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Homelessness in Oregon

Solutions to inadequate housing supply, rising rents, a lack of public services and shelter space must be approached collaboratively by public, private, non-profit and philanthropic sectors

 

Affordable housing and homelessness together represent a statewide crisis that must be tackled by all levels of government, philanthropy, nonprofits and businesses working together on collaborative solutions, says a new report by economic research firm ECONorthwest and commissioned by Oregon Community Foundation.

The report shows that Oregon has a disproportionately large population of homeless people when compared to other states: while Oregon’s population represents 1.3% of the total U.S. population, Oregon’s homeless population represents 2.6% of the total U.S. homeless population. The report suggests that the state’s homelessness and housing dilemmas are the result of two converging crises. First, an inadequate housing supply and rising rents that is leaving tens of thousands of Oregon children and families at risk of becoming homeless, and second, the persistence of a smaller population of chronically homeless people in need of intensive social services as well as specialized housing.

 Chart: Oregon's disproportionately large homeless population share of U.S. totals

“Communities across the state are experiencing dramatic impacts of homelessness. In Jackson County, the homeless population hit a seven-year high. In Central Oregon, the number of adults living on the streets, under bridges, or in cars increased by 25.8% in 2017 - 2018. Conditions faced by Lane County’s growing unsheltered homeless population triggered the threat of a lawsuit,” notes the report’s author, John Tapogna, President of ECONorthwest.

Similar challenges surface from Astoria to Ontario

The report outlines a range of policy recommendations with proven track records of success to address these twin crises, from increasing housing supply at all price points to increasing affordable housing units to strengthening the system of permanent supportive housing for people needing social services and support to remain housed.

“Solving a crisis like this one — of a scale, duration and reach not seen here before — requires more than just good data. It requires collaboration by a range of actors: public and nonprofit agencies and private sector entities that work on homeless issues and those that delve into broader housing and land-use regulatory policies; federal partners willing to invest in rental assistance; state policymakers who can address state housing policy; universities leading in policy innovation, and business leaders providing leadership and a clear voice about the importance of affordable housing as a critical element to our local economy and to our ability to grow,” says Max Williams, President and CEO, Oregon Community Foundation.

Williams notes that over the past few years, OCF donors have contributed on average $6-8M a year in grants towards organizations that serve the homeless and help people with affordable housing. In addition, a $20M Oregon Impact Fund, launched in 2018, has become a source of growth capital for a range of organizations such as REACH Development, NOAH, CASA and the Portland Housing Center, all working to expand affordable housing and supportive services for children, families and veterans.

A snapshot of OCF donor grantmaking and loans, volunteerism and nonprofit support across the state illustrates the complexity and diversity of need for Oregonians experiencing homelessness:

  • OCF 2018 grantmaking throughout Southern Oregon included nearly $675K to support projects serving people experiencing homelessness or near homelessness in Jackson County. Grants include a range of financial and service supports, such as a recent effort by all-volunteer organization St. Vincent de Paul that is purchasing footlockers where people can store their belongings, enabling them to seek employment without fear of losing their items.
  • In Eugene, a 3-year, $500,000 loan to Sponsors, Inc. of Eugene is supporting the first “Pay for Success” project in Oregon. Sponsors, Inc., in collaboration with Homes for Good and Lane County Parole and Probation, provides wraparound services aimed at keeping people in stable housing as part of their successful return to the community after release from incarceration.
  • In Milton-Freewater, a pastor and community volunteer who essentially serves as a one-women social service agency, works with OCF donor support to – among other things - install the only free shower for homeless in Milton-Freewater in the basement of a local church.

Oregon Community Foundation first commissioned a Portland Metro region assessment, followed by a statewide report to help fill information gaps and inform ongoing, community-based work on housing and homelessness. OCF shares comprehensive data about housing and homelessness with a cross-section of groups. Work is ongoing to build collaborative frameworks to further support research, policymaking and philanthropic giving toward promising solutions.

“Rising housing costs, driven primarily by an undersupply of housing stock, have pushed many people across Oregon into greater financial instability,” says Williams. “We know that housing instability and homelessness are linked to other issues facing families and children across the state—success in school and in employment, the ability to afford the basics like food, transportation and day care, and physical and mental health. Solving the housing crisis could unlock the potential of tens of thousands of Oregonians, creating a stronger economy and healthier people.”

The report also examines the relationship between high housing costs and homelessness, as well as the high rates of homelessness in communities across Oregon and among specific populations, including people of color, veterans and children. It also provides data and information about four key policy areas and specific solutions showing promise. These include a continued focus on increasing the supply of market rate housing and affordable housing, strengthening the connections between the affordable housing and homeless services sectors, identifying the appropriate scale of the emergency shelter system and providing intensive social services for people most at risk for chronic homelessness.

OCF will continue to explore – through research and convening of partners and donors – these policy, program and service areas to enhance ongoing philanthropic investment in housing and homelessness solutions.

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