How about a homelessness dashboard for Portland?

Do you know what I'd like to see? A homelessness "dashboard" for the City of Portland. This would be sort of like the web pages that the federal, state, and world public health folks have set up with daily statistics regarding Covid. It wouldn't have to be as elaborate, or with as much data, but there are eight figures that I'd like to see every day:

1. The number of shelter beds in existence in Portland the night before.

2. The number of people who slept in shelter beds in Portland the night before.

3. An estimate of the number of people who slept in vehicles in Portland the night before. (You could break out as a sub-total those who slept in a managed vehicle camp, if there are any.) 

4. An estimate of the number of people who slept outdoors, other than in vehicles, in Portland the night before. (You could break out as a sub-total those who slept in managed tent camps or tiny-house camps.) 

5. The number of jail beds in existence in Portland the night before.

6. The number of people who slept in jail beds in Portland the night before.

7. The number of in-patient treatment beds for mental illness and drug addiction in existence in Portland the night before.

8. The number of people who slept in in-patient treatment beds for mental illness and drug addiction in Portland the night before.

It seems to me that most of the public discussion about the city's homelessness disaster suffers greatly from lack of data. The numbers I am calling for would help people focus.

Now, who would create and maintain such a dashboard? I'm not sure whom in the overlapping bureaucracies I would trust to do it. Between incompetence and agendas, their numbers might not be too trustworthy. Maybe there could be competing dashboards. But the public really doesn't have a good sense of the scope of the problem, and the local media is not doing its job of bringing clarity.


  1. For years, I'm argued that we need a region-wide, near-real-time database of available shelter space.

    It’s shocking we don’t have one already. Once in place, homeless individuals, services providers, and law enforcement can use the database to accurately find overnight shelter for anyone who needs it.

    Shelter tracking systems have already helped other western states. Modesto, California successfully implemented a basic tracking system. It takes one person up to two hours each day to contact and receive information from emergency shelter providers in Stanislaus County. After the data is collected, it’s given to outreach workers and law enforcement officers who use it to find shelter for homeless people. Spokane, Washington goes a step further and tracks shelter capacity by having homeless shelters report their availability to a dispatcher. The city is also working on a public website that would allow easy data entry and near-real-time tracking.

    This seems like a job for Metro’s supportive housing services program. Metro is sitting on a gusher of money from its new income taxes and has its own Data Resource Center.

    The Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) has online applications which track homelessness resources through geographic information systems. The City of Portland already uses ESRI products to report and visualize campsite locations. These resources would allow access to near-real-time data on shelter vacancies. By using available and familiar technologies, Portland could target its homelessness outreach and use shelters effectively.

    Folks will say, "211 already does the job." Wrong. Check it out for yourself. It's a joke. I'd love to know how much local governments paid for this clunker:

  2. It seems a reasonable request to me. Tracking the problem over time would indicate success or dysfunction, I would think.

  3. Does PSU still have an anthropology department? I took a lot of classes in anthropology at PSU in the 70's. The city could commission some budding ethnographers to live amongst the homeless and study their culture. No need to live in the jungle for years studying language and kinship dynamics just pitch a tent in a homeless camp right outside your apartment and study them for your PhD. easy peasy. We could also micro-chip them or continue doing nothing and hope they go away.

  4. My suspicion is that there are plenty of shelter beds, but no one wants to live in them. Which is where the jail beds come in.

  5. You start from a non-proven assumption, namely that government wants to accurately know and track the people-without-permanent-residences (I'm thinking forward here, since hobo, bum, vagrant, and homeless are now "offensive", it's just about time for "houseless" to become offensive too.)

  6. The Library?
    They loan the big $ digital imaging temp cameras for heat loss in houses or whatever else you wanna thermal image/photograph?

    Their IT people seem more forward thinking than most?
    Provide slow dirt cheap wireless internet to 99.5% of people here as the library for the ISP & get rid of comcast/other garbage monopolies?

    I don't care if stuff is rationed/throttled & they warn you of that up front, as long as it works at all, I'm cool w/putting a video on download for a while or whatever, but I'd be tickled pink if they upgraded the library to a T-1 line & it was like $5 a month or used some of their bond $ in way we could actually use?
    Use an ooold kindle & don't connect for weeks a t atime it to the internet for stuff that I'm slow to get to returning as is?

    They were early to have an online catalog, so they did it once before the internet privitization really got rolling & finalized in 1995?
    They don't like loud/insane people or people crapping up their facilities or have an incentive to be biased with the info other than making it uh...not too much bother for them to collect?

    Ya, we're gold plating 'em, but what is the internet(@ best?), anyway?

    Sorta a combo of a shopping mall, movie theater, various games/enterntainment, post office (sans public bank we lost in 1969 or sorting the mail on the train lost just as they finished the new downtown USPS right by union station hiring veterans, & info catalog?
    Local news seems to be left out in the kinda get it on nextdoor unfiltered...minus the fact checking or editor (for better & worse)? (LOL)

    But I'm with ya; ID the problem/ask the relevant questions first?
    That strikes me as within the possible scope of mandate of the library w/precedent locally already?
    They'll loan some tools to seek data/help look stuff up & they're at least *thinking* about digital cataloging in a way that's not necessarily corporate or homeless industrial complex & DO NOT want the homeless to be on their door step?

    We *can* do this, even the subject is depressing?


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