Oregon – Homelessness in the U.S. has gone from bad to worse in the last two decades, with things getting much worse since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to this year’s data, California has the highest number of homeless people among all states, while Oregon is in the second-worst place on the list.
Each year, the federal government counts the homeless individuals and presents the data in several different categories. Unfortunately, Oregon has been sitting very high on the list every year due to the consistently high number of homeless people. But according to experts, the official data and number of homeless people in Oregon are much lower compared to the actual numbers, and things are continuing to get worse each year.
The state also has the highest number of homeless families with kids and young people on their own. A big reason for this is the high cost of housing.
The latest figures show that for every 10,000 people in Oregon, 48 are without a home. This adds up to 20,142 homeless individuals. Experts believe the real number might be higher. Homelessness in Oregon is a growing problem. Since 2007, the number of homeless people has gone up by 15%, and there was a big increase of 23% during the COVID-19 pandemic between 2020 and 2022.
Jimmy Jones, who leads a housing and homelessness charity called Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action, thinks the situation is only getting worse every year. He says the main cause is financial problems and despite the help provided, Jones believes the worst is yet to come. He mentions that many people who lost their homes during the pandemic and moved into vehicles aren’t yet included in these numbers. Counting them is difficult, and their full impact is yet to be seen.
Every January, the U.S. does a one-night count of homeless people. From 2022 to 2023, homelessness rose by 12% to 653,104 nationwide. Western states saw the most people without proper shelter.
In Oregon, 65% of homeless people were not in shelters, but in places like streets or cars.
The rate of homeless families with children is 9 per 10,000 residents. The next highest state is Idaho at 4 per 10,000 residents.
Since 2020, the number of homeless families in Oregon went up by 27% to 3,900. Almost 60% of them don’t have a safe place to stay. Both Oregon and Washington have many homeless families, but Oregon’s rate of those without shelter is much higher.
States with the highest rates of families with children experiencing homelessness
- Oregon: 3,900 total people in unhoused families with 58.7% unsheltered
- Idaho: 818 with 43.8% unsheltered
- Arkansas: 496 with 28.2% unsheltered
- Washington: 7,136 with 26.4% unsheltered
- California: 25,483 with 23.5% unsheltered
In the Portland-Gresham and Eugene-Springfield areas of Oregon, a strikingly high number of families without homes don’t have shelter. In these areas, about three-quarters of these families are living without shelter.
Oregon’s increase in homelessness among families wasn’t as sharp as in states like New York, Massachusetts, and Colorado. This is because Oregon has long had high numbers of homeless families. From 2022 to 2023, there was a 16% rise in the number of families without homes in Oregon.
Ever since the U.S. government started keeping track of this data, Oregon has often had the highest rates of families experiencing homelessness without shelter. In 2023, nearly 60% of these families were living outside, as highlighted in a recent report.
“Where the homelessness crisis is most pervasive, California, Washington, Oregon and New York, the housing and rental costs are greatest in the country,” Jones said as reported by Seaside Signal. “Back East, those states have kind of adjusted to that with really good affordable housing developments. We have been trapped behind the curve there.”
There aren’t enough places for homeless people to stay in rural Oregon, especially outside of the Portland city area. A lot of veterans in Oregon are also homeless and don’t have a place to live—56% of the state’s homeless veterans are in this position.
The issue is made worse by the fact that there is not enough cheap housing in the state.
A study said that more people in Oregon lost their homes in 2022 because of natural disasters like huge wildfires, floods along the coast, heavy snow in the east, and a rare tornado in the north.
Even in Portland, where there are more shelter beds, more people are need of shelter and help because there aren’t enough cheap homes.
This is not just a problem in Portland. In the U.S., the number of homeless people is growing faster than the number of places to stay. The number of beds in emergency shelters has grown by 70% since 2007, while housing with long-term support has increased by 110%.
Jones explained about how the pandemic had affected Oregon’s economy, pointing out the big rises in prices for rent and inflation from 2020 to 2022. Even though there were fewer evictions at this time, which helped ease the crisis, a lot of people still left their homes on their own. It’s still not clear how big of a problem this is.
Jones asserts that Oregon is in a tough spot because of rising housing costs and environmental problems that make it hard for families to stay in their homes.
Another major issue in the state is the high number of young people without homes and without adult guidance. Oregon leads the nation in this sad statistic, with 70% of these young people, aged up to 24, living without shelter.
From 2022 to 2023, the number of homeless youths jumped by 34% to 1,424, one of the biggest increases in the U.S. States like New York, California, and Illinois saw even larger rises, nearly 60%, while Washington’s increase was 12.4%.
Jones points to Oregon’s long-term neglect of youth and foster care as the root cause of this ongoing problem.
He explained that most homeless young people are between 18 and 24 years old. They’re too old for foster care but often feel unsafe in shelters designed for adults, leading many to stay out of sight. Despite recent efforts to address youth issues, Oregon still lacks adequate shelter options for this older youth group.