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Wildfires, Wildfire risk -- Social aspects, Social surveys, Environmental risk assessment, Wildland-urban interface, Environmental impact analysis


These are the preliminary results of an ongoing project.

Stories from the Outside centers the voices of people experiencing homelessness during the 2020 Oregon wildfire season. PSU’s Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative, in partnership with the Street Roots Ambassadors program, surveyed 73 people in the Portland area in June 2021. Ambassadors sought out Black, Indigenous, and Other People of Color to ensure their voices were represented as BIPOC residents are disproportionately impacted by homelessness.

Many respondents felt disconnected and left out of emergency relief efforts. These are their stories.


The most destructive wildfires in Oregon’s history spread across the state in September 2020, burning more than 1 million acres and 4,000 homes. At least 11 people died, 40,000 were evacuated, and about 500,000 were in evacuation warning areas. Air quality was so hazardous that it exceeded the state’s Air Quality Index, pushing the state to declare a Public Health Emergency.

Local, state, and federal emergency management and relief organizations responded to the devastation. Those impacted needed food, shelter, and clean air to breathe.

All those who needed assistance were in a similar position — they were without homes and needed respite from the smoky conditions. When providing services, however, some relief efforts distinguished between those who were housed before the fires, and those who were unhoused.

At least one shelter denied relief to those they identified as “homeless” or “transients.” Some experiencing homelessness were left out altogether -- never hearing about any relief efforts.

Key Findings:

  • Half said smoke impacted their health
  • 37% reported difficulty breathing
  • 15% went to the hospital (trouble breathing, seizures, asthma, and Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • One respondent went to the hospital four times
  • Half rated the level of stress at 8 or higher on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being extremely stressful.
  • 75% did not receive any information about support during the wildfire event
  • 68.5% did not receive any help during the wildfire event


Maude Hines (Portland State University), Marta Petteni (Portland State University), Stefanie Knowlton (Portland State University)

Faculty and Student Collaborators:
Todd Ferry, Kaylyn Berry, Leigh Seibert, Zane Ross

Street Roots Ambassador Program

CERA Grant from Portland State University

The project was part of the Vanport Mosaic Festival, summer 2021, in the North Park Blocks. Stories from the Outside is displayed in windows at the RACC building, 411 NW Park Ave #101.

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