Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley joined Portland State University’s Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative (HRAC) in a roundtable discussion on housing and homelessness Monday morning in a Zoom-delivered event with statewide media. 

Center Director Marisa Zapata moderated the event which included remarks from Merkley, a longtime housing advocate who shared information about the Ley de Vivienda Asequible – a policy he crafted with input from HRAC – and the latest on the second infrastructure bill currently making its way through the reconciliation process. Sen. Merkley is working to include key provisions from his legislation in the bill.

Merkley shared his own experiences growing up in Portland in a home that his father could afford on a modest mechanic’s salary, something that has become unobtainable for families today. 

“We have, as we know, huge problems with affordable housing in this country,” Merkley said. “Housing has gone up much faster in cost than have wages.” 

In addition to a brief overview of the policy solutions Merkley is pursuing in Washington, HRAC researchers gave an overview of their work on the following topics: 

Evictions research

Evictions play a key role in causing and perpetuating homelessness and Associate Professor in the Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning Lisa K. Bates has been spending the pandemic carefully tracking the growing eviction crisis in Portland and across the state. She shared some top-level findings of her evictions research and the downstream costs of evictions to local, state and the federal government and taxpayers.

Emergency/disaster response for those living unsheltered

People living unsheltered were deeply impacted by the 2020 wildfire season yet received little assistance and in some cases were turned away. Maude Hines, associate professor of English and HRAC co-founder and Emily Leickly, graduate research assistant, discussed the findings of a survey of people experiencing homelessness and an analysis of the ways that society uses language and how it influences who does and doesn’t get help.  

Homelessness in higher education

HRAC’s survey of PSU students shows that one in six students experienced homelessness in a given year. It underscores a national reality that homelessness, housing insecurity, and basic needs insecurity is a part of the college experience for many students. Greg Townley, associate professor of community psychology and another HRAC co-founder, discussed the details of the center’s research on homelessness among the PSU population. Shaun Hardy, a student research assistant, then shared details of a project to share perspectives on homelessness through comics

Working with 10 participants and 10 artists, Hardy said, the project will show diverse experiences. 

“People have expectations about how homelessness is experienced,” Hardy said. “But not everyone experiences homelessness in a certain way.”