Portland, Oregon is facing a housing crisis that has continued to get worse within the past two years. According to The Oregonian in 2020, 5.86 per every 1,000 people in the city of Portland were houseless, which was the fifth highest rate in the entire country. With the affordability of housing decreasing and the city of Portland not being able to meet the demands of the growing houseless community, Portland community members have become concerned. Throughout the growing conversations about this pressing social issue, many Portlanders continue to bring up the concern for how the houseless community affects local businesses and community spaces. While this is an important concern to think about, we should not only be thinking about how the housing crisis in Portland affects the greater community, but also focus on how we as a community can support people within Portland who are unhoused.

The houseless community’s effects on local businesses seems to be on the forefront for many Portland citizens. From people having to sleep on the sidewalks in front of stores and restaurants to businesses closing off their bathrooms, the effects of houselessness extend beyond the people immediately affected.

The increase in houseless population in the city of Portland has affected more and more businesses every year. Many houseless people, unable to find other places to sleep, set up camp outside of businesses all around the city. “Customers now often have to step over needles or human feces to walk into the door,” stated the owner at Produce in Old Town, Wyatt Savage, during an interview with KATU2. The problems that business owners face don’t stop with nearby houseless camps. 

Owner of Noble Rot here in Portland, Courtney Storrs, says she has encounters with houseless citizens around her business as well. “I don’t think it is daily, but definitely weekly to biweekly,” Storrs stated. The growth of houselessness in Portland over the previous two years has had an impact on Storrs’ business, along with many others. “With the increased houseless people, we have experienced campers, people using our outlets, urination, defecation, litter, the list goes on,” added Storrs.

While businesses like Storrs’ are affected on a weekly to biweekly basis, others are affected daily, and others not at all. Some businesses are more likely to be affected by the houseless community than others due to their location. The effects of the houseless community on local businesses ultimately varies from business to business. It is important for us to balance our consideration for business owners with understanding and compassion for people without housing, as well as knowing what we as a community can do to help. If we provide help to those in the houseless community, we can work towards a brighter future for everybody in our community.

There are a large variety of causes for the city’s houseless issues and it may not be as simple as you think. “Once a person has experienced homelessness it’s very difficult to get out of that situation. Many people have experienced trauma, substance abuse, or mental illness and they need support to navigate the services that can help them address these issues,” said Union Gospel Mission communications manager, Courtney Dodd. Some houseless people were born with mental illnesses or developed them over time, never getting a fair opportunity compared to those who haven’t had to deal with those struggles. Others may have lost jobs, been unable to get a job, or have returned from the military to no social or medical support and are therefore forced into poverty. Regardless of the cause, houselessness has become a major headline in Portland and demands a solution fast. 

According to OPB, in the past ten years, deaths amongst houseless citizens in Portland have risen each year starting from 47 deaths in 2011, to 126 deaths in 2021. 11 houseless shelters across the city are determined to help decrease these numbers in 2022 and every year that follows. The Harbor (Portland Rescue Mission) located on NE Wygant Street here in Portland states, “Our programs at The Harbor focus on three primary areas: addiction recovery, spiritual formation and life skills development. As we compassionately walk beside men, they are encouraged to grow inside and out.” These houseless shelters and those who work there are met with many different challenges every day. “People who are houseless have often experienced trauma, so part of our work is building trusting relationships with people, and that can be very challenging,” said Dodd. With an increasing houseless population in Portland, shelters are having to make changes to the way they operate. Dodd explained that the Union Gospel Mission had to open a winter shelter starting in winter of 2020 to account for the increase in need and numbers. 

One thing Dodd wants people to do when it comes to the houseless issues in Portland is to “seek understanding as to why people end up experiencing houselessness. Each individual has a story and there are many reasons as to why people end up houseless. Understanding the complexity of the issue and learning about individuals’ unique circumstances helps us be compassionate,” she says.

The city of Portland is slowly making progress on fixing its houseless problems by providing more money towards beds, shelter, and other human necessities for the houseless. However, there is still a long way to go, as the city’s houseless rates have yet to drop over the previous few years. Houselessness is a world-wide issue that may never be solved, but it’s up to all of us to do our part in helping those in need by donating money, volunteering in shelters, and more so we can create a better future in Portland.