July 26, 2020

Dear friends and neighbors,

There is no shortage of things happening right now that directly affect our collective sense of safety, well-being and justice in our community. I’d like to use today’s newsletter to share my thoughts, as well as the County’s work, concerning a number of these developments, starting with what’s happening in downtown Portland. 

Portland protests: the response vs. the reason

Donald Trump's deployment of federal forces to Portland was a cynical political ploy. It was, and remains, unnecessary, undemocratic and unwelcome. He and his administration must be held accountable over the escalation of tensions he has caused by sending forces into Portland to deliberately stoke violence and inflict harm.  

It has been impossible to not be troubled by the displays of force we’ve seen over the last several weeks against our fellow community members. Law enforcement must always remember their duty to protect people's Constitutional right to peacefully assemble.  

I stand firmly behind the legislation put forth by Oregon’s federal delegation to significantly curtail the deployment of federal forces into local communities, and am encouraged to see that the Department of Justice’s inspector general will open an investigation — strong actions that can protect our democracy and put an end to dangerous tactics that are designed to suppress speech, evade accountability and instill fear.  

Thousands of community members have taken to the streets — their streets — to loudly proclaim that Black lives matter, demand racial justice and advocate for the transformation of the criminal justice system. While the concerning nature of law enforcement tactics deserves scrutiny, we cannot let their response to the protests overshadow the reason for them.  

We have real work to do to dismantle systemic racism in our community. The County will continue to push toward justice through our work to transform a justice system that disproportionately incarcerates and harms Black, Indigenous and other people of color; meaningful ongoing investments in our culturally specific programs that strategically and effectively meet the needs of Black community members; and a workplace equity strategy initiative to advance equity in our own organization.  

Multnomah County has been engaged deeply with our community to put forward and support solutions, and we are committed to the work that remains ahead. It’s time for federal agents to leave so we can collectively focus on those efforts.  

A decisive moment in our COVID-19 response

East County testing site
Staff members greet a patient at Multnomah County’s East County COVID-19 testing site.
We are entering an incredibly critical juncture in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the number of infections continuing to rise in our community and across the state, it’s more important than ever to follow the simple steps that we know are effective to slow transmission, especially when those actions are taken collectively. 

In addition to practicing good hygiene, staying home when you’re sick and limiting trips away from home, remember to follow these requirements recently issued the governor:

  • Wear a face covering in outdoor public spaces when you cannot keep six feet from others. 
  • Face coverings are required for children aged 5 and older in public space. 
  • Private social gatherings are limited to 10 people. 

We don’t take these steps just to protect ourselves; we take them to protect each other, and that’s the only way we will be able to make progress. The safety, success and sustainability of any further reopening — whether of our economy or of our schools — depends primarily on how well we can control the spread of the virus.  

In the absence of a coordinated national testing plan, and the Trump administration’s refusal to acknowledge the scope and severity of the pandemic, Multnomah County’s Public Health Division continues to work tirelessly to both increase the accessibility of COVID-19 testing and improve the turnaround time for test results, while continuing to educate the community and perform contact tracing.  

In more encouraging news, Portland City Council voted to allocate a sizable portion of the CARES Act funding the City received to bolster Multnomah County’s ongoing work leading the public health response, providing homeless services and shelter, and helping renters with direct relief. County and City health experts and emergency managers have a long history of supporting each other, especially when it counts most, and I’m grateful we can continue to do so. 

Transitioning shelter to motels

Physical distancing motel shelter
Rooms at the Banfield Value Inn, now being used as one of our new physical distancing motel shelters.
As the number of positive COVID-19 cases continues to rise across the state, Multnomah County, the Joint Office of Homeless Services and our nonprofit partners are shifting our collective strategy to provide even safer shelter to community members experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. 

Last month, we opened our first “physical distancing motel shelter” to vulnerable women living in our temporary shelters in order to provide accommodations with better separation, especially for people in shelters most likely to die or become seriously ill from COVID-19. This month, we’ve opened up three additional motel shelters, and we anticipate opening more motel shelter sites in the coming weeks.  

The data shows that people of color, and especially Black people experiencing homelessness, face a disproportionately higher risk for infection, hospitalization and severe effects. So we're also working with organizations like the Urban League of Portland to create a culturally specific motel shelter program. 

From the very beginning of this pandemic, my goal has been to keep as many people as safe as possible, particularly our most vulnerable neighbors. As we have learned more and more about the virus in the months since, we have followed the science to evolve our strategies; this transition to motel shelters follows Public Health guidance. Especially during a crisis like this, housing is health, and shelter that allows for separation is essential to safety. 

Take advantage of voting by mail

This past Wednesday, the U.S. Postal Service began delivering ballots for the Aug. 11 special runoff election to decide the next City of Portland Commissioner, Position 2. Portlanders have until Thursday, Aug. 6 to mail in their ballots to make sure they are counted. Voters can also take their ballot to any official ballot drop site, including the 24-Hour Book Drop boxes at Multnomah County libraries. 

And thanks to our Vote By Mail system, you can make your voice heard safely and securely, even during this pandemic. More than 50 percent of registered voters in Multnomah County voted in the May primary election, and I hope that even more Portlanders take advantage of the benefits of Vote By Mail to exercise their right to vote. Thanks to Multnomah County Elections, you can track the status of your ballot through text, email or phone alerts, and even get a virtual “I Voted” sticker.

Please stay safe and stay healthy,

Deborah Kafoury
Multnomah County Chair

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