Last month, volunteers from all over Portland spread out over the metro area to perform a point-in-time count of homelessness in Portland and Multnomah County. This count, performed every two years, provides a snapshot of the individuals and families experiencing homelessness on a given day in our community. Volunteers gather answers about the people in our community sleeping outside: how many there are, who they are, how long they have been homeless, and what kind of help they need to overcome barriers to health and housing.
A handful of Central City Concern staff members volunteered to assist with the count, so we asked them to share their thoughts on the experience.
Juliana D. writes:
I was excited about the opportunity to volunteer for the Homeless Street Count because I’ve always been curious about the methods used to keep track of how many people are sleeping outside, especially because this number is constantly in flux. From conversations with CCC employees who had done the count before, I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into beforehand: I’d meet up with a group of volunteers early in the morning, and walk around certain areas of the city that have high concentrations of people sleeping outside to administer a short survey.
When I met up with my fellow volunteers on the morning of the 29th, the sun was just starting to come out, so it was still pretty cold outside. We walked from tent to tent, asking first if anyone was inside, and then if whoever happened to be there would be willing to participate in the survey. As we walked, I was struck by the vulnerability of the tent spaces – the physical barriers between us and those camping out were minimal. I tried to put myself in the shoes of someone camping in an urban space, and realized that I couldn’t imagine the constant stress of paper thin walls between me and the elements because of my privilege of having been housed for my entire life.
I also got the chance to witness, and hear stories from, people who were incredibly resourceful. Most folks seemed to have mattresses on pallets, sleeping bags, and layers of blankets to keep them warm. I saw all manner of living structures and systems that expanded my own concept of what it means to make a place for oneself and to have a home. I was also pleasantly surprised by the willingness of people we talked with to participate in the survey, and to answer questions that got fairly personal.
I look forward to the results of the survey, and hope that the 2015 efforts will enhance our city’s resources to alleviate problems associated with homelessness.
And Rena J. shares:
I volunteered for the Street Count because I don’t want to be one of those people that just sits in an office and doesn’t engage with the community and causes I’ve chosen to dedicate my career to. Also, I know that compiling compelling data is vital for federal funding and I wanted to make sure I was a part of ensuring our community gets the funding it desperately needs to continue providing services.
While out during the count, I met many people of all ages and backgrounds: from a 19-year-old woman to a man who was a Gulf War veteran. Walking the streets and talking with people reaffirmed for me how important the work that CCC and other nonprofits provide to the community is. I want to believe that we can live in a society in which no one is left behind or forced to sleep on the street and where we don’t treat individuals who are homeless and/or living with mental illness or addiction disorders as invisible.
I hope that the street count will bring additional funding to our area and increased recognition that while homelessness is a problem, homeless people aren’t.