New statistics show homeless numbers likely underestimated
A new report by Portland State University finds there are many more homeless people in the region than previously estimated — and that caring for them will cost much more than is currently being spent, requiring a new source of revenue to be effective.
The report, released Aug. 20, found that 38,000 people experienced homelessness in the region in 2017. That is around 2 percent of the population and compares to previously reported counts that only found 5,700 on a single night.
The report also estimates it will require between $2.6 billion and $4.1 billion to house and support them over 10 years. That compares to $70 million, which is the current annual budget of the Portland-Multnomah County Joint Office of Homeless Services, the largest single source of homeless service funds in the region.
The report looked at a number of options for raising an additional $100 million per year for homeless services. They ranged from a flat $119 tax on all taxpayers in the region to 1.45-percent sales taxes to a $1,775 business license fee and an equivalent corporate tax. The study did not make a recommendation.
The report is headlined "Governance, Costs and Revenue Raising to Address and Prevent Homelessness in the Portland Tri-County Region." It was conducted by the Portland State University Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative and the Northwest Economic Research Center.
"Our goal in producing this report is to help community members understand the scope and scale of the challenges we face when addressing homelessness and housing insecurity," director Marisa Zapata wrote in the foreword of the report.
She said one reason the numbers in the report are higher than previous estimates is because it uses a much broader definition of homelessness. Previous counts have only included people on the streets, in emergency shelters and in transitional housing. But the PSU study also includes people who are temporarily living with friends and family members.
"Because these figures are comprehensive and include multiple jurisdictions, some might be shocked by the homelessness count and the cost. These numbers are on a scale that we are not used to seeing when talking about homelessness in the Portland region," Zapata wrote in the report.
She also said the additional revenue estimates are only ballpark figures intended to inspire serious conversations about potential steps forward.
"The numbers provide a starting point for conversations on the resources necessary to tackle this issue in the tri-county area, and how we might go about raising the revenue to do so," Zapata wrote.
The report recommends that an exploratory committee or task force of inclusive and committed stakeholders led by a government entity be formed to examine ways to improve regional coordination around homelessness and help all jurisdictions meet their goals.
"We know that only through long-term strategic planning and structural improvements can we both resolve homelessness for people today, and ensure it does not continue to happen in the future," Zapata wrote.
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