Community Snapshot: Portland, Oregon


National Alliance to End Homelessness

Community Snapshot | June 29, 2007

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June 2007

Over the course of a year, approximately 18,000 people (including families and children) experience homelessness in Portland and Multnomah County. Between 1999 and 2004, the city, county, and nonprofit sector implemented a number of initiatives to change the homeless assistance system. These efforts culminated in the city and county ten year plan to end homelessness, Home Again: A Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness in Portland and Multnomah County, which was released in 2004.

Key Initiatives

Housing First. Housing First is an approach that reduces the time an individual or a family spends in shelter and helps them rapidly obtain permanent housing. Some families and individuals may only need short-term assistance while others with more intensive service needs may need permanent supportive housing. Permanent supportive housing links stable housing to medical care, mental health services, and other social services depending on the household’s needs. Central City Concern, a local homeless services and housing provider that focuses mainly on individuals, but also provides housing and services for families, reported cost savings of $15,006 per individual after their first year of getting people into permanent supportive housing using a Housing First approach. The estimated pre-enrollment average annual cost for health care and incarceration per client was $42,075. After enrollment, these costs were reduced to an average annual cost per client of $17,199. The average annual treatment and housing cost per client (including housing and additional expenses for substance abuse treatment) was approximately $9,870.

Discharge Planning. Much too frequently, people are discharged from jails, prisons, and hospitals directly into homeless shelters, or even worse, to the street. Portland and Multnomah County are addressing this problem in three ways:

  • Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office operates the jail discharge homeless prevention program. About 300 homeless people who were frequently arrested and jailed are eligible for the program. These inmates are assigned a staff person who helps address their housing needs. In 2006, ninety-six people received counseling and 57 percent were placed in housing.
  • The Northwest Pilot Project (NWPP) started a program called “Hospital to Home,” which focuses on the transition immediately after inpatient care. In 2006, NWPP placed 20 homeless seniors directly into independent apartments with home-based services provided by NWPP staff.
  • Central City Concern partnered with Providence Health System, Oregon Health and Sciences University, Legacy Health System, the City of Portland, and the United Way to create the “Recuperative Care Program.” Since July 2005, the partnership has provided 110 homeless, frequent emergency room users with services. Of these, 80 percent were discharged to permanent supportive housing.

Outreach. Outreach workers must be able to provide real solutions for people experiencing homelessness in order to get them to come in off the street. The City of Portland began an initiative called “A Key Not A Card” (KNAC). Rather than giving homeless people their business card, outreach workers were able to offer clients access to a permanent home. Clients include women, men, couples, and families affected by serious disabilities and long experiences with homelessness. In the first 14 months of operation, the program housed 224 people (167 households). Of these, 168 were permanently housed and 90 percent remained housed at 6 and 12 months after placement.

Other outreach efforts in Portland include an outreach and engagement workgroup that meets monthly, made up of outreach workers, police, department of transportation, and parks and recreation staff; a mobile medical van to provide physical and behavioral health services to homeless people throughout Multnomah county; and continued efforts to create an access center that will provide housing placement services as well as laundry facilities, showers, and locker space.

Prevention. For 2006, the ten year plan set a goal to provide short term rental assistance to 250 households to prevent them from becoming homeless. The city and county efforts significantly exceeded their target, serving 1,015 households. Follow up data shows that 86 percent were still in housing 3 months after assistance ended and 74 percent were still in housing after 6 months.

Employment. In addition to rental assistance, the city and county encouraged service providers to work to increase employment and income for those experiencing homelessness. In 2006, of the 1,776 adults who exited one of the community’s HUD McKinney funded programs, 562 (or 32 percent) had employment income.

Future efforts will work to increase access to Social Security disability income for those who are eligible and access to job training, placement, and retention services.


These initiatives are showing early results, particularly among people who have been homeless for long periods. Overall, Portland’s 2007 street count (those who are unsheltered) showed a 39 percent decrease (from 2,355 to 1,438) in the number of people who are homeless and sleeping outside. The 2007 count also revealed a 70 percent drop in chronically homeless people sleeping outside between January 2005 and January 2007 (Exhibit 1).

Overall, homelessness in Portland has decreased by 13 percent from 5,103 in 2005 to 4,456 in 2007. The shelter count increased slightly from 2,748 in 2005 to 3,018 in 2007 while the unsheltered count decreased from 2,355 to 1,438—a decrease of 39 percent (Exhibit 2). In 2008, Portland will continue to track trends in homelessness.