Dear Friends and Neighbors,
This past week has been one of partnership, accountability and urgency in our efforts to address homelessness. On Tuesday I announced the formation of a strategic task force to help track, report and measure our progress to address housing and homelessness. On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced an $8.3 million investment in 81 new housing units with enhanced behavioral health services in collaboration with nonprofit partner the Native American Rehabilitation Association NW (NARA). And on Friday, I shared my directives for a new approach - named Housing Multnomah Now, as well as additional resources, to address this crisis.
Our region has a lower poverty rate than Detroit. We have lower rates of addiction than West Virginia. But we have far higher rates of homelessness than both because we have a severe shortage of affordable housing. The problem on our streets stems from that fact, and that fact alone. And we should all understand this: the lack of housing impacts people at all income levels. So these new investments and initiatives will benefit not only those living unsheltered, not only renters, not only homeowners, but everyone who lives in Multnomah County.
We know the humanitarian crisis on our streets is unprecedented and unacceptable. These efforts will begin to take us from where we are to where we need to go: a county with a safety net that ensures everyone who needs a home has one.
Read additional details about these initiatives, awards and directives below.
A Data-driven Approach
On January 31, I announced a plan to improve transparency and accountability within our homelessness and housing services system. Already tracking Key Performance Indicators since the beginning of the work of the Joint Office, this 45-day task force will focus on the creation of new Key Performance Indicators we will use to track, report and measure our progress and the work of our providers toward reducing homelessness. These are long overdue steps that will give the public new, accessible, consistent information, as well as new expectations around how we’re serving those living on our streets and how we’re spending vital taxpayer funds. All of the data we’re tracking around our work with homeless neighbors will be more readily available in a data dashboard we’ll debut as a part of the updated Joint Office website, which will go live in April.
Support from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
On February 2, we got the great news about a federal investment of $8.3 million over 3 years to fund new permanent housing with enhanced behavioral services through our partnership with NARA to serve American Indians, Alaska Natives and others in need. This investment in our community tells us that the federal government agrees that our approach to create housing with culturally-specific, behavioral health and addiction-services specialists like NARA is our best and most impactful way forward.
At Multnomah County, we utilize a Housing First approach, bolstered by supportive services and HUD guidance, to ensure housing accessibility because we know this is the most effective way to see immediate and long-term reductions on our streets. But housing first never means “housing only.” It means housing now – with services now, too. With the passage in May of 2020 of our regional supportive housing services program, we’ve begun to make progress. In the first 15 months of our Supportive Housing Services Measure, 10,260 residents enrolled in housing services and we’ve engaged with 50,920 residents to provide them with rental assistance and other wrap-around services to prevent them from becoming homeless. We also know that over those 15 months, we served 8,730 people in temporary shelter and 5,450 people were placed into housing through our programs, with 85% of those neighbors experiencing chronic homelessness finally off the streets, out of shelter and back into housing. That track record shows exactly what's possible when we focus our services on those who are most vulnerable.
Housing Multnomah Now
This new initiative, built on best practices from Seattle and elsewhere called “Housing Multnomah Now,” is a $14 million, 12-month plan to unify local and state efforts by forming a multi-agency coordinating (MAC) team focused first on eliminating unsheltered homelessness in Portland’s central city. From there, we will expand to getting unhoused individuals in a part of east county into homes. The MAC teams will meet daily to bring accountability, and coordination with the objective of moving people rapidly into housing. This plan will incorporate the temporary alternative shelter sites being organized by the city. This effort will use a by-name system, and those awaiting housing or not ready for housing will be provided with options, including congregate shelters, safe rest village sites, and the City’s proposed temporary alternative shelter sites.
We’ll also make better use of all of our shelters by devoting resources to housing placement. This will help limit the length of stay in all of our shelters, eliminating bottlenecks and increasing our ability to provide safe sleep options when people need them most. We will leverage the state’s Medicaid 1115 waiver, which can help us provide housing to those with behavioral health needs and focus on moving people into vacancies in rental units in the metro area and help them stay there. Most importantly for me, those residing in any of our shelter programs will be given the support they need and a path to move back into housing.
This has been a collaborative effort by our entire Board of County Commissioners and many jurisdictional partners. Commissioner Meieran has led the call to link our systems together, and derive meaningful data to track our progress and determine what works. Commissioner Jayapal is bringing online systems to link those searching for housing with landlords, work that will continue and be critical in the coming months. Commissioner Rosenbaum, after only one month in office, is quickly getting up to speed on county systems, the needs of her district, and where we can do better. And Commissioner Stegman has been a steadfast champion in expanding our services in east county.
I am proud to stand alongside each one of my colleagues and our partners at the city, Metro, the Governor’s office, HUD and community organizations across the region as we continue to address the crisis on our streets together.