Leaders from the three Portland-area counties on Wednesday, May 10, released federally required data on people experiencing homelessness on a single night this year — a first step for sharing results from the region’s first-ever fully combined Point in Time Count.
The number of people counted under the federal definition of chronic homelessness — meaning they reported a long spell of homelessness and a disabling condition — fell 17% across the region, also falling in each county, since last year’s Count.
With increased funding through the Metro Supportive Housing Services measure, and other ongoing investments, Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties have made significant strides toward working with more people experiencing homelessness and increasing shelter and housing solutions for vulnerable community members.
In both Washington and Clackamas counties this year, the numbers of people counted as homeless overall, and also as unsheltered, fell compared with 2022. This is the first year that Washington County used supplemental by-name lists and services data in addition to the standard Street Count survey results, demonstrating that even with this improved methodology, overall rates of homelessness still decreased in Washington County.
This year, Multnomah County reported an overall increase in the number of people who were counted as experiencing homelessness — but that increase was driven by the ongoing use of increasingly robust by-name lists and services data to supplement the Count, not by traditional Street Count survey results, which decreased from last year’s total.
The number of people on these lists has grown as outreach and other engagement services have expanded, reaching more people who otherwise would not be counted.
Even with more organizations and surveyors participating in the Street Count this year compared with 2022, and an app tracking surveys in real time — Multnomah County’s Street Count survey number was still smaller this year, falling from 1,641 in 2022 to 1,604 in 2023.
The number of people counted in shelter in Multnomah County also set a new record, following shelter expansion efforts launched amid the COVID-19 pandemic and made possible in part by the Metro Supportive Housing Services Measure.
The three counties worked in unison to launch their counts this year. The counties contracted with Portland State University’s Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative, and a project manager, Focus Strategies, to create a shared methodology and analysis, a centralized command structure, and unified logistics around the recruitment and deployment of volunteers.
The Count took place over the week of Jan. 25-31, 2023, asking survey participants where they slept the night of Jan. 24, and also drawing from shelter and transitional housing data from that night.
The top-line numbers shared today are part of a required report to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A more detailed report, prepared by the Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative in partnership with Portland State’s Population Research Institute, will be released later in the year.
- Multnomah County: 6,297 people
- 1,604 unsheltered people from traditional Street Count surveys
- 2,340 unsheltered people from enhanced system data collection
- 1,821 in shelter
- 532 in transitional housing
- Washington County: 773 people
- 165 unsheltered people from traditional Street Count surveys
- 65 unsheltered people from enhanced system data collection
- 464 in shelter
- 79 in transitional housing
- Clackamas County: 410 people
- 178 unsheltered people from traditional Street Count surveys
- 182 in shelter
- 50 in transitional housing
The results also make clear that people of color continue to face disproportionate rates of homelessness. The increase in the reported number of people who are Black, Latino and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander was larger than the reported number of people who are white. The full Point in Time Count report later this year will provide a deeper analysis of disparities and demographics in homelessness.
Washington County: Increased shelter and housing options reduce homelessness overall in the Count
Washington County saw a decrease in homelessness overall from 808 people in 2022 to 773 people in 2023, which includes new data from by-name lists incorporated into the total count. This includes a reduction in chronic homelessness from 250 to 196.
This decrease is directly related to new and expanded housing focused programs that are connecting people quickly to emergency shelters, housing case management support, rental assistance, and permanent supportive housing. Washington County has successfully:
- Housed almost 1,300 people experiencing homelessness in 2022,
- Expanded shelter capacity to 426 shelter beds across Washington County,
- Opened the first motel conversion to supportive housing in Washington County, with 54 units available to serve formerly homeless individuals and couples at Heartwood Commons
There is more work to be done, but with renovation and acquisition efforts underway at seven different prospective shelter locations, and new affordable housing apartment buildings coming online across Washington County, we are continuing to increase available options and solutions.
Jes Larson, Washington County Housing Services Assistant Director, says “We are seeing the impact of these new programs every day, as people who have been homeless for years are finally able to get inside. The Point in Time Count is just one part of the story, but we are glad to see these results reflect the impact of our rapidly growing housing options in Washington County.”
Multnomah County: Chronic homelessness count falls; record number of people in shelter; strengthened data reporting continues to improve accuracy of the Point in Time Count
Multnomah County reported a 16% decrease in people counted as chronically homeless under the federal definition, from 3,120 counted in 2022 to 2,610 counted in 2023. Multnomah County’s Street Count also dropped slightly since 2022.
But because of expanded shelter options and improved data collection — adding hundreds of people experiencing homelessness who would have been missed in past counts — Multnomah County nonetheless reported an overall increase in people counted with and without shelter since 2022.
The increase in the count of sheltered homelessness — by nearly 400 more people — sets a record for the Count and follows a steady increase in investments in, and expansion of, shelter capacity during and in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Multnomah County and the City of Portland have worked to add motel shelters, village-style shelters and congregate spaces, with more beds set to come online in the coming months as renovations finish and new projects open.
