Homelessness, like many public policy issues, is complicated and multifaceted, and hard to cover in a short survey without many respondents feeling we’re oversimplifying things. Please know that as a nonprofit organization, OVBC is working hard to have the resources to provide Oregonians with a more complete understanding of public opinion about homelessness and the other issues we ask about in our monthly surveys. This includes more in-depth quantitative research and qualitative research to understand the motivations underlying attitudes expressed in the surveys.
In the meantime, to assist organizations working to build stronger communities across the state with their planning, policymaking, and communications, we will give our respondents an opportunity to respond to general questions about an issue so as to report the broad spectrum of how a representative cross-section of Oregonians feels about it at a high level. This includes an opportunity in the survey to provide any volunteered comments about the issue. These verbatim responses are included in our analysis and reporting.
From November 8-15, 2021, the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center conducted a statewide survey of Oregonians’ values and beliefs, including questions about homelessness and its causes. The questions were intended to gather preliminary data to inform more in-depth research in the months ahead.
The online survey consisted of 1,200 Oregon residents ages 18+ and took approximately 15 minutes to complete. Demographic quotas and statistical weighting were used to ensure a representative sample. Based on a 95% confidence interval, this survey’s margin of error, for the full sample, ranges from ±1.7% to ±2.8%. Due to rounding, numbers may not add up to 100%.
Respondents were contacted by using professionally maintained online panels. In gathering responses, a variety of quality control measures were employed, including questionnaire pre-testing, validation, and real-time monitoring of responses. To ensure a representative sample, demographic quotas were set, and data weighted by area of the state, gender, age, and education.
This survey uses aggregated data to analyze the opinions of BIPOC residents in comparison to the opinions of residents who identify as white and not another race. BIPOC residents are not a monolith; the grouping represents a wide diversity of races and ethnicities. The findings included in this memo should not be construed such that all people of color are believed to share the same opinions. Disaggregated race data will be provided when sample sizes permit reliability.
The question numbers in this document correspond with the survey questionnaire, available to download at the bottom of the page (Q2, Q5, Q12, Q37-53).
Growing Urgency and Oregon’s Number One Priority
70% of Oregonians believe it is very important or urgent for leaders in their community to make doing something about homelessness (or houselessness) their number one priority. This is up 20 points from an October 2020 survey conducted by DHM Research and OVBC, which found that 50% thought this was very important/urgent. The largest jump was observed for “urgent” ratings, which increased from 22% to 39% over one year (Q37).
Satisfaction with Current Services
Only 12% of Oregonians are somewhat or very satisfied with the homelessness services in their area. Women are the demographic group least likely to say they are satisfied (7%), along with Multnomah County residents (8%)(Q2).
- As for related levels of dissatisfaction, 2:3 of Oregonians (67%) are not very or not at all satisfied, including 82% of Multnomah County residents.
Additionally, only 13% of Oregonians are satisfied with housing affordability in their area.
- 79% of Multnomah County residents say they are not very/not at all satisfied, although that number drops to 72% when considering the broader Tri-County area (Q5).
23% of Oregonians are satisfied with mental health services in their area, while twice as many are dissatisfied (46%). The aforementioned October 2020 survey1 found that Oregonians believe mental illness is the number one reason people become homeless (Q12).
How Oregonians End Up Homeless
Respondents were provided a list of 13 reasons why someone might become homeless and were asked to rank the three most consequential (Q38-50). The following reasons garnered the highest percentage of number one rankings:
- Mental illness (number one reason: 29%; among top three reasons: 61%)
- Substance abuse (number one reason: 25%; among top three reasons: 58%)
- Lack of affordable housing (number one reason: 24%; among top three reasons: 54%)
Mental illness was also cited as the number one reason people become homeless in October 2020, followed closely by substance abuse and lack of affordable housing.
No other listed reasons are ranked number one by more than 8% of Oregonians, although unemployment and low-paying jobs are ranked among the top three reasons by 30% and 23% of Oregonians, respectively.
Provided the open-ended opportunity to list other, more important causes for homelessness, Oregonians cite difficulties for veterans (PTSD), the COVID-19 pandemic, lack of education, and LGBTQ discrimination (Q51).
Can the Right Policies and Resources Solve Homelessness?
Oregonians are twice as likely to believe that with the right policies and resources, homelessness is a problem that can be solved in their community (60% agree) than that homelessness will always be a problem in their community (30% agree). This is nearly identical to October 2020, when 57% and 37% of Oregonians agreed with each statement, respectively, and has shown little change since 2015. Notably, Multnomah County residents are more likely to believe homelessness is a problem that can be solved in their community than other Oregonians (69% vs. 57%) (Q52).
In Their Own Words: Oregonians Talk About Homelessness
Respondents were provided the opportunity to share any other thoughts they have about homelessness. Below is a representative sample of quotes from respondents, with key themes including the need for more affordable housing and shelter space, the importance of job assistance, concern over garbage and trash, personal or family experience with homelessness, and the connection between mental health and substance abuse (Q53).
