The Joint Office of Homeless Services was established in 2016 to oversee the delivery of services to people experiencing homelessness in Multnomah County. The office represents a shared commitment between Multnomah County and the City of Portland to make services easier for those in need to access.

The Joint Office of Homeless Services administers contracts for services, conducts homeless street counts and one-night shelter counts, manages systems of care, oversees system reporting and evaluation, writes proposals to and monitors funds issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Continuum of Care program. 

The services funded and supported by the Joint Office of Homeless Services include:

  • shelter
  • rent assistance
  • permanent supportive housing
  • mental health support
  • trash cleanup
  • outreach

The Joint Office’s work aligns directly with the County’s mission and vision to serve the needs of those who are most vulnerable by providing a safety net of quality services that are developed using an equity lens and a commitment to social justice.

The Joint Office is guided by these core values:

  • prioritize those who are most vulnerable;
  • promote racial justice and anti-racism;
  • engage marginalized community voices - in particular those with lived experience of homelessness from Black Indigenous and other Peoples of Color (BIPOC) communities -  in identifying and implementing strategies that work;
  • use data and hold programs accountable for outcomes; and
  • continuously strengthen systems through alignment, coordination, and leveraging resources.

The Joint Office also works to simplify access to services for neighbors experiencing homelessness, and evaluates how well those services are working.

Contact:

Media inquiries - please contact Denis Theriault

Other inquiries - please contact johs@multco.us

Our mailing address is:
Joint Office of Homeless Services
721 SW Oak Street, Suite 100
Portland, OR 97205

Background:

Working through A Home for Everyone, Portland and Multnomah County created the Joint Office of Homeless Services in July 2016 to combine their spending on services for people experiencing homelessness, assembling staffers from the Portland Housing Bureau, the county’s Department of County Human Services and other partners into a single team. The City and County charged the Joint Office with putting priorities into place through the strategic investment of local funds.

For years, we’ve been deep in a homelessness crisis fueled by stagnant wages for low-income neighbors, increasing housing costs, decades of federal disinvestment, ongoing racial disparities, and the pain and trauma left by cycles of poverty.

Since early 2015 alone, rents in our community have risen much faster than the median income, to nearly $1,400 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in Portland, according to survey data from Multifamily NW from fall 2021. Meanwhile, more than 21,000 people in Multnomah County rely on federal disability checks that top out at $794 a month.

For minimum wage workers, rent increases since 2005 have cost thousands of dollars in real income and made it more difficult to tend to other basic needs. A broken-down car or a sudden medical bill isn’t just an inconvenience for neighbors in those straits. It’s lost income. It’s debt. And it’s potentially a path to unemployment and homelessness.

Housing prices are not only pushing people into homelessness, but they’re also making it harder to help people who’ve lost housing regain it. That means it takes longer to get into housing. Which means it takes longer to move out of shelters. Which means it takes longer to get into shelter or to directly find another housing opportunity if you’re on the streets.

 

The painful costs of homelessness:

Homelessness is preventable. And it affects thousands of our neighbors, struggling with illness, isolation and addiction as they try to rebuild their lives.

These neighbors are adults, seniors, young people, couples and families with children. They are disproportionately people of color. They are living on the streets, either temporarily or for the long term, for a variety of reasons. They may be homeless because of a lost job, domestic violence, a physical disability, a drug addiction or an untreated mental illness.

They may be experiencing a financial crisis and have been evicted from their home for the first time; they may cycle from homelessness to housing and back to homelessness again; or they may be chronically homeless, having lived on the streets for many months or years. And as we see every year in the community’s Domicile Unknown reports, some neighbors never escape homelessness.

Our most recent Point in Time survey shows where we are:

Overall, we counted just more than 4,000 people experiencing homelessness in Multnomah County — a figure that includes people in transitional housing, without shelter and in emergency shelter. That number is down slightly since 2017, but a larger share of people, more than 2,000, reported sleeping without shelter.

Communities of Color continue to be overrepresented on our streets and in our shelters compared to Multnomah County’s overall population. Our whole community advances when we work to address and end these disparities.

And the number of people considered chronically homeless or who reported disabling conditions is climbing at a higher rate than the overall number of people experiencing homelessness.

Homelessness is also expensive for residents and businesses. It increases costs for health and mental health care, jails, public safety and schools. We save money and produce better outcomes when people have a place to call home.

 

Progress made by the Joint Office since its launch:

The data makes clear that our work is making a difference.

On any given night, more than 12,000 people are supported in their housing through the Joint Office of Homeless Services and its partners, support through rent assistance and other services that has either ended homelessness for thousands of people or prevented them from falling into it in the first place. That number is double what it was four years ago.

One analyst, ECONorthwest, concluded in 2018 that our region’s homelessness crisis would and should be worse than it is – based on income disparities, vacancy rates and housing costs — if it hadn't been for the investments made by the Joint Office.

Thousands more people every year also now experience the basic safety of emergency shelter since the office launched. That comes after seeing through a promise to double our community’s supply of publicly funded year-round beds.

And we continue to shift those new beds into dignified, purposed-designed shelter spaces that lower the barriers that once kept people from seeking shelter. In 2019 alone, we opened four new shelters — the Laurelwood Center, the Lilac Meadows family shelter and the Family Village Campus, all in Southeast Portland, and the Navigation Center in the Pearl District. Each 24-hour facility focuses on providing the intensive services that will navigate our most vulnerable neighbors into permanent, secure housing

We’ve also grown our approach to street outreach. In 2019, the Joint Office launched a new Navigation Team that works intensively with some of the most challenging encampments in the city. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of outreach workers funded by the Joint Office increased from 47 to 72 workers -- still not enough to fully support the thousands of people experiencing unhoused homelessness, but more than we have ever funded before in the City and County.

Preventing homelessness is always our first priority. If that’s not possible, we work to get our neighbors back into housing as quickly as we can. But the reality is that moving into housing from the streets can take time. So we’re also ready to provide emergency shelter as needed.

But we know we have more to do.

We all want to take care of our neighbors, including those who have temporarily fallen on hard times, but also those with long-term illnesses or disabilities who might struggle to care for themselves. And everyone benefits when fewer of our neighbors are living their private lives in public spaces.

We know what works. We know the difference having a home can make. We know the difference that even a safer night of sleep can make. We all have a stake in ensuring we keep our commitments to our neighbors and that we continue to make progress.

How can housed neighbors help address and respond to unsheltered houselessness?

Joint Office-supported shelters are home for some of our unhoused neighbors.  They offer a safe sanctuary for people who have experienced the trauma of living outside.  Shelter staff work to create a safe environment for our unhoused neighbors to recuperate and get on their feet. For this reason we ask that you submit any complaints about shelters through email, rather than by visiting shelters in person. 

If you would like to volunteer with shelters, soup kitchens, hygiene programs or other projects supporting the houseless community, please see this list of volunteer opportunities compiled by our partners at the City of Portland. To donate supplies, clothing, or other needed items, see this most updated list from 211 Info.

There are neighbors struggling with houselessness all over the city. Our providers discourage people from camping and leaving belongings near shelters, and engage in regular perimeter checks to monitor and take care of trash.  At times staff may miss something or get behind.  

If you have a specific complaint about an unsanctioned camp, you can submit a report on pdxreporter.org. If the complaint is specifically about trash that needs to be picked up, submit a report to Metro RID Patrol to have the trash cleaned up.