Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It has been a fast-paced month at Multnomah County, as we’ve responded to multiple weather crises by opening shelters across our neighborhoods. Nearly 850 people sought shelter across seven shelter sites on Friday, Feb. 24, as our region pushed through four nights of inclement weather that began Wednesday with surprise record snowfall that shattered an 80-year record. More than 740 people received free transportation to a shelter that night, not including anyone who took TriMet. I am so grateful to the hundreds of county employees, community members and partners and city and state staff who helped our neighbors find shelter and stay safe during these sustained and challenging events.
We also announced new initiatives in data around housing and homelessness to be presented through a revised Joint Office of Homeless Services website launching this spring, as well as “Housing Multnomah Now”, a Housing First strategy focused on eliminating street homelessness in the central city. We also launched a comprehensive review of animal services to provide direction and urgency to our care for lost or abandoned pets.
I have enjoyed many opportunities to connect with the community at events, forums, panels and small group discussions as we continue to move forward plans that include deep investment by and for the many different young people, adults and families who seek services through the county. I am grateful to everyone who lends their voice and expertise to our shared endeavors.
I’m looking forward to connecting with you soon,
I’m happy to announce that Leah Drebin has joined Team JVP as a new Policy Advisors in the area of community safety – we’re thrilled to have her expertise. Her background in public safety and emergency management includes work as a Criminal Justice Instructor for Chaminade University, Police Officer and Specialized Training Unit Instructor for the Honolulu Police Department, remote instructor for FEMA, LE Community Advocate for Honolulu's Department of Human Services' Kalakaua Homes, and member of the City and County of Honolulu's Type III Incident Management Team. Leah's experience as a police officer drove her to study the field of Sociology to help equip her in addressing systemic issues and eradicating disparities in public safety services.
Black History and Futures
This month our Board celebrated Black History and Futures with a proclamation, giving us a chance to honor and thank the many Black leaders, educators, artists and visionaries across our county for their contributions to our history and our future. During the celebration, we also heard from Sprinavasa Brown and Dr. Kellianne Richardson, Co Founders of ELSO Inc., whose program is creating multicultural STEAM opportunities rooted in environmental justice and cultural history to fuel the investigative spirit of the next generation. And we highlighted the important work of KairosPDX, including their impact on our youngest learners as we welcome Kairos’ Early Learning Academy to our Preschool for All partnership as a pilot site this year. We're also thrilled to now include KairosPDX in our SUN school programs.
For me, Black History and Futures month is an example of something we talk about in this year's proclamation: Sankofa, a word and symbol from the Akan tribe in Ghana. The literal translation of the word is “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.” And the symbol of sankofa is based on a mythical bird with its feet firmly planted forward and its head turned backwards. To the Akan, it is this wisdom in learning from the past which ensures a strong future. I’m looking forward to more opportunities every day to learn from the past to ensure a future that celebrates and invests in Black history, Black futures and Black lives.
Preschool for All Updates
Earlier this month, our Board was briefed on the Preschool for All (PFA) program for the first time since welcoming hundreds of children and families into preschool classrooms this past fall! In the current cohort of more than 700 slots, 92 percent are filled. We learned that this cohort, 68% of whom identify as Black, Indigenous or as a child of color, come from homes where 21 different languages are spoken! You can read the full progress report here.
I also wanted to make sure you saw the announcement of a blanket waiver for people who still owe Preschool for All personal income taxes for tax year 2021. I appreciate the community supporting Preschool for All through this tax. In levying the first County income tax since 2003, we didn’t succeed in getting information to everyone who needed to hear it, and we’re going to fix that. The good news is more than 90 percent of Multnomah County residents do not owe the tax at all. And, most people who owed the tax have paid it. Anyone who has already paid interest and/or penalties for tax year 2021 will receive a full refund. Tax year 2022 taxes are due on April 18, 2023. If you have PFA tax questions, we have a dedicated County mailbox (email@example.com) to help.
The Future of Animal Services
On my first day in office, I learned of a crisis at Multnomah County Animal Services (MCAS), which had taken in so many animals over the holidays that it required a surge of resources and support. I immediately deployed emergency management personnel to the shelter, authorized a one-week pause in taking in stray dogs, and directed the shelter to reopen to the public for the first time in three years by January 11th. Our immediate response to this crisis was ultimately successful in reducing the number of animals in our care, and thanks to a tremendous community response we successfully adopted out 108 animals in the month of January and saw volunteers contribute more than 600 volunteer hours at the shelter.
Nevertheless, many long standing challenges remain at animal services, and I am determined to uncover the root of the issues faced by MCAS. To that end, this month I announced the details of a five-month review process that will comb through previous audits and recommendations to surface the status of those recommendations, allow for robust community engagement with partner organizations, shelter volunteers, foster households, and previous adopters, and produce a report for the Board of Commissioners with a work plan for implementing the recommendations identified during the review. You can read more about the process and next steps here.
Building Resilience in East County
I so enjoyed the opportunity to attend not one but two fabulous events in east Portland in February, including a ribbon-cutting ceremony at my family library and a “Welcome Home Multnomah” event to celebrate the purchase of the Rockwood Health Center by Multnomah County, which was one of the first pieces of paperwork I signed as Chair.
Midland Library Groundbreaking
It was my great pleasure to be joined by Director of Multnomah County Libraries Vailey Oehlke, U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenaur and many enthusiastic community members to cut the ribbon on the renovation of Multnomah County's Midland Library. This building, just a mile from my house, will be getting a complete renovation in the coming months. Expansion of Midland centers underserved neighborhoods like Mill Park and Hazelwood and will create new and powerful spaces in east Portland to be enjoyed by many generations to come. It was also wonderful to see the mobile library -- a branch on wheels! -- parked out front.
Rockwood Health Center
Since 2010, Multnomah County has been in a partnership with CareOregon to acquire, staff and manage this facility in Rockwood. Built specifically to address health equity and diminish the "health care desert" that existed in the neighborhood, the center serves 800+ patients every year in six languages with community health, behavioral health, family medicine, dental services and a pharmacy that are easy for multiple generations to access. This center has been a bedrock of Rockwood's response to COVID-19 and to the necessary prevention to keep people in this community healthy. I’m so grateful for the critical, safety-net support from CareOregon for all these years, and I'm already looking forward to many years of good medical and dental health in Rockwood!