What’s causing homelessness in Oregon?
Affordable Housing Crisis
While several complex factors contribute to the homelessness and health crisis we see today, the leading cause is a lack of affordable housing. As national and local studies make clear, the math is simple:
As housing becomes less affordable, homelessness increases.
Second Key Cause
For decades, housing construction in Oregon has lagged behind population growth. As a result, the availability of affordable housing is significantly low, with an estimated deficit of nearly 98,000 homes.
This often leaves low-income households across Oregon struggling to find and retain housing.
Third Key Cause
Rent Outpacing Income
With rising housing costs, many households are forced to choose between keeping their housing and covering essential needs like: food, clothing, childcare, etc. For households with fixed incomes or disabilities, many are just one emergency away from falling into homelessness.
In Multnomah County, over 21,000 people rely on federal disability benefits, which currently only cover half the cost of a one-bedroom apartment, compared to covering the average full rent in 2010.
Other Contributing Factors
In addition to the key causes listed above, there stand a range of other contributing factors to homelessness throughout Multnomah County such as: system racism, inflation, federal disinvestment in housing and social services, and lack of and access to affordable healthcare.
Particularly in Oregon, housing costs are rising faster than wages, with a 40% increase in the fair-market rent for a one-bedroom apartment (over $1,600) over five years; a 10% increase in rent leads to a 13.6% increase in homelessness. While behavioral health and substance use are also a challenge amongst some unsheltered homeless people, the common factor continues to be a lack of safe and affordable housing.
A Major Contributing Factor
For centuries, racist housing practices and policies have displaced, segregated and excluded Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC). People of color continue to be impacted. The percentage of homeless Portlanders who are African American is four times larger than African Americans’ share of the Portland population overall. Similarly, the percentage of homeless Portlanders who are American Indian/Alaskan Native or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander is five times larger.
A Recent Contributing Factor
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted every community around the globe, magnifying financial challenges and adding to housing instability, particularly for marginalized communities. In 2020 alone, more than 580,000 people applied for unemployment benefits, an increase of 600 percent from 2019.*
In the 2022 Point in Time Count, more than 500 people in Multnomah County said the pandemic directly contributed to their homelessness, a number that equates to roughly half the overall increase in reported homelessness from 2019 – 2022.**
Responding with Strategic Solutions
Commitment to Equity
While homelessness impacts many Oregonians, it disproportionately affects BIPOC and LGBTQIA2S+ communities, people with disabilities, and lower-income households. In response, the JOHS is committing to strategic solutions that address the key issues below.
Rising Homelessness for People with Disabilities
People with disabilities like QTBIPOC communities also face similar challenges in the housing and job market. In particular, some people may require supportive services, like in-home care, which are costly and not always covered by insurance. Additionally, the region has seen an increase in chronic homelessness (people with disabling conditions who experience long-term homelessness). This is a primary focus of new regional funding from the SHS measure.
Due to rising rents, people with fixed incomes or low-wage jobs, in combination with BIPOC and LGBTQIA2S+ identities, have a more difficult time affording rental housing or saving money for a down payment on a house to be able to secure a mortgage. As a result, these folks typically turn to shelters or end up living on the streets.
A Two-Pronged Solution