"Mama Kat" sits outside of Sisters of the Road Cafe in downtown Portland in July 2022. She lives on the streets and has experienced her encampment being swept. Mark Graves/The Oregonian
Of the roughly 1,700 homeless Portlanders offered shelter during city sweeps of encampments over the past 10 months, just 11% remain in some form of temporary shelter and fewer than 1% are permanently housed, data provided by Multnomah County shows. Camping Soft Tent
Two-thirds of people swept from camps declined the offer of temporary shelter, the county reported. And among the other third who did move indoors, the typical individual stayed for two weeks and is back on the streets or at another unknown destination, the data shows.
That adds up to as many as 89% of the individuals cleared from an encampment back sleeping unsheltered somewhere in the city.
While shelters across the county are usually near capacity most nights, the city sets aside some beds for people whose encampments are swept.
Of the people who accessed shelter after being swept, 16% still are using a shelter bed, with those individuals clocking stays of two or three months.
Not everyone whose tent was swept was offered shelter. This could be because they were not in their tent at the time of the sweep.
Of the nearly 1,700 people who were offered services:
Those who moved into a group shelter after being swept from camping outdoors typically stayed in a shelter bed for half as long as people who came to congregate shelters on their own, said Denis Theriault, spokesperson for the joint city-county homelessness services office.
Tent sweeps have increased dramatically since Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler last spring ordered an unprecedented mass sweep of Old Town. He also declared emergencies that banned camping along high-crash corridors and commonly traveled routes to schools. Most recently, he ordered a mass sweep in the Central Eastside.
Cody Bowman, spokesman for Wheeler, said officials in the mayor’s office are grateful for the shelter bed set aside program since connecting people to a shelter can lead to permanent or transitional housing.
“This aligns with the mayor’s top priority to get Portlanders stabilized, better connected to services, and into housing,” Bowman said in a statement. “This is why he continues to lead on developing temporary alternative shelter sites where individuals experiencing homelessness can have a safe and secure place to stay while they are better connected to services.”
At the end of 2022, Wheeler announced a plan to ban street camping as soon as 2024 after creating mass tent sites run by the city.
The city is currently considering contractors’ bids to operate such sites.
This week, Commissioner Rene Gonzalez also banned Portland Street Response from handing out tents or tarps to homeless individuals. The response team, which provides emergency support to people experiencing a mental health crisis, previously offered those items to people as part of their life saving supplies for those who couldn’t access shelter or housing, particularly during severe weather.
Gonzalez said handing out tents led to more tent fires, which people typically start to keep warm or to cook food. In his announcement, he encouraged people to seek shelter instead of sleeping in a tent.
Nicole Hayden reports on homelessness for The Oregonian/OregonLive. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Nicole_A_Hayden.
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