2017 Homeless Street Count FAQs

When is the bi-annual Homeless Street Count?

The most recent count took place in February 2017.

What is the purpose of the Homeless Street Count?

The Homeless Street Count is an effort to learn more about the individuals and families experiencing homelessness on a given night in Portland/ Multnomah County. It captures a snapshot of those who are "unsheltered"--sleeping outside, in a car or abandoned building--on a given night. In combination with the One Night Shelter Count (see below), which is conducted on the same night, it provides important information about the level of homelessness in our community and the need for services.

What is the One Night Shelter Count?

The One Night Shelter Count (ONSC), gathers information on people sleeping in (or turned away from) emergency shelters, motels, and transitional housing as well as those receiving rent assistance and permanent supportive housing who would otherwise be homeless without that subsidy. It is conducted on the same night as the Street Count. 

Who coordinates the counts?

Both counts are coordinated by the City of Portland and Multnomah County Joint Office of Homeless Services. The results of both counts are combined into a single Point-in-Time Count report.

Why does Portland/Multnomah County conduct a Homeless Street Count?

Communities that receive federal funding for homeless services are required to conduct a comprehensive Homeless Street Count every two years in order to maintain funding eligibility. The data collected from the count also helps the Joint Office of Homeless Services and its partners through A Home for Everyone plan for the funding and services needed to meet the needs of homeless persons in our community.

What geographic areas does the Homeless Street Count cover?

The count covers all of Multnomah County.

Why should community organizations participate in the Homeless Street Count?

The Homeless Street Count relies on the participation of hundreds of organizations across Multnomah County who help to administer a short survey during the week of the count. If your agency comes into regular contact with people who are experiencing homeless and who are unsheltered, your participation is essential to making sure the count is as accurate and comprehensive as possible. Having an accurate count enables our community to be eligible for federal and state funding for homeless services. In addition, by enabling us to better understand the demographics and needs of those experiencing homelessness in our community, an accurate count helps to ensure a more equitable distribution of resources to meet the needs of the different populations.

Should my agency participate in the One Night Shelter Count or Street Count or both?

If your agency serves people who are in emergency shelter or transitional housing, or who are turned away after seeking these services, then you should participate in the One Night Shelter Count (ONSC). If you serve people who are unsheltered, then you should participate in the Street Count. If you serve both populations, then you should participate in both counts. However, only one form should be filled out for each individual. If an individual or household is in shelter or transitional housing or was turned away from these services, you should use the ONSC form. If an individual or household is sleeping outside and is not being turned away from shelter services, you should use the Street Count form.

What is the definition of homelessness used for the Homeless Street Count?

The Homeless Street Count focuses on people who are unsheltered and sleeping in a place that is not intended for human habitation. This includes streets, sidewalks, parks, alleys, transportation depots or other parts of transportation systems, all-night commercial establishments (e.g. movie theaters, laundromats, restaurants), abandoned buildings, farm outbuildings, caves, campgrounds, vehicles (e.g. cars, trucks, RVs, trailers), and other similar places. Per the federal government’s requirements, the Homeless Street Count only focuses on unsheltered homeless persons. It does not include people who are in shelter or transitional housing, or who are couch surfing or doubled up with family or friends.

What about people who are couch surfing or doubled up?

People who are doubled up or couch surfing represent a significant portion of the individuals and families experiencing housing instability in Multnomah County. However, the federal and state guidelines that determine the methodology for the Homeless Street Count and One Night Shelter Count do not include those populations. The Point-in-Time count report draws from data collected by partner organizations to provide estimates of the doubled up and couch surfing population in an effort to provide a more complete picture of homelessness and housing instability in our community.

Why is this YEAR's count held in late February?

Both the Homeless Street Count and the One Night Shelter Count typically occur at the end of January as mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD requires homeless counts to happen during the last ten days of January in order to capture data when shelter use peaks due to weather. It requires the counts to happen at the end of the month because that is when those who cycle on and off the streets are most likely to be homeless, having depleted their monthly income or benefits.

However, because of severe weather conditions in the weeks leading up to this year's count, HUD has approved our community's request to delay the count until the end of February.

What is the Homeless Street Count methodology?

The Homeless Street Count methodology aims to be as comprehensive as possible by incorporating the following elements:

1. Coordinated outreach

Outreach workers from more than 20 community organizations coordinate efforts to visit camps and survey people who are unsheltered on the night of the count.

2. Data from agencies and programs that serve people who are unsheltered

More than 100 organizations provide data for the count by administering a short survey with anyone they encounter who is unsheltered on the night of the count.

3. Coordination with the One Night Shelter Count

The One Night Shelter Count collects data on those turned away from shelter, transitional housing, or short-term rent assistance on the night of the count who plan to sleep outside. This information is checked against the rest of the Street Count data to avoid duplication; any unduplicated data is incorporated into the overall count.

4. Identification of camps

Key partners from agencies such as law enforcement, parks and public utilities provide information on the location of homeless camps throughout the county. Outreach workers visit camps during the week of the count as part of the coordinated outreach strategy.

How does the count avoid duplication of data?

The Homeless Street Count's survey form and the One Night Shelter Count's turn-away form collect basic identifying information for each person counted (first three letters of last name, first letter of first name, age and gender). This information is used to eliminate any duplication across the surveys. If identifying information is not available, or if outreach workers do not wish to disturb a campsite, an alternative form can be used to collect information on the location and approximate number of people sleeping at that location. Because this data cannot be unduplicated, it is included in an appendix to the Street Count report, but not in the official Street Count number.

How ARE the data used?

Data from the Homeless Street Count and One Night Shelter Count is used to inform policy, planning, resource allocation and evaluation of homeless services. For example:

  • Count data is a required element of federal competitive grants such as the Continuum of Care, as well as the Consolidated Plan for Gresham, Portland and Multnomah County.

  • Local governments and nonprofits use the data to help inform planning and coordination of homeless services, especially through our community-wide partnership, A Home for Everyone. Knowing more about the specific needs of those experiencing homelessness allows local governments to better direct resources to meet those needs.

  • The federal government uses data from the Homeless Street Count to evaluate our community’s effectiveness in preventing and ending homelessness.