term. There is 12 months’ worth of support available once a family has found a new home. The program will help them to create an action plan for their budget, become a part of the community, and increase their skills and prospects with education and work. 

While this all sounds amazing, the focus on permanent homes means that there is a significant lack of temporary, short-term, and emergency options for shelter. This has meant that a large gap in the shelter available is very apparent. And so, while Portland doesn’t have a greater number of homeless people compared to other cities, more of its homeless population are living on the streets due to the lack of temporary accommodation. 

Demand in Portland

There is a crisis in Portland about affordable housing. This is because demand for real estate in Portland is high. Thus, those most in need struggle to find available housing stock. Back in 2015, Portland became one of several cities in the U.S. to declare a homelessness and housing emergency. Other cities included Hawaii, Seattle, and Los Angeles. 

By declaring the State of Emergency, Charlie Hales, the Mayor of Portland, was able to:

  • Put 30 million dollars in a fund to support Portland’s homeless services. 
  • Create a way to waive the zoning code portions
  • Waive rules of procurement so that allocations were quick and direct
  • Convert a building previously used by Army Reserves into an emergency shelter that could support two hundred women. 
  • Foster, support and educate the community on the problem of homelessness.

This emergency declaration was granted an extension in April 2021.

The declaration had the intention of creating more temporary accommodation, there is still a lot of demand. 

What is being put into place?

homeless person in Portland

There are many areas of the city with heaps of compassion towards the homeless population of Portland. There are local businesses that help, as well as nonprofits, and community support. The support includes work programs, emergency shelters, and hunger relief. 

Slowly, the city of Portland is creating more temporary space and is expanding lots of its service programs. 

A Home for Everyone

In terms of addressing permanent housing, Portland has achieved a lot. It has become part of a collaborative partnership with business leaders, local nonprofits, and Multnomah County through A Home for Everyone, which is a strategy for addressing homelessness. Since the strategy in 2014 started, there have been almost three thousand more homeless people housed each year.

A Home for Everyone has been successful in housing homeless veterans. In terms of figures, this organization placed 5130 people in permanent homes in 2020 and also helped over 12000 stay in their homes.

Portland City Council diverted funds

Housing the homeless in Portland Oregon

Midway through 2020, Portland City Council diverted $15 million destined for the police bureau to social services to help deal with homelessness. Almost $5 million of this money went to Portland Street Response, which was a new program in the city that dispatched first responders to answer the calls of the homeless community. There was also $1 diverted to different programs to assist with the homeless population issues in the city.

HereTogether and other projects

2020 also saw voters in Oregon pass the HereTogether measure, which is an ambitious effort to provide funding for services assisting people who are coming out of being homeless. This Metro Housing Measure has so far created 650+ homes for families and plans to create 1300+ affordable homes in the city by investing $258 million. As of July 2020, HereTogether had already built 1424 homes in the short two years since the creation of the organization.

Two new winter shelters

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit alongside wintery conditions, Multnomah County and the City of Portland opened up two new shelters. One was located at the Mt. Scott Community Center, and the other was at the Charles Jordan Center. 

There were also transition projects that converted a former bus station into temporary accommodation. Also, there are over 200 beds now available at the Bybee Lakes Hope Center. This is designed to be a longer stay as their program is there to address abuse-related trauma, mental health issues, and addiction. 

Between them, these new shelters provide over 500 beds.

Outdoor Shelter Villages

From 2021, Portland began moving their homeless camps and turning them into equipped outdoor villages, called Safe Rest Villages. Here are some of the Safe Village locations set to be built in Portland:

  • Sears Armory Parking lot, 2731 SW Multnomah Blvd, SW Portland – this is a large site that is paved and will accommodate sixty pods as well as shared restrooms, a laundry, shower facilities and kitchen. 
  • Menlo Park “Park & Ride”, 12202 E Burnside St – this is a big site that can hold up to 60 pods and has communal facilities. 
  • Downtown – 2300 block of SW Naito Parkway – this is a 46K ft2 space that would fit 40 pods. 

What can locals and visitors to Portland do to help?

It is discouraged to give any money to a panhandler. Instead, if you want to make a difference to the homeless community, there are many nonprofit organizations you can support. These include:

Let’s take a look at each of these in more detail.

Blanchet House

There are lots of ways of getting involved with Blanchet House. This nonprofit company makes lunches and care kits for homeless people, among other things. 

You have to be fourteen or older to volunteer with Blanchet House. You can volunteer to serve lunch, make care kits that contain basic items like a clean pair of socks, some band-aids, some nail clippers, a rain poncho, and snacks. These packs are really appreciated by the homeless community. 

Another way Blanchet House helps is to make sack lunches. Each sack lunch contains a piece of fruit, a sandwich, and a wrapped snack. 

People can also donate sleeping equipment and clothing to Blanchet House. The organization mostly needs: 

  • Men’s socks (new or nearly new)
  • Men’s t-shirts (new or nearly new)
  • Men’s underwear (new or nearly new)
  • Women’s underwear
  • Men’s jeans (size 30 to size 36)
  • Men’s shoes
  • Sweatpants
  • Ponchos or raincoats
  • Sleeping bags 
  • Blankets
  • Backpacks
  • Tents

You can also donate new or nearly new refillable water bottles that the organization will sanitize and distribute. 

Central City Concern 

Central City Concern is a nonprofit organization helping people to find a home, regain their health and have long-term stability. It has been in operation for over forty years and does a great job at helping homeless people overcome problems they have as a result of being homeless.

New Avenues for Youth

New Avenues for Youth has been around since the 1990s and is an organization that helps homeless people receive housing, education, and job training as well as the basics like showers and food. 

Oregon Food Bank

Vegan food bank

This organization aims to eliminate hunger in Portland – and its causes. It also focuses on the communities that are disproportionately affected by food insecurity, which includes sexism, classism, and racism.

Street Roots

This is the one-dollar weekly newspaper that discusses homeless issues in the city. It is an award-winning newspaper that is there, as it claims, “for those who can’t afford free speech”.

Transition Projects 

Affordable Housing in Portland Oregon

Portland’s Transition Projects have been going on for over 50 years and have delivered assistance to some of the most vulnerable people in Portland. They have different housing solutions like the housing at Argyle Gardens, which is a place where people can go for independence and stability.

Final thoughts

While Portland’s homelessness situation isn’t good at all, it’s clear that there is lots of work being done both by the City Council itself and by the extensive number of nonprofit organizations that have popped up in the city. Remember, there is always something you can do to help the homeless people of Portland and all of the nonprofits mentioned in this article would love people to volunteer to support them or support them in other ways.


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