Oregon has a disproportionately high percent of homeless people, caused in large part by high housing costs, according to new report by the ECONorthwest consulting firm.
"Oregon's policy discussion might improve if homelessness were described as two, related
crises. One crisis affects a population of individuals with highly challenging personal circumstances who will struggle to remain housed absent sustained, intensive support. A second crisis affects more than 150,000 households: the short-term homeless plus the growing numbers of severely cost-burdened renters on the verge of homelessness," the report said.
The report released Wednesday found that although Oregon's general population represents 1.3 percent of the total U.S. population, its homeless population is proportionately twice as large, reaching 2.6 percent of the U.S. total.
The report also found that the state's chronically homeless population represents 4.5 percent of U.S. total, and its unsheltered population is 4.6 percent of the national total. Oregon reports 3,361 individuals in an especially vulnerable subgroup — people who are both unsheltered and chronically homeless. They make up 5.6 percent of the U.S. total — more than four times the rate of Oregon's share of the U.S. total population.
The report also warned there are 156,000 households in Oregon that are on the edge of homelessness. These are households who spend at least 50 percent of their income on rent and run the risk of losing their housing from one unexpected medical bill, a layoff or a car repair.
The report is an expansion of an earlier report the firm did for Oregon Community Foundation focusing on the Portland region. It found the same problems contributing to the homeless problem in Portland exist in the rest of the station, including a lack of services for the chronically homeless and high housing costs that put low-income families at risk of homelessness.
The report found that although homelessness in Oregon declined after the end of the Great Recession, it increased in 2017, both statewide and in the Portland region.
"Homelessness has declined since the Great Recession but not as much as it would have in a better functioning housing market. Oregon's high rents make the crisis more severe than those in most states and, left unabated, they will contribute to a growing homeless population going forward," the report said.
The report recommends a number of policies for reducing homelessness in Oregon, including increased production of all kinds of housing, means-test rent subsidies for low-income households, targeted, intensive services for high-needs individuals, and more emergency shelters as a last resort.
"The state will not make progress on homelessness if the hard work is done only by those who directly serve the homeless on a daily basis. The problem is too big for that. Progress will require collective action by a range of actors: public and nonprofit agencies that work not only
on homeless issues but also broader housing and land-use regulatory policies; federal partners willing to re-examine and invest in rental assistance; state policymakers who can chart new state roles in housing policy; business leaders who will provide leadership and support strategies; philanthropies willing to convene and invest in research and development; and universities that can lead in research and policy innovation," the report said.
You can read the report here.
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