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Polls show homelessness is a priority issue and flashpoint in the 2022 elections

PMG FILE PHOTO - A recent survey by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center found that more than 70% of people surveyed said the state should guarantee temporary housing or shelter, and 64% agreed with the statement that access to permanent shelter or housing should be guaranteed as a basic human right.

Most Oregonians agree that shelter should be guaranteed, but they don't always agree on how to make that a reality.

That's one takeaway from a September survey from the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, a nonpartisan polling and survey nonprofit. More than 70% of people surveyed said the state should guarantee temporary housing or shelter, and 64% agreed with the statement that access to permanent shelter or housing should be guaranteed as a basic human right.

"There is a housing crisis. For many, we can ignore it, because we are housed," Anne Sweeney, a Marion County non-affiliated voter, said in the survey. "There is a fallacy that prevails that if you are a citizen and homeless, you must have done something wrong. We have hosted refugees from other countries, we can serve those who originated in our own country in a similar way."

The survey asked residents across the state about homelessness, which is a major flashpoint in almost every campaign in the state leading up to the November election. In fact, homelessness is the most important issue for Oregonians, the survey found.

About 37% of the survey's nearly 1,900 respondents said homelessness is the most important issue for elected leaders to tackle. Housing came in second place on the list of important issues, with 15% of responses, followed by crime and public safety, which were mentioned in 12% of responses.

As for what exactly to do about rising homelessness and a statewide housing crisis, survey-takers were more divided, but majorities agreed on a few key points.

More than half of the survey's respondents (57%) said local officials should allocate more money to reducing homelessness. Women, Democrats, renters and people with incomes of $50,000 or less were all more likely to call for more funding allocated to the issue.

"More funding has been coming. It will take cooperation and coordination to make good use of the money," Russ Donnelly, a Deschutes County Democrat, said in the survey. "Adding mental health workers to de-escalate police encounters would work wonders."

There was little consensus from survey takers on what elected officials should do about camps. While 46% said they'd rather vote for a candidate who prioritized providing services to those living in camps, 39% said they'd rather vote for someone who wanted to clear them, and 15% weren't sure.

The location of the camps in question may play a role in whether people want them cleared. A different poll commissioned by The Oregonian this month found that 80% of Portland voters are supportive of Mayor Ted Wheeler's plan to remove camps along common routes to school.

Freda Emmons, a Portland-area Republican, wrote about the common belief that homeless people come to Oregon because of the availability of resources in the state.

"For the few who are identified as mentally ill, much more money should be spent to care for them in proper facilities, with supervision and medical care," Emmons said in the survey. "For everyone else, they should be forced to clean up after themselves and to work for every service offered to them."

The latest annual data on homelessness in central Oregon found that 72% of people experiencing homelessness in the region have lived here for two or more years. Portland-area data showed similar results for people in that region. Experts estimate that about 30% of chronically homeless people in the country have mental health conditions.


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