DHM/OVBC Survey Results
November 8, 2020
Homelessness is an important and urgent concern among Oregonians across the state. Fully half of Oregonians believe leaders should make solving homelessness their top priority and they place responsibility squarely on the shoulders of local and state government leaders. The public views mental illness, substance abuse, and lack of affordable housing as the key drivers of homelessness. Despite the persistence and severity of homelessness, Oregonians haven’t given up hope. More than half the public believes homelessness is a problem that can be solved with the right mix of policies and resources.
These findings come from a DHM Research (DHM) and Oregon Values and Beliefs Center (OVBC) online survey conducted from October 1 to October 6, 2020 about a variety of issues including COVID-19, climate change, homelessness, and public finance and taxation. Quality control measures were taken including pretesting the questionnaire and randomizing questions to reduce order bias. Demographic quotas and statistical weighting were also used to ensure a representative sample of 600 Oregonians ages 18+. The margin of error for each question falls between +/-2.4% and +/-4.0% at the 95% confidence level, depending on how the response category percentages split for any given question.
Half of Oregonians feel strongly that addressing homelessness should be the number one priority in their local community.
One in two Oregonians (50%) believe it is either very important (28%) or urgent (22%) that leaders in their community make solving homelessness their number one priority. Residents of the Tri-county area consisting of Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties (56%), and of the remainder of the Willamette Valley (51%), are more likely than residents of the rest of the state (41%) to hold this view. Democrats (57%) and non-affiliated voters (51%) are also more likely than Republicans (38%) to share this priority. Despite these regional and partisan differences, the expectation that community leaders address homelessness is widely shared.
Oregonians consider mental illness, substance abuse, and lack of affordable housing as the primary drivers of homelessness.
When asked to identify the top three drivers of homelessness from a list of over a dozen potential causes, Oregonians most often cited mental illness (59%), substance abuse (59%), and lack of affordable housing (44%). While a majority of residents across the state view mental illness and substance abuse as key drivers, there is less regional consensus when it comes to lack of affordable housing as a perceived cause of homelessness. Residents of the Tri-county area (50%) are more likely to point to a lack of affordable housing than other residents of the Willamette Valley (40%) and of residents of the rest of the state (37%).
Partisan differences are apparent when Oregonians are asked whether homelessness is a result of personal choice, with Republicans (41%) more likely to cite it as a factor than non-affiliated (24%) and Democratic (11%) voters. Still, a majority of Republicans acknowledge the impact of both substance abuse (76%) and mental illness (61%) as drivers of homelessness.
Despite their differences, Oregonians clearly view the causes of homelessness as multifaceted, suggesting they want a comprehensive strategy to address it, which prioritizes both mental health and substance abuse treatment, but also includes increasing the supply of affordable housing.
Oregonians expect state and local governments to create solutions to homelessness.
Provided with a list of fifteen entities that might bear some responsibility for creating solutions to homelessness, most Oregonians agree: responsibility rests primarily with local (94%) and state (93%) government as well as local (92%) and state (90%) elected officials.
Democrats are more likely to place greater responsibility on housing developers and landlords as needing to play a role in addressing homelessness. Nearly nine in ten Democrats (86%) believe housing developers bear some responsibility, while fewer non-affiliated voters (56%) and Republicans (54%) do so. Similarly, approximately eight in ten Democrats (76%) consider landlords responsible, as opposed to fewer non-affiliated voters (62%) and Republicans (45%).
A majority of Oregonians view homelessness as a problem that can be solved.
Despite the persistence of homelessness as a problem, a majority of Oregonians (57%) remain optimistic that with the right mix of policies and resources, it is a problem that can be solved. That said, optimism is higher among Democrats (69%), than among non-affiliated voters (55%), and Republicans (39%). Optimism is also greater among younger residents ages 18–29 (66%) and ages 30–44 (63%), than among older residents ages 45–64 (51%) and age 65+ (49%).
In conclusion, a majority of Oregonians believe that homelessness is a problem that can be solved––and they expect their local and state leaders to develop effective strategies for tackling the problem. Oregonians view mental illness, substance abuse, and the lack of affordable housing itself as the root causes of homelessness. While they prioritize mental illness and substance abuse more heavily than the lack of affordable housing, they nevertheless consider all three as the top drivers of homelessness. Oregonians appear open, therefore, to a comprehensive solution to homelessness that includes a mix of both mental health and substance abuse treatment as well as an increased supply of affordable housing.
The research was completed as a community service by DHM Research in partnership with the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center. Both organizations are independent and non-partisan. DHM Research is a Certified B Corporation (www.dhmresearch.com) and OVBC is an Oregon charitable nonprofit corporation (www.oregonvbc.org).