January 2020

Commissioner Fish and Chair Kafoury in a 2017 meeting
Dear friends and neighbors,

Seven years ago, the Oregon State Legislature passed a bill that made it illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenants with a Section 8 housing voucher. For many of our neighbors, the voucher is an essential resource, and for some it can mean the difference between being forced to survive outside, and having a safe place of your own to call home.

Prior to the law’s passage, it was almost impossible for people who received Section 8 assistance to live in a neighborhood of their choosing due to stigma and stereotype. This discrimination made it especially hard for communities of color, low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities to have access to the things that we all need to thrive.

But thanks to the 2013 law, that discrimination is now illegal.

Upon its passage, the law was celebrated and many people deservedly took a bow. One person who celebrated but didn’t seek the credit was my friend, Nick Fish. A few years earlier, he had asked me and Speaker of the House, Tina Kotek, to join him on a Section 8 Task Force that he was launching. It was in those discussions that the idea of addressing discrimination against voucher holders arose and took hold. And not too long after those meetings, it became law across Oregon.

It was in this way that Nick made his impact in our community: by bringing people together, listening to those with lived experience, and then cleverly guiding decision-makers on to the right path, whether they knew he was or not.

As you no doubt know by now, Nick passed away a few weeks ago on January 2. He was a consummate public servant, a compassionate leader, and he was also my friend.

Fundamentally, Nick believed that even if people didn’t agree on a specific policy there were always going to be areas where they could agree. And he had a gift for being able to recognize those moments for what they were: windows of opportunity. And once recognized, Nick pursued those opportunities until he ensured they were policies and programs approved at City Council.

Of all the various issues Nick advanced in his career, his guiding principle was always more housing for our neighbors forced outside. He never stopped pushing us all to do more, even towards the end of his life. A couple of years ago, we worked together on making supportive housing the highest priority in our community. During a summit we hosted, Nick made a deceptively simple statement that still resonates:

“Unless you set a goal, you won’t get there.”

Too often, we are defeated by our own understanding of what’s possible. Nick knew that we could solve huge complicated issues if we could all come together and set a goal. I will miss him dearly.


Deborah Kafoury

Multnomah County Chair

Apply for the Community Involvement Committee

Do you care about community involvement in County decision-making? Do you want to help reduce barriers to civic participation? Do you enjoy working with a diverse group to identify common goals that benefit the community? If so, apply to join the County's Community Involvement Committee (CIC).

The CIC serves as Multnomah County’s advisory body on community engagement and involvement. CIC members engage in an ongoing review of the County's community involvement policies and programs, bring community concerns to County leadership, and assist in facilitating communication between the County and the community.

We are currently recruiting for two new CIC members. To learn more and start your application, visit multco.us/oci/cic.

The deadline for applications is Friday, February 21, at 5 p.m.

To receive assistance completing your application or for any questions, contact the Office of Community Involvement at community.involvement@multco.us or 503-988-3450.

After months of debate, Board considers steps to curb youth vaping, smoking

A pile of evidence suggests stores in Multnomah County continue to sell cigarettes and e-cigarettes illegally.

Jan. 28 — A federal rule that takes effect next month, restricting sales of some flavored vaping products, is so limited it’s toothless and likely won’t affect the vaping industry, public health officials told the Board of Commissioners Jan. 23 during a presentation.

Proposed state legislation on flavored tobacco sales would go further to keep youth from vaping, health officials said. It would nonetheless continue to allow sales of menthol flavors — failing to close a loophole that has perpetuated damning health disparities in communities of color... Keep reading

New Student Health Center Coming Soon to East County

Jan. 23 — Prompted by broad-based community support and burgeoning awareness of student health needs, Multnomah County is partnering with the Reynolds School District to bring a long-awaited Student Health Center to East County.

Set to open in April, the Reynolds Student Health Center is currently under construction at Reynolds High School, an anchor in the Troutdale neighborhood, home to the largest number of Medicaid insured youth. It is also home to the greatest concentration of youth ages 11-19 who do not access basic health services, such as annual exams and mental health counseling... Keep reading

Local and national experts convene in Portland for conference focused on the future of justice policy in Multnomah County

Jan. 22 — More than 50 practitioners, policymakers and experts — including local elected leaders — packed a downtown Portland conference hall Thursday, Jan. 16, for the Multnomah County Local Public Safety Coordinating Council’s What Works (LPSCC) in Public Safety Conference.

