A recent count of homeless people in the state showed a 21 percent increase from the year before.
In response, a coalition of housing advocates, nonprofits, faith-based groups and government representatives met on June 24 to hash out solutions to the problem. The Interfaith Summit focused on solutions within the framework of faith-based institutions.
Kevin Finney, public policy director for Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, said the coalition focused on solutions for improving shelter response, working to keep families from becoming homeless and making outreach to homeless children to keep them engaged in school.
Expanded and continued funding for emergency rental assistance was needed to keep families stable, he said. When families do become homeless, he said faith-based institutions worked on solutions to improve their outreach to create relationships with those individuals.
"If we can get involved in the early level, we can make more of a difference," he said.
Of course, the biggest factor in reducing homelessness is improving the economic climate of the state, he said. Barring that change, faith-based institutions are using whatever resources are at their disposal to help families – inside and outside of their congregations.
At the same time that homelessness is increasing and job creation is stagnant, the state of Oregon is facing more than half a billion dollar deficit in its projected budget.
Most troubling is the finding that one-third of all homeless people are children. Homeless children increased 36 percent to 5,866 during this year's count. In all there were 19,207 people identified as homeless in the count completed in early June.
Because Multnomah County does not conduct homeless counts in even number years, the Oregon Housing and Community Services count is likely low, according to agency, due to the fewer number of census counters on the ground.
"In ordinary times, we would expect the number of people counted to fall without the Portland street count," said Rick Crager, OHCS deputy director, in a release. "These numbers are proof that the economic conditions of the state, driven primarily by unemployment, have brought unprecedented levels of homelessness."
In Multnomah County, there were 1,648 homeless single adults; 64 couples without children, 1115 single parents with children (children included in count); and 359 two parent families with children (children included in count). The majority of these people are in shelters or transitional housing.
Of all homeless counted, 661 were Black; 369 were Hispanic; 169 were American Indian; 1723 were White; 81 were Pacific Islander; 49 were Asian and 147 undetermined.