This year’s increases in homelessness also correlate with methodological improvements and changes — including efforts to better count all members of family households experiencing homelessness.
Improved family counting and investments in data infrastructure — including a more accurate count of children in family households — identified hundreds more individuals compared to prior years and provided a more accurate sense of the scale of family homelessness in Multnomah County. Newly counted children without shelter account for roughly a third of the total increase in homelessness in Multnomah County.
To illustrate: Even though the number of individuals counted across all groups grew by 21%, from 5,228 to 6,297, the rate of growth among adults without children was less than half that, at 9%, from 4,545 to 4,964.
Counting previously unidentified individuals in a household this year, including children, could explain this disparity, along with improvements in the Joint Office of Homeless Services’ “coordinated entry” database of families applying for supportive housing and other services.
Analysts this year also continued to draw from Multnomah County’s existing by-name lists of people experiencing homelessness and receiving services. Like in 2022, those lists supplemented — and were deduplicated from — the survey forms and shelter rosters that traditionally made up the Count.
Using by-name data allowed Multnomah County to identify and include additional people experiencing homelessness who would not have been counted through surveys alone.
“The decrease in chronic homelessness in this year’s Point in Time Count helps chart a hopeful path for our shared work. We’re on the right track helping our most vulnerable neighbors find shelter beds and supportive housing. But now we must accelerate,” said Dan Field, director of the Joint Office of Homeless Services.
“We’ll get there by deepening our commitment to the data improvements that made this more accurate Count possible. And by strengthening the relationships this work is built on — from government partners like the City of Portland and the state of Oregon, to our partners in healthcare, to the service providers whose work makes a difference on the front lines day after day.”
Clackamas County: Decrease in homelessness and a focus on integration with health systems
Clackamas County’s 2023 count shows a significant reduction in the number of people experiencing homelessness in the county, in both the unsheltered and sheltered populations. The 2022 count identified 597 people experiencing homelessness. The 2023 count found 410 people experiencing homelessness in Clackamas County, a decrease of 31.3% from last year. This includes a decrease of 45.3% in the unsheltered population and a 14% decrease in the sheltered population.
“For the second count in a row, Clackamas County has seen a significant reduction in the number of people counted,” says Vahid Brown, the Clackamas County Deputy Director of Housing and Community Development. “The decrease shows the success of our efforts in responding to the housing crisis in our community, as well as the dedication of our staff and community partners in helping many of our most vulnerable neighbors move from homelessness into permanent housing. And it demonstrates the promise of the Support Housing Services Measure funding, which is providing the housing resources that we didn’t have before and making these overall reductions in homelessness possible.”
Clackamas County is pleased to have served over 6,500 people in 2022 through homeless prevention and housing programs. Notably, the county began its first street outreach program, which tracks residents experiencing homelessness by name, builds trust with them, and connects people to shelter and permanent housing.
Clackamas County is also making headway through a focus on integration with the county’s mental health and substance abuse treatment systems. The county has funded homeless outreach and housing specialists who work within county health centers, while the county commission has adopted a resolution that commits to a recovery-oriented system of care.
Data limitations: Point in Time Count tells only a partial story
Every Point in Time Count is fundamentally an undercount — though the one-night snapshots that emerge from the Counts serve as a critical tool for understanding baseline trends among people experiencing homelessness.
The counties, in part through their work with research experts at Portland State University and Focus Strategies, have been working to improve the count in recent years. By-name lists have supplemented the Count’s shelter rosters and street surveys in both Multnomah and Washington counties this year. In addition, This year’s Count, for the first time, added an app that offered a real-time view of survey work.
The federal government requires the Point in Time Count and prescribes the timeframe for the Count.
While the outcome of the Count does not directly affect funding levels, conducting as accurate a tally as possible helps ensure our community remains eligible for federal funding for housing and homelessness services. (Those funds are separate from federal COVID-19 funding.)
The Count also provides a view of how the most vulnerable people in our community are faring and helps guide policy decisions and budget allocations. But organizers and advocates also note the Count has limits and that its results can be misunderstood, in part because of the information the Count isn’t able to provide.
The Count, as structured by the federal government, isn’t designed to gather the following data points:
- How many people move into and out of homelessness over the course of a year. The extent of homelessness in the community isn’t static, and the number of people annually experiencing homelessness is larger than a one-night number.
- The community’s progress helping people back into housing. Data collection models, including Built for Zero, that use real-time, by-name data, are better measures of the progress and success of programs in solving homelessness.
- People who are doubled up, living temporarily with friends, family, loved ones or others. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development excludes those neighbors from the definition of homelessness that is used for the Count. Culturally specific providers tell us that people of color are underrepresented in the Count as a result.
- A “per-person” cost figure. Funding levels for homelessness services are often compared to the one-night Point in Time Count number to estimate spending on homeless and housing services. But because the number of people who experience homelessness over the course of a year is larger, and because the federal Count methodology leaves many services-eligible people out, those comparisons are not accurate
It’s also not possible to definitively find, survey and count every person experiencing homelessness.