Washington County is the only Portland metro-area county with more homeless people in shelters than living on the street, according to this year's "point-in-time" count.
It's positive news in a county where local leaders have been working to expand shelter capacity, adding transitional housing and setting up new shelter facilities.
However, these counts always come with a caveat: It's impossible to count every homeless person, and recent counts have been further hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to this year's figures, Washington County tallied 808 people without permanent homes. That includes 227 unsheltered individuals, 496 that are in shelters, and 85 that are in transitional housing.
Clackamas County counted a total of 597 homeless people, with 327 of them unsheltered and 241 living in shelters. Multnomah County counted 5,228 people without permanent housing, including 3,057 unsheltered and 1,485 living in shelters.
The counts attempt to look at the number of people living on the streets or in shelters during one night in January, meaning it's only a single-day snapshot of those experiencing homelessness. It doesn't account for people who move in or out of homelessness throughout the course of the year.
"It's also not possible to definitively find, survey and count every person experiencing homelessness," says a tri-county press release detailing this year's count.
Multnomah County didn't conduct any count in 2021 and, as such, this is the first full region-wide snapshot of homelessness since the pandemic began, data shows.
"This year's data, like with every point-in-time count, should be considered an undercount of people experiencing homelessness," said the report. "Because of federal rules, the count does not include thousands of people who did not have a home of their own on the night of Jan. 26 but were 'doubled up,' staying with friends or family."
The report states that "culturally specific" service providers — those that focus on a particular community, such as Spanish speakers, Indigenous people and immigrants — note that people of color are more likely to be "doubled up," meaning they are further underrepresented in annual counts.
According to the count, the number of homeless people living in Washington County has increased since 2021, when 716 total homeless were counted. But it's also the only one of the three surveyed counties that counted more individuals living in shelters and transitional housing than living outside, and the number of sheltered individuals has increased since the 2021 point-in-time count, too.
County officials attribute the shift toward shelters to the supportive housing services levy passed in 2020, which has provided money for efforts by Metro's counties and cities — such as Beaverton and Hillsboro in Washington County, both of which are in the process of planning year-round shelters — to add more shelter capacity.
"Since 2021, Washington County has added 102 permanent shelter beds to our shelter inventory with new regional funding made possible through the SHS measure, and we are working to locate more shelter options that will offer year-round shelter capacity," said Emily Roots, a spokesperson for Washington County Housing Services.
The shelter beds are one component of addressing the regional homeless crisis, Roots said, with further steps being taken to build more affordable housing through the 2018 affordable housing bond, another voter-approved Metro measure.
More funding will be coming to Oregon counties soon, after Oregon lawmakers approved another $400 million in supportive housing services funding during this year's short legislative session.
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