Mayor Pledges to House All Homeless Veterans and Women by End of 2015

Help for down-and-out folks in Portland, Oregon, might be on the way.

Lori Godin used the Oxford Street Shelter last winter while she tried to get back on her feet. (Photo: John Patriquin/'Portland Press Herald' via Getty Images)

Oct 2, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Need more proof that Portland, Oregon, is more than a hub of Portlandia-style, artisanal lightbulb-loving hipsters? Look no further than the recent pledge issued by the city’s mayor to get all homeless women and veterans off the street by the end of 2015.

Indeed, in the face of a rising population of people sleeping in shelters, in cars, on bus benches, and in doorways, Mayor Charlie Hales late last week asked the Portland City Council to declare a state of emergency over the homeless situation. If the declaration is approved, cumbersome land-use restrictions and legal requirements will be more easily waived, enabling the city to quickly create new shelters and affordable housing. No extra funding for homeless services has been allocated, however.

There are 3,800 homeless people in Portland, according to a report from the city based on the most recent official single-night count. And of those people, 1,800 have no safe place to sleep at night. Another 12,000 individuals are sleeping “doubled up,” according to the report—on couches or on the floors of other people.

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As a result, Hales pledged “to get all homeless veterans in Portland and Multnomah County indoors by the end of this year,” and “to open additional shelter space, in order to ensure that all homeless women in Portland are also indoors by the end of year,” according to a statement from his office.

The city found that women make up 31 percent of the homeless population in Portland, a 15 percent increase from 2014. And, nearly half of them said they had been victims of domestic violence. Sleeping on the street puts them at additional risk of assault.

“The additional vulnerability of women, and in particular women of color, to violence and severe trauma once they become homeless is well documented. It must be a priority to take action and to work with our health care and domestic violence system partners to provide women the housing options and services they need to reverse this trend,” wrote the report’s authors.

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Veterans comprise 12 percent of the city’s homeless population; nationally, vets are just 7 percent of the population. Chronic homelessness impacts 44 percent of the vets in Portland who are without a permanent home.

Last summer, Hales also backed a plan to construct tiny houses for the homeless on unused government land. However, in Los Angeles, which also issued a state-of-emergency declaration last week about the number of homeless people, officials put the kibosh on an effort to provide the small structures to folks who have been sleeping rough.

But it seems Hales hopes to share some of his passion for eradicating homelessness with his peers. “I will convene a meeting this fall for the mayors of the major West Coast cities, here in Portland,” he said. “Affordable housing and homelessness crises will be prominent in that discussion.”