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Unsheltered in Oregon rose 10 percent -- to 15,876 statewide -- in 2019, according to Housing and Urban Development.

PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - A person sleeps on a park bench in downtown Portland in 2019. A significant increase in unsheltered people living in Oregon and California canceled out the decline in homelessness seen across much of the U.S. in 2019, according to the feds.

Homelessness fell in 29 states and in D.C. this year — but the Department of Housing and Urban Development called out Oregon and California by name, saying the West Coast "offset those nationwide decreases, causing an overall increase in homelessness."

"As we look across our nation, we see great progress, but we're also seeing a continued increase in street homelessness along our West Coast where the cost of housing is extremely high," HUD Secretary Ben Carson said Friday, Dec. 20.

Here's what the numbers show:

• In 2019, California's unsheltered population rose by 21,306 people to 151,278 statewide — a 16% jump — and more than the total national increase by every other state combined.

• Oregon also reported a steep increase between 2018 and 2019 — 9.7% — adding 1,400 without a roof over their head, for a statewide homelessness population of 15,876.

• But homelessness in Washington State actually declined 3.3% between 2018 and 2019, with 727 fewer people on the streets, for a total of 21,577 homeless.

The numbers for each set are taken from federally-mandated Point In Time counts, which rely on legions of volunteers to hand count every visible homeless person in just one night.

Many advocates suspect the federal tallies understate the problem. Locally, Portland State University's Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative has produced reports estimating the metro homeless population at 38,000, compared with the 5,016 found in federal reports.

Of that number, 4,000 live in Multnomah County, while Washington County reports 530 and Clackamas County has roughly 470.

HUD estimates there were 567,715 sleeping in tents, cars and shelters on each night in 2019 nationwide. That's up 2.7% from 2018 — or about 14,885 more people — but down almost 11% compared with 2010, the tail-end of the Great Recession.

Homelessness in Oregon specifically is down nearly 19% compared with 2010.

Many people living in the West Coast camps or shelters today may have a harder time getting back on their feet. Long-term or "chronic" homelessness is up 8.5% in 2019.

"Addressing these challenges will require a broader, community-wide response that engages every level of government to compassionately house our fellow citizens who call the streets their home," said Carson. "California is at a crisis level and needs to be addressed by local and state leaders with crisis-like urgency."


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