“This is a very difficult subject with no easy and quick answer. The homeless with mental health and substance abuse issues should get help and some temporary housing. When they have recovered and are able to work, it would be good for them to receive some job training and/or assistance with finding a job. There should then be affordable long-term housing for them. Unfortunately, some would choose to remain as they are.”Female, age 55-64, Clackamas County, white or Caucasian
“The community needs to step in as soon as possible and provide immediate support with shelter and assistance finding a job. Daily encouragement and getting people to understand that they can save themselves if they really work at it. Nothing good comes from sitting around and waiting for something for nothing, or worse, nothing at all.”Male, age 75+, Clatsop County, white or Caucasian
“Throwing money at this problem doesn’t work. we need public spaces to be clear of camps and trash if there is any hope of businesses returning.”Male, age 45-54, Multnomah County, Asian or Pacific Islander
“Build more low-cost housing…not cheap but VERY cheap so more people can afford them. The tent cities are not a good solution at all. Zoning changes to allow multistory tiny apartments, with caregivers on staff. Like nursing homes but for other kinds of people.”Female, age 45-54, Lane County, Native American or American Indian
“Focus less on managing homelessness and more on preventing cases. Lower housing costs. Ensure people have more tools to take control of their life. Damage control isn’t worth the money unless we solve the root of the issue.”Female, age 18-29, Deschutes County, white or Caucasian
Identifying What Unites Us, Understanding What Divides Us
Reported below are statistically significant subgroup differences between BIPOC and white Oregonians, urban and rural Oregonians, and age groups. Many of these differences are not major and are presented to inform public education and communications initiatives.
- Oregonians of color and whites are in nearly identical agreement on how important it is for leaders in their community to make doing something about homelessness (or houselessness) their number one priority (72% and 70%, respectively)(Q37).
- Oregonians of color and whites rank mental illness and substance abuse as top reasons why people become homeless at a similar rate, but BIPOC Oregonians are slightly less likely to rank lack of affordable housing among their top three (BIPOC: 47%; whites: 56%)(Q38-40).
- BIPOC Oregonians are more likely than white Oregonians to say they are somewhat/very satisfied with housing affordability where they live (18% vs. 12%)(Q5).
- Perhaps unsurprisingly, urban Oregonians are more likely than their rural counterparts to feel it is very important/urgent for leaders in their community to make doing something about homelessness (or houselessness) their number one priority (79% vs. 60%), though this is a high number for both groups (Q37).
- A majority of Oregonians in all areas of the state are not at all or not very satisfied with their area’s homelessness services and housing affordability, but rural residents express slightly lower levels of dissatisfaction (homelessness services: 56% vs. 61-74%; housing affordability: 63% vs. 73-79%)(Q2,Q5).
- About one-third of residents in rural, rural-changing-to-suburban, and suburban areas say they are neither dissatisfied nor satisfied with mental health services in their area (32-35%), while less than one-quarter of those in urban areas say the same (24%)(Q12).
- Oregonians living in rural areas are the least optimistic that the right policies and resources can solve homelessness (53%) while urbanites are the most optimistic (66%) and those in suburban and rural-changing-to-suburban areas fall between the two (61% and 55%, respectively)(Q52).
- Two-thirds or more of all age groups said it very important or urgent for leaders in their community to make doing something about homelessness (or houselessness) their number one priority (Q37).
- Younger Oregonians are more likely to be dissatisfied with housing affordability in their area. About three-quarters of those age 54 and younger say they’re not satisfied (74-76%), compared to about two-thirds of people age 55 and older (63-69%)(Q5).
- Interestingly, a majority of Oregonians between the ages of 45 and 64 are dissatisfied with mental health services (53-56%), and fewer than one in five say they are very or somewhat satisfied (15-18%). Oregonians age 65+ are slightly more likely than other age groups to say they are neither dissatisfied nor satisfied (38-43% vs. 23-29%) and those under age 44 are slightly more likely to say they are somewhat or very satisfied (24-36% vs. 15-21%)(Q12).
- Oregonians across all age groups rank the top contributing factors to homelessness similarly, although Oregonians 45 and older place more emphasis on mental illness (61-67% vs. 56%). 18 to 29 year-olds are more likely to rank lack of affordable housing as a top contributing factor (60%), especially compared to those age 75 and older (43%)(Q38-50).
- 18 to 29 year-olds and those age 75 and older are the most optimistic that the right policies and resources can solve homelessness (66% and 65% respectively), while about one-third of those between the ages of 45 and 74 say homelessness will always be a problem (32-35%)(Q52).
This research was completed as a community service by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, an independent and non-partisan organization. OVBC is an Oregon charitable nonprofit corporation (www.oregonvbc.org).
For More Information:
 Survey conducted October 1-6,2020; DHM Research and OVBC; n=600
Analysis and Reporting by: Ari Wubbold