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Guest Editorial - Understanding the Homeless Crisis in Portland (Part 1)

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

Have you ever asked yourself, "Why is Portland’s homeless crisis far more significant than most cities throughout the country? Why is that? Before I answer that question, I want to address three common misconceptions about homelessness. Misconception #1 – Homelessness is increasing throughout the U.S. That’s simply not true. Between 2009 and 2019, homelessness decreased 10 percent nationwide; and geographically it declined in 39 states.1 And as we all know, during those years homelessness in Portland got worse, not better. Misconception #2 – Homelessness is concentrated in certain cities and states because of the weather. Not exactly true. Granted, it is easier to be homeless in Portland than Chicago. But weather isn’t the only factor. If it were, why is homelessness relatively low in other warm weather states of Florida, Arizona, Texas, and throughout the South?2 Misconception #3 – Homelessness is primarily caused by a lack of affordable housing. Although this is commonly accepted as fact, it is not the primary cause of homelessness. There are many factors that contribute to homelessness, but the primary causes are addiction to drugs and alcohol and mental illness, not a lack of affordable housing.

There is a far better explanation for the current distribution of homelessness in the United States than warm weather. Despite suffering from high rates of addiction and mental illness, the homeless, just like you and me, make rational decisions. They are highly responsive to public policy: they migrate towards cities with the most generous benefits, and towards the most permissive policy environments. To make matters worse, our elected officials are applying the wrong solution to the problem. In summary, the reasons why homelessness in Portland is twice the national average: 1. Our permissive public policies inadvertently encourage homelessness to thrive. 2. We provide generous benefits when compared to other cities throughout the country. 3. We are applying the wrong solution to the problem.

In my next newsletter I will discuss six permissive public policies in Portland that inadvertently encourage homelessness to thrive.


1 The 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress, Part 1: Point-in-Time Estimates of Homelessness, n.d., 104.

2 The State of Homelessness in America, Council of Economic Advisors, September 2019, 41, Homelessness-in-America.pdf

About the Author

Doug Marshall has been actively involved with the homeless in the Portland area for almost thirty years. In 2019 Marshall founded Hope for the Homeless Foundation. HHF objectively measures a nonprofit’s results in helping the homeless. Organizations that have a proven track record of successfully helping the homeless return to stability and become housed are provided financial grants through his foundation. For more information about HHF go to

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