Homeless numbers rise in Oregon, according to new report

(Photo: Beverly & Pack)

A report released June 9 provides some insight into Oregon’s rising homeless population, and shows that mental illness and substance abuse are significant factors in a problem affecting 19,207 people statewide.

The report, based on a one-night count by Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS), also indicates 31 percent of those experiencing homelessness are children. The number of homeless families with children rose 33 percent from 2009.

OHCS deputy director Rick Crager said unemployment was a primary driver in Oregon’s “unprecedented” level of homelessness. Mental illness and addiction, however, also play a huge role.

According to a press release, the 2010 count probably understates the extent of the crisis. Even so, the report’s numbers are startling, with a total increase in homelessness of 12 percent over 2009.

The people counted had been homeless for an average of 12 months.

Among single adults in Oregon, 1,825 self-reported they were homeless due to a drug or alcohol problem, and 1,127 cited a mental or emotional disorder. Multiple responses were allowed, so some individuals may have given both reasons. These factors were cited almost as often as the most common response, unemployment.

The state also looked at how many homeless Oregonians had “secondary population characteristics.” These were not necessarily the same issues that individuals said had caused their homelessness. However, the numbers tell a similar story. Among all ages and living situations, 2,358 were listed as having mental or emotional problems, 2,829 had problems with substance abuse, and 1,015 have both a mental illness and an addiction. Individuals could be counted in more than one category.

Among Oregonians meeting the statewide definition of chronic homelessness, 1,555 had substance abuse problems, 1,326 had an emotional or mental disorder, and 618 had a dual diagnosis.

In Multnomah County, among the chronically homeless, substance abuse (462) was the most common secondary characteristic, followed by mental or emotional disorder (372) and dual diagnosis (221).

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, nationally about half of people experiencing homelessness suffer from mental health issues. At any given point in time, 45 percent of homeless people report they have had mental health problems during the past year. About 25 percent of the homeless are affected by serious mental illness. Homelessness also creates and exacerbates mental and physical health problems.

The problem will likely be worse in 2011. Lisa Joyce, of OHCS, says the 9 percent across-the-board state budget cut means Oregon will provide services to 2,000 fewer homeless people next year.

For further information: One-Night Homeless Count data by county