The conference — with local and national experts from health care, human services, law enforcement and the judiciary, as well as defense attorneys, community providers and victims’ rights advocates — served as an initial visioning session on ways to support all crime victims, recognizing that many offenders have also been victims at one point, too... Keep reading

County, state leaders echo “Now is Still the Time’’ message for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Jan. 20 — At Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church of Portland’s annual “Empower the Dream” gathering, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury encouraged the community to continue doing what is right — even during difficult times.

“Despite what seems like a tidal wave of cruelty and chaos right now, we believe in the just and equitable and compassionate world that Dr. King envisioned,” she said... Keep reading

Community wants social services — not stricter law enforcement — to address homelessness, poll results show

Jan. 15 — Voters across the region agree that ending homelessness should be the top priority for local government. They even agree on how elected officials should go about it, according to new polling data that a coalition called HereTogether Oregon shared with the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Jan. 14.

By wide margins, voters from Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties said they would back systemic changes around housing affordability along with even deeper investments in strategies that already help thousands of people avoid or leave homelessness every year — rent assistance paired with services such as addiction and mental health treatment... Keep reading

Board reiterates All are Welcome after Trump strikes new blow to refugee resettlement

Francis Kham came to Oregon in 2015 as a refugee from Myanmar. He now sits on the Board of Catholic Charities

Jan. 13 — The Board of Commissioners Jan. 9 passed a resolution directing Chair Deborah Kafoury to formally request continued resettlement of refugees in Multnomah County. The move comes after President Donald Trump issued an executive order requiring state and local governments to consent, in writing, to the resettlement of refugees within their jurisdiction... Keep reading

'I feel heard and acknowledged,’ County proclaims January 2020 as Human Trafficking Awareness Month

On January 9, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners declared January 2020 as Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

Jan. 10 — Most of my energy was focused for so long on surviving the day to day, said Levi.  

Like the vast majority of houseless and impoverished youth, Levi told the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, “I didn’t have the time or privilege to consider my future. The realities of being young and homeless are bleak.”

But the New Day Program, which provides culturally-specific, survivor-centered services for young people who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing sex trafficking, “helped take some of that weight off my shoulder and allowed me to branch out and create new pathways for myself aside from mere survival,” Levi said... Keep reading

Lawmakers meet with Multnomah County leaders at annual legislative breakfast

Jan. 10 — With a month to go until the 2020 Oregon Legislative Session, dozens of local and state leaders gathered over breakfast at the Joint Office of Homeless Services Thursday to discuss the County’s top legislative priorities ahead of the short session. The annual legislative breakfast is an opportunity for Multnomah County to brief lawmakers prior to convening... Keep reading

Chair Kafoury out and about in Multnomah County

Jan. 11: It was a bittersweet honor to join KGW's Laural Porter, Carmen Rubio of Latino Network and Len Bergstein to reflect on the life and legacy of my late friend Nick Fish. Watch it here.

Jan. 17: An Alameda Elementary School 4th grade class invited me to talk about the County's work maintaining bridges, adopting out pets, taking action against climate change, helping our neighbors and more. They even gave me a ton of restaurant recommendations!

Jan. 18: Participants of Central City Concern's Flip the Script program shared with me how mentors and culturally specific programs have helped them re enter society after being involved with the criminal justice system.

Jan. 21: I joined representatives from local government and health care leaders to welcome the Metro 300 project, which will connect 300 seniors with disabilities facing homelessness to homes across the Tri-County area, 140 of them in Multnomah County, in 2020. Read more about it here.

Jan. 25: I had the privilege of introducing Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Rep. Rashida Tlaib to the hundreds of Portlanders who showed up for a Housing Justice Town Hall in North Portland. Read Locked Out, Rep. Blumenauer's report that submits real solutions to restore fair housing opportunity for everyone, here.

Subscribe to Chair Kafoury's newsletter