Dear friends and neighbors,

After 16 months of crisis, instability, sacrifice and loss — from the COVID-19 pandemic, and then natural disasters that caused toxic smoke, and then dangerous cold and ice — the last week of June was poised to bring a sense of optimism. Public health restrictions were being lifted, and our community could finally, officially, begin our long road to recovery.

But then a historic heat dome settled over the Pacific Northwest, resulting in a heatwave that pushed temperatures to highs that our region — no less most parts of the world — had never experienced before. Multnomah County quickly deployed a full set of public health interventions, which included intensive outreach and communication efforts, as well as cooling centers and spaces. Countless community members and groups joined us in working to ensure people’s safety throughout the weekend, especially those who are most vulnerable. Still, tragically, too many of our fellow community members succumbed to the heat, most alone. 

The weeks that have passed since the historic heatwave lifted from our region have been defined by deep introspection and humility. I share my condolences with the families and friends of everyone who passed. 

As we grieve alongside their loved ones and our community, we also resolve to learn everything we can from this emergency to inform and improve future emergency responses. Dangerous extreme heat events driven by climate change will happen again, but tragedies like this do not have to. 

One of the first steps I took toward this commitment was releasing, in partnership with the County Health Officer and the Director of Emergency Management, a preliminary review of the excessive heat deaths in our county. The Multnomah County Medical Examiner Program’s review is a critical step to gaining the kind of information that we need to develop more responsive and effective strategies. 

Multnomah County is also conducting two additional reviews. First, Multnomah County Emergency Management is bringing our city, transportation and communication partners together to identify steps we can take in the short term to prepare for subsequent heat events this summer. The second review will offer a more in-depth report that will help the County improve our long-term preparedness and resiliency.

We will find the lessons. We will identify the changes needed for our community to build climate resiliency. And we will not lose the sense of urgency of responding to climate disruption amid the multiple crises that we have endured and will continue to confront. 

Eviction protection for renters

In March of 2020, the Board of County Commissioners enacted a temporary eviction moratorium in response to the then-unimaginable risks that COVID-19 posed to our community. Thousands of people across Multnomah County lost their jobs in a matter of weeks, and we took immediate action to ensure that they also didn’t lose their homes, which which would have only added incredible uncertainty to an already-uncertain time, and would have put people at even higher risk of spreading or catching the deadly virus, too.

Not long after, the State followed our lead and enacted a statewide moratorium, which protected renters from eviction for the rest of 2020 and ultimately, the first half of this year. At the end of June, that moratorium expired as the governor lifted nearly all COVID-19 restrictions. 

Multnomah County renter protection information graphicHowever, rent assistance is available to help tenants catch up on back rent and pay their current rent.

An additional protection to help renters retain their stability is Oregon Senate Bill 278, which gives renters who have applied for rent assistance safe harbor from nonpayment eviction for 60 days, creating more time for services providers to process and distribute rent relief funds. 

Here in Multnomah County — where the need for rent assistance is about twice as high as all other Oregon counties combined — many of our providers will likely need more than 60 days to completely work through every application for assistance. In the years prior to the pandemic, our short-term rent assistance network had been responsible for distributing roughly $10 million annually. Together with our partners at the City of Portland and nonprofit service providers, we now have almost $100 million to distribute in a short amount of time. 

So on July 8, the board voted to extend the protections of SB 278 to 90 days for renters in Multnomah County, giving our providers crucial time to process applications, get the money out to landlords, and help people get current on their rent and regain stability. The County has reorganized and expanded our systems in preparation for the challenge of disbursing the rent assistance. Still, the unprecedented scale of need, and the resources to meet it, far exceed those of other counties across the state, and the extra time will be vital to getting people the help they need.

Learn more about these eviction protections in Multnomah County here.

Other notable news

Please get vaccinated: Multnomah County continues to host regularly scheduled COVID-19 vaccine clinics Tuesday through Saturday. While the County’s vaccine clinics focus on reaching people who are Black, Indigenous, Latino, Pacific Islander, Asian, or other people of color, immigrants, refugees, and people without health insurance or a regular healthcare provider, everyone is welcome and no one will be turned away. If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, please visit our Vaccination Clinic webpage to find a time and location that works for you.

