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Mayor's office challenges higher homeless count

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On Thursday the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said the number of homeless people in the Portland-Gresham-Multnomah County area increase 1 percent in 2016. According to the department's 2016 Annual Homeless Assistance Report, the number jumped to 3,915 homeless people, an increase of 113 since 2015.


PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Homeless camping became increasingly visible in Portland over the past year.Mayor Charlie Hales office is questioning a new federal report that says homelessness increased in the Portland area this year.

On Thursday the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said the number of homeless people in the Portland-Gresham-Multnomah County area increase 1 percent in 2016. According to the department’s 2016 Annual Homeless Assistance Report, the number jumped to 3,915 homeless people, an increase of 113 since 2015.

But Hales’ spokesman Brian Worley says the 2016 number is only based on a one-day count of homeless people in shelters, not all homeless people in the area. Worley says more shelters were opened this year under the Housing State of Emergency the City Council declared in October 2015.

“The increase in the sheltered count is primarily because of the increase in opening hundreds of new shelter beds in the Portland area in 2016 under the [Housing] State of Emergency, it doesn't necessarily reflect an increase in the overall number of people experiencing homelessness,” says Worley, who believe a number of homeless people were “double-counted” in the new HUD report.

According to Worley, complete homeless counts in the Portland area are only conducted in odd-numbered years, with the next one schedule for January 2017.

HUD spokesman Leland Jones confirms the Portland area numbers in the new report are not based on a complete count, but only by adjusting the sheltered count to the one conducted in January 2015.

“Many communities do even-year counts as well. Portland-Gresham-Multnomah County area has not. In even-year counts it only counts folks in sheltered settings,” Leland says.

In fact, Hales believes the number of homeless people in the Portland area decreased in 2016. Earlier this month, he told the Portland Tribune the total likely went down because of a concerted effort by the city and Multnomah County to house all homeless veterans.

Many city residents probably disagree with Hales, however, because of the visible increase the number of homeless people camping outdoors over the past year. Complaints to the city about homeless camping have rising dramatically in recent months. Hales says that is largely the result of the redevelopment of underused properties where the homeless use to camp unnoticed.

The question of whether the number of homeless people actually increased in the Portland area will not be resolved until the next complete count is conducted, however.

The 2016 total in the HUD report is less than it was in 2010. That year the report said there were 4,235 homeless people in the area — 7.54 percent more than now. HUD attributes that to a strategic plan to end homeless established by the Obama Administration in 2010 called Opening Doors. It coordinates the efforts of the 19 federal member agencies of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.

Also involved are local Continuums of Care that receive the bulk of the approximately $1.9 billion in annual funding to end and prevent homelessness awarded by HUD. They are comprised of local governments, social service providers and homeless organizations responsible for establishing the priorities of how the funds they receive are most effectively used in their communities, HUD says.