The most ambitious homeless count ever undertaken in the Portland area will be conducted through Jan. 29 by an unprecedented number of researchers.

STAFF PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - A person sitting in downtown Portland holds a sign asking for help as a homeless veteran.

The most ambitious count of homeless people ever undertaken in the Portland region will begin on Jan 23 and continue through Jan. 29.

The every-other-year Point in Time count is required by the federal government. in the past, it has mostly been conducted on one night. This year it will last a full week and be undertaken by a record number of outreach workers, service providers and volunteers, coordinated by Portland State University and the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS).

JOHS Director Marc Jolin says the count is important, even though the information it produces is limited.

"The count doesn't provide every answer. It doesn't tell us why someone became homeless or what it will take to help any particular person end their homelessness. But it's a critical tool for helping us understand the current level and nature of the need in our community. It's vital data that helps guide our community's investments in ending homelessness,"says Jolin.

The previous Multnomah County count was in early 2017. It tallied 4,177 people experiencing homelessness.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently combined that finding with 2018 homeless numbers from around the rest of the state to conclude that Oregon ranks second for the total number of homeless people living on the streets.

According to the department's 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, 62 percent of the homeless population was found to be living in unsheltered conditions at last count — including everything from makeshift camps to parked cars or crowded city sidewalks.

This year's Multnomah County count is part of an ongoing effort to improve the information available about the homeless population in the Portland region by making it as comprehensive as possible. For starters, it will stretch over a full week, not just one night, like all previous counts.

According to JOHS, more than 130 outreach workers from 34 outreach teams, representing 27 agencies, will head out, with surveys in hand, to campsites from the Columbia Gorge to Forest Park, and from the Columbia River south to Johnson Creek. Partner governments and agencies such as Metro, Portland Parks and Recreation Rangers, the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office and the City of Gresham will also be part of the effort.

At the same time, JOHS says, an unprecedented number of public volunteers — 136 — will join service providers at nearly 89 day centers, meal sites, shelters and other locations, including schools, libraries, places of worship and culturally specific providers, to administer surveys and collect responses.

This year, coordination of the count is being led by the Regional Research Institute at Portland State University, through a contract with JOHS. The PSU group has added team leaders across different geographic areas of the County, including people with lived experience, to guide the work. They've also worked to increase outreach opportunities in east Multnomah County, to better capture population shifts among people experiencing homelessness, JOHS says.

Results of the count will take months to comply, review and release.

You can read a Portland Tribune story on HUD's 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report here.

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