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici toured the future site of the Behavioral Health Resource Center, located at 333 SW Park in downtown Portland.
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici toured the future site of the Behavioral Health Resource Center, located at 333 SW Park in downtown Portland.
Building up the County’s behavioral health services: On July 6, I hosted Rep. Suzanne Bonamici on a tour of the future site of Multnomah County’s Behavioral Health Resource center in downtown Portland. Once it’s open, the center will offer life-saving supports to people experiencing chronic homelessness through a day center, a safe 24-hour shelter, behavioral health treatment and transitional housing. I’m grateful that Rep. Bonamici is working to secure federal funds to support the construction and completion of the project.

The press conference for the Lori Jackson-Nicolette Elias Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act took place at the County's Gateway Center for Domestic Violence Services.
The press conference for the Lori Jackson-Nicolette Elias Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act took place at the County's Gateway Center for Domestic Violence Services.
Supporting steps to keep domestic violence survivors safer: Survivors of domestic violence and their advocates have shared that the stresses of the pandemic, combined with dwindling privacy within the home and increased isolation (especially from their usual support systems), have made it even harder to get help avoiding or escaping dangerous situations. On July 1, I joined Sen. Ron Wyden, County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, Reps. Rachel Prusak and Lisa Reynolds, and Moms Demand Action members to support the Lori Jackson-Nicolette Elias Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act, which would close the loophole that allows abusers to keep or purchase firearms while they are under a temporary restraining order, known to be one of the most dangerous times a survivor faces. This bill is as critical for saving lives as it is an act of common sense. I was particularly honored to meet Madeleine Garcelon — the mother of Nicolette Elias, a Portland woman who was shot and killed by her abuser after securing a temporary restraining order — and touched by her courage to channel her pain into advocacy and change.

Responding to community violence: Multnomah County is one of the first jurisdictions in the country to allocate a portion of our American Rescue Plan federal relief funds to address the underlying factors driving the surge of community violence, which have only been made worse and more volatile by the pandemic. Our investments support strategies to strengthen and expand prevention, intervention and healing to help end this crisis.

All libraries on track to reopen: As more and more Multnomah County Library sites reopen to the public, all libraries will be open by the end of August. Visit their website to view the reopening schedule.

Please stay safe and stay healthy,

Deborah Kafoury
Multnomah County Chair

Opportunities to get involved

Oregon Historical Society Levy Oversight Committee: In May 2021 Multnomah County voters approved the renewal of a five-year levy to support the Oregon Historical Society and the four east Multnomah County historical societies: the Gresham, Troutdale and Crown Point Country historical societies, and the East County Historical Organization. The measure also created an independent community oversight committee that will be charged with reviewing all levy expenditures to ensure that funds are spent as approved by voters. The committee will also advise and support OHS in ensuring that its board, partnerships, staff, exhibits and programs represent Multnomah County’s diverse communities. 

Learn more about the OHS Levy Oversight Committee and submit an online application by August 16 at 9 a.m. 

You can also nominate someone to serve on the Levy Oversight Committee. Send an email to mult.chair@multco.us with the nominee’s contact information and my office will invite them to participate in an informal information session to gauge their level of interest. 

Metro Policy Advisory Committee: Multnomah County’s Office of Community Involvement is accepting applications from county residents for the Multnomah County community representative on the Metro Policy Advisory Committee (MPAC). The 27-member committee advises Metro, our regional government, on important issues impacting our communities, including regional transportation, management of the urban growth boundary, and protection of lands outside the urban growth boundary for natural resources, future urban zoning, or other uses. Community members appointed to the committee serve alongside elected leaders from cities and other local governments across Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties.

Applications must be received by 11:59 p.m. on August 16. Multnomah County will review applications and recommend candidates to be appointed by the Metro Council President. Learn more & apply for the Metro Policy Advisory Committee.

Community Budget Advisory Committee: Are you interested in learning about County programs, budgets and priorities? The Office of Community Involvement is still accepting applications for new Community Budget Advisory Committee (CBAC) members. CBACs are groups of community members that review and make recommendations on County departmental budgets and operations, and are one of the key ways the County receives community input on its budget priorities. 

No budgeting or financial expertise is necessary — just an interest in the programs and budget process of the County and availability to attend meetings. While the priority deadline has passed, new applications will continue to be reviewed on a rolling basis as needed.

To apply and for more information, visit multco.us/oci/cbacs