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The Portland-Multnomah County Joint Office of Homeless Services has asked the federal government to postpone some of the two-year tally.

KOIN 6 NEWS - Unsheltered homeless people might not be counted in this year's survey.The federally-required count of homeless people in the Portland area could be less complete this year than in the past.

Although the number of people living on the streets appears to be increasing in Portland and the rest of Multnomah County, the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services has asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for approval to not physically survey those living outside of shelters.

The reason is because of the COVID-19 pandemic that JOHS said makes it too dangerous for those conducting the count, which takes place every two years in the county. The last one was conducted in early 2019.

"It's a difficult decision, but we don't see a way to conduct as accurate of an unsheltered count as we've done in past years without creating additional health risks for thousands of vulnerable people and our provider community," said JOHS Director Marc Jolin. "That's not a trade-off we're willing to make."

According to JOHS, at this time the federal government has granted exemptions to several West Coast communities including Seattle/King County and Los Angeles County. Locally, Clackamas County also has requested an exemption.

In the Jan. 5 announcement, JOHS said it will still conduct a census of people in shelter and transitional housing, relying on data pulled from bed counts, allowing a comparison with the same data collected in 2019.

According to JOHS, the unsheltered portion of the count would shift to January 2022.

"Survey data is one way we can help tell the community more about who is experiencing unsheltered homelessness and why. It has value. But the risks are simply too high," Jolin said. "Right now, and especially given these past few weeks in the pandemic, our in-person work should remain focused on health, housing and safety."

The most recent survey conducted in 2019 found the total number of homeless people in the county fell over the previous two years. Counting those in emergency shelters and transitional housing, the total decreased from 4,177 to 4,015 people, a 4% drop.

But the survey also found the number of unsheltered homeless people increased 22% from 2017, jumping from 1,668 to 2,037 people.

A Portland Tribune story on the 2019 homeless survey can be found here.

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