PORTLAND — Oregonians are optimistic that elected officials can tackle one of the state’s biggest humanitarian crises, a new poll from Portland firm DHM Research found.
Fully 62% of Oregonians surveyed said homelessness is a problem that can be solved in their communities with the right policies and resources, while only a third said they believed homelessness would always be a problem where they live, according to the online survey of 500 Oregon adults selected to match the demographic profile of the state. The poll, conducted from Feb. 24 to March 1, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4%.
In comparison, 57% of those surveyed by DHM Research in 2020 and 53% surveyed in 2019 believed that homelessness was a problem that could be solved.
Currently, 5,228 people are experiencing homelessness in Multnomah County while nearly 18,000 are homeless across the state, according to the most recent federal data.
Upon taking office in January, Gov. Tina Kotek immediately declared a homelessness state of emergency and called for $130 million to be quickly deployed to tackle the crisis. The Legislature added another $70 million to fill in gaps in Kotek’s original plan, proposing a $200 million emergency package aimed at preventing evictions, expanding shelters, housing unsheltered people, bolstering homeless youth programs and catalyzing affordable housing development. The two bills that make up the package passed the House easily Wednesday and are expected to reach Kotek’s desk before the end of March.
Angela Martin, co-director of HereTogether, a policy-focused coalition of Portland area homeless nonprofits and leaders, regarding the increased optimism, praised Kotek for her urgency.
“I give a lot of credit to Gov. Kotek’s message that housing and homelessness are not partisan issues,” she said. “Republican, Democrat, urban, rural: we all want a future where homelessness is rare and brief. When the message from the top is that we are all in this together, it’s easy to see why optimism is growing.”
The emergency money would be on top of any funding that makes its way into the general housing and homelessness budget for the coming two years and would be distributed far earlier than typical.
Survey respondents generally expressed support for many of the measures in the emergency package. Of those surveyed, 62% said they support diverting $34 million to provide rent assistance and prevent evictions, 65% said they support diverting $55 million to house people currently living unsheltered and 69% said they support diverting $24 million to build 600 new shelter beds across the state. Only 44%, however, said they support diverting millions to expand incentives for landlords.
Oregonians’ opinions of unhoused people have also shifted slightly since last year.
Fully 38% of Oregonians said they believe homelessness is mostly the result of a lack of affordable places to live — up from 28% who said the same thing in September 2022.
Of those surveyed, 56% said they believe homelessness is mostly the result of mental health and drug addiction — down from 61% in September 2022.
While local nonprofit leaders say housing costs is the biggest driver of homelessness, they also say other factors such as behavioral health compound the issue. The crisis cannot be solved without looking at all coalescing factors.
“As housing costs increase across the state, more people understand that lack of affordable housing is a significant driver of homelessness,” Martin said. “People in the Metro region have understood this for years, as the rising cost of housing has pushed more and more folks to the financial brink. However, it is a mistake to treat this as an either-or question. We need to address all these issues in order to tackle this crisis.”
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