Homelessness in Portland: Part II

Published by Stephanie VanRheen on

City officials from the United States Conference of Mayors identified lack of affordable housing as the leading cause of homelessness among unaccompanied individuals. This was followed by poverty, mental health and the lack of needed services, and substance abuse.

Housing affordability in Portland has continued to decline as rents and home prices continue to climb, outpacing incomes. The average monthly rent in Portland rose 7 percent between 2015 and 2016. That was the fourth consecutive year that Portland has seen an annual rent increase in excess of 5 percent, with the average rent increasing nearly 30 percent since 2012.

According to a recent release from the S&P/Case-Shiller US National Home Price Index that measures changes to home prices through a twenty-city composite index, “Seattle, Portland, and Dallas reported the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities. A full-time worker in the Portland metro area would need to earn an annual income of $49,680 in order to afford a two bedroom apartment in the metro area without being rent burdened. This would require the worker to work forty hours a week at $23.88 per hour or work for ninety-two hours a week at Oregon’s minimum wage last year.” 

For many, homelessness is a new event.

Loss of a job, health issues, and raising rents have an impact. Just under one-third (29.1%) of the unsheltered population reported that this was the first time they were experiencing homelessness.

Historical and continued systemic discrimination is plainly evident as well. Families of people of color had a higher percentage of homelessness than the overall population in the 2017 Point in Time Count in Portland.

In the overall homeless population, 15.7% of people were part of families without children. 40.8% of these children were 5 years old and younger. 24% of people of color were part of families with children.  

The figure below shows how much more likely a person of color is to be homeless in Portland than someone who is White, Not Hispanic.

For example, Native Americans are 402 percent more likely to be homeless than are people who are White and not Hispanic or Latino, Black/African Americans are 180 percent more likely to be homeless, and Native Hawaiians/Other Pacific Islanders are 198 percent more likely to be homeless. Overall, people of color are 55 percent more likely to be homeless than are White people. Keep in mind that this does not take into account the doubled-up population or those who were not counted.

Family dynamics also impact homelessness.

 Just over one-third (33.7%) of the respondents experiencing unsheltered and sheltered homelessness reported that they have experienced domestic violence. Just over one-fifth (21%) of the adult unsheltered population that responded as having experienced domestic violence responded that they were currently fleeing from domestic violence. 10.4 percent of people reporting experience with domestic violence are in adult-child households.

A bright spot in all of this is that progress is being made, housing is being built and in the case of Nesika IIlahee, meaning “Our Place” in the Chinook language, it will be a three-story wood-framed building featuring 59 units of studios, 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom apartments. Twenty units will be reserved for enrolled members of federally recognized tribes.

“Despite making up 2.5 percent of the population, Native Americans represented 10 percent of those counted as homeless in 2017. Native Americans were also four times more likely to experience homelessness compared to people who are white.”


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