Community Snapshot: Portland and Multnomah County

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Community Snapshot | August 4, 2006

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July 2005

Over the course of a year between 16,000 and 18,000 people experience homelessness in Portland and Multnomah County, Oregon. On any given night, nearly 3,000 people are on the street or in shelter and another 2,355 people live in transitional housing.

The city and county have worked to improve services for homeless individuals and families since 1999, when the jurisdictions undertook a planning process to review shelter options for homeless adults. Between 1999 and 2004, the city and county implemented a number of initiatives to change the homelessness assistance system. Since that time, the city and county integrated the homeless youth system, adopted a Housing First model for families and redirected funding from shelters to permanent housing (see timeline).

Recently, the city and county developed Home Again: A Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness in Portland and Multnomah County. The plan was released in December 2004 and continues efforts already taking place in Portland and the surrounding county. The plan builds on three principles:

  • Focus on the most chronically homeless population;
  • Streamline access to existing services in order to prevent homelessness; and
  • Target resources to programs that offer measurable results.

The plan uses a “Housing First” approach, a model that reduces the time an individual or a family spends in shelter and helps them obtain permanent housing. Individuals or families who need services access permanent supportive housing, which links stable housing to medical care, mental health services and other social services depending on the household’s needs.

The plan focuses on chronically homeless individuals but also includes families and unaccompanied youth. As efforts to end homelessness continue, city and county officials will focus on nine actions. Programs throughout the county will address moving people into Housing First, ending the practice of discharging people into homelessness from jails and hospitals, improving outreach, emphasizing permanent solutions, increasing the housing supply, creating new partnerships, improving the rent assistance system, increasing economic opportunity for homeless people and implementing new data collection technology.

Outcomes

For Portland and Multnomah County, one of most important outcomes to date is the progress made on implementing new data systems throughout the homeless system. Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) are operational in nine homeless service agencies; the goal is to establish HMIS databases in 26 homeless service agencies by the end of 2005 Portland and Multnomah County are leading efforts to increase the supply of permanent housing available to homeless individuals and families. The plan calls for the creation of 1,600 units of permanent housing.

As of September 2004, 350 units of permanent housing were either committed or under construction. Since the plan’s adoption just six months ago, a number of outcomes have been documented: 254 chronically homeless people have moved into permanent housing; 108 moved directly from the streets into permanent housing. Families and youth are moving to permanent housing as well; 64 homeless families and 13 homeless “hard to reach” youth moved to stable and permanent housing.