Gavin Kelly and his mother Amanda hug, inside the tent they live in, off a side road in a SE neighborhood of Portland, Ore., on November 1, 2022. (Photo by Jordan Gale)
Photo Essay / August 18, 2023

An American Crisis

An Intimate Look at Portland’s Housing Crisis

The ongoing housing crisis in Portland, Ore., has desensitized us to the real people who have been affected.

Jordan Gale

Since 2021, the photographer Jordan Gale has been documenting the worsening housing crisis in Portland. The city was once a crown jewel of the Pacific Northwest, hailed as a destination for the upper middle class eager to escape the West Coast’s crowded metropolises. But as Portland’s population increased, driving up housing prices, its unhoused population ballooned. Oregon has a dire housing gap: The state currently needs 140,000 additional units, and that number could reach over 440,000 in the next 20 years unless drastic efforts are made. When such crises become large enough to affect thousands of families every day, individual stories get lost in the blizzard of statistics. Over the past two years, Gale’s work chronicling his home city’s plight has expanded to incorporate portraiture and handwritten testimony, increasingly becoming a collaboration between the photographer and the people most affected. The result is a project that succeeds in highlighting the otherwise overlooked individuals whose lives have been forever altered by this devastating crisis.

Jason laying on the sidewalk outside an encampment he lives at in Portland, on September 9, 2022.
Pat constructing a shelter for himself off an Interstate-84 entrance ramp in Portland, on October 22, 2022.
Two residents of Woodspring Apartments, a senior citizens’ affordable housing complex in Tigard, a city in the Portland metro area, walk through the complex’s parking lot, hand in hand, on March 6, 2023.
Tenants at Woodspring Apartments meet on March 6, 2023, to discuss legal options, after it was announced that the complex’s rent would be raised to market level rates. The contract that the complex was founded on expires at the end of 2023, letting the current owners raise rents to market rate. With most residents already spending more than 50 percent of their fixed income on rent, many are worried they’ll be forced to find new housing elsewhere. It was recently announced that the county was in talks to buy the property, in order to stop rent prices from increasing.
Portrait of Sandra Frying in the bedroom of her Woodspring Apartments, on March 8, 2023. Fry: “I have no family, no kids, I already sold my car to pay the bills. God will have to find a way to keep me here, but if I lose this apartment, he’ll have to take me home.
Priscilla Clark and her family carry boxes out of her apartment at La Hacienda Apartment Complex in Portland, on March 25, 2023. La Hacienda is a low income housing complex, but all tenants were given a 90-day eviction notice just before Christmas 2022, so that the owning nonprofit, Relay Resources, could demolish the property, in a bid for 2024 state housing funds. Most if not all tenants were given little to no rehousing assistance from Relay.
Left -behind property is removed from an evicted apartment unit at La Hacienda Apartment Complex on March 31, 2023.
Portrait of Rebekah Thompson and her son Miguel, outside their apartment at the La Hacienda on March 26, 2023. Thompson: “It was right before Christmas when we were all told that everyone was getting evicted. And without reason! Everything has just become so unfair. It has become hard to just survive in today’s society. If I didn’t have my son to keep me going, I don’t know what I would do.
A local unhoused encampment near Portland’s downtown waterfront, commonly referred to as “The Pit,” on April 21, 2023.
On March 27, 2023, a rapid response team clears an illegal campsite in Portland that had caught fire.
Mikeasha Shep and a group of friends begin to collect their belongings during an illegal camping sweep by rapid response teams in Portland on April 3, 2023.
The Central City Concern outreach team pass out Narcan to one another while making their morning rounds with resources for those experiencing homelessness in the Old Town district of Portland, on April 5, 2023.
ICE and Rob sharing a cigarette in the single room occupancy that they’ve been squatting at in Portland, on October 26, 2022. After the original occupant died of a drug overdose, no family member or representative from the apartment complex came to remove the belongings. ICE saw it as the perfect opportunity to find shelter off the streets before the winter.
Portrait of Noah, while moving his belongings to a new campsite in SE Portland on November 26, 2022. Noah: “As if I’m not having a bad enough day, the neighbors come out and try to kick ya I the nuts while you’re down. Trying to find a place where a guy/gal can put up a tent and have a little home are becoming almost impossible to find. I just stopped to rest my arms from carrying all my shit and these shitty people come out to run me off, thinking I may be setting up a tent on their beloved street. Not a ‘Are you thirsty?’ or a ‘Are you staying warm?’ Desensitized people are in the majority.
Jordan Gale

Jordan Gale is an American photographer based in Portland.

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