Dear Friends and Neighbors,
June has been a significant month at Multnomah County. Early in the month, our board voted to adopt our Fiscal Year 2024 budget, which included investments to address critical community needs in homeless services, animal services, behavioral health car, and community violence, as well as budget dollars prioritizing implementation of Preschool for All’s two-generation solution and strengthening the County’s workforce through a renewal of our Workforce Equity Strategic Plan and a re-visioning of Multnomah County’s Mission, Vision and Values for the first time in over a decade.
I was also pleased to swear in our new Commissioner for District 3, Julia Brim-Edwards this month, and to welcome her and her talented and committed staff into our work. She has started strong, studying our budget documents carefully and bringing curiosity and engagement into our boardroom and her connections with the constituents in the district I used to represent. I’m looking forward to the many ways she’ll connect, engage with and advocate for the people of District 3.
Last week we hosted our first-ever convening with some of the many providers we work closely with to resource our homelessness continuum of care through the Joint Office of Homeless Services. We took the chance to directly connect with so many of the people on the ground who provide life-changing and life-saving services, and hearing more about their concerns, barriers, and thoughts was meaningful. I look forward to convening with this group on a quarterly basis.
Throughout my first six months as Chair – especially during this year’s budgeting process – I’ve been consistently struck by the importance of engaging our community as critical partners in this work. I appreciate the many letters of advocacy my office received from constituents about specific budget investments, the dozens who testified at public work sessions and made their priorities known to our departments. As we work to review and revise our processes for building our annual budget, I’m looking forward to developing better systems to support your ability to impact the work we do and the ways we do it.
Policy Advisor on Health and Behavioral Health
April (pictured on the right) joined Multnomah County in 2016 as a postgrad fellow at the Multnomah Idea Lab. For 5+ years, April was a key member of the Joint Office of Homeless Services. Most recently, April held the role of Senior Equity Policy Analyst in the Office of Diversity and Equity. April is committed to innovative public work in service of communities most adversely affected by poverty and racism. April identifies as non-binary, white/Latinx, and uses they/them pronouns. April holds a Masters Degree in Urban Policy Analysis and Management from The New School, and a Bachelors in Community Studies from UC Santa Cruz. April lives in SE Portland with their partner, Anya, and two dogs, Waka and Weezy.
Constituent Relations & Operations Liaison
Ruby joined the Chair’s staff in April 2023 as the Constituent Relations and Operations Liaison. She was raised in SE Portland and is a proud Franklin High School alum. Ruby graduated from Portland State University with a BA in Social Work and a minor in Civic Leadership. Following graduation, Ruby joined Multnomah County as a College to County intern in the Elections Division and led teams of election workers in delivering culturally specific voter education. She was later hired on as a Voter Education & Outreach Program Technician and implemented social media strategy and online-engagement campaigns to reach voters through multilingual content. Ruby brings years of experience in community education, trauma-informed service delivery, and online engagement strategies.
Climate Accountability Litigation
Last week Multnomah County filed suit against the largest fossil fuel and coal-producing corporations for the damages from the 2021 Heat Dome event, during which 69 Multnomah County residents lost their lives. The damages we seek, $50 million dollars in past compensatory damages, $1.5 billion dollars in future compensatory damages, and an abatement fund, estimated at $50 billion to weatherproof the County from future extreme heat events, are about accountability and fairness. This is a contingency case and there is no direct financial cost to the County. It’s also a novel lawsuit, the first of its kind to link a distinct weather event with climate science that proves it was caused by the burning of fossil fuels. And it is one of the ways our board is using our time and advocacy to make sure we’re protecting everyone, especially the most vulnerable members of our communities.
Housing and Homelessness
Our urgent work to address this crisis head-on included important milestones this month.
The intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between Multnomah County and the City of Portland has passed successfully in both jurisdictions. This will extend our relationship around the work of the Joint Office of Homeless Services for one calendar year, with milestone markers for continuous engagement in the next six months, and an evaluation of further partnership slated for December. I believe the passage of this IGA will provide new accountability in the work of the Joint Office, preserve the self-governance both the City and the County require, and give us additional time to continue building trust and collaboration in our joint efforts to address homelessness.
Housing Multnomah Now, the outreach-focused street-to-housing pilot program I announced in February to move 300 people off the streets and into housing this year saw outreach beginning in early June in Old Town/Chinatown. Local non-profit Transition Projects has screened 140 people using a newly developed data collection and geolocation tool, with 16 people immediately engaged in housing plans. The screening is identifying individuals camping in the Steel Bridge area, with outreach workers on the ground working to remove barriers, address health needs, identify housing opportunities, and enroll people in housing programs or offer shelter and other services.
The Board of Commissioners will soon review a 1.5 million dollar investment to expand our resources in Central City Concern’s Clean Start program. These new dollars increase the county’s $200,000 per year investment and expand Clean Start’s geographical reach while also putting cash directly into the pockets of people who need it most and helping them develop the skills to stabilize while keeping our streets clean.
We announced the Joint Office’s engagement with James Schroeder and Healthcare Management Associates (HMA) to produce a report in the next 90 days that evaluates current operations, processes, and outcomes to inform a set of new recommendations and action plans.
Barriers at the courthouse have been a critical part of the infrastructure in securing downtown spaces since 2020. As downtown is reactivating, Portlanders should be able to walk up the steps of our courthouse unencumbered and engage with the courthouse directly. In partnership with the Sheriff, the Judicial Department, and court staff, we’re working to bring down these temporary walls by the weekend of July 8th while also finalizing, testing, and implementing new security and site management protocols to ensure smooth operations for the facility, staff and members of the public.
Public & Behavioral Health
This week, we received informative briefings on the current programming at the Behavioral Health Resource Center (BHRC) and efforts by the Multnomah County Health Department to address the fentanyl crisis.
The BHRC houses peer-led, trauma-informed, culturally responsive services through three interconnected programs supporting individuals experiencing houselessness and behavioral health challenges. These include a day center meeting the needs of 100 people every day since December 5, 2022, a 33-bed shelter that opened May 15 and is currently near capacity, and a 19-bed bridge to housing-facility that will open on July 1. At the day center, which recently underwent a restructuring, 25 people at a time receive support and individual attention from peer counselors, a 1-to-5 ratio that helps build trust and connection. Since December, more than 23,000 people have received services, leading to over 1,000 housing referrals and more than 300 behavioral health referrals.
Multnomah County, alongside the rest of the United States, has been fighting against the opioid epidemic for more than a decade. In late 2019, the nature and lethality of the opioid epidemic changed dramatically with the introduction of synthetic fentanyl, which is more potent and addictive than any other opiates previously seen, including heroin. The potency of fentanyl has driven an increase in polysubstance use, particularly the combination of meth and fentanyl. Since fentanyl’s introduction, the Health Department has deployed all resources available to prevent fentanyl and polysubstance use and reduce substance use disorder and overdose via its 18 primary prevention services, 27 harm reduction programs or services, 13 programs focused on treatment and seven on recovery. These include the distribution of more than 50,000 naloxone kits to save lives when an overdose occurs and tens of thousands of young people, adults, and families supported with prevention, treatment, or recovery services. We also convene substance-use experts weekly to review epidemiology, research, and strategy from across the nation and globe to increase the agility of our response and inform development of new programming and services even more finely tailored to meet the unique demands of addressing synthetic fentanyl. The department will finalize a strategic plan, including an outline of priority focus areas and tactics, in the coming months.
On June 1st, Multnomah County accomplished a significant milestone with the launch of the Public Safety Assessment. For years, Multnomah County and its public safety system partners have been working to support and improve a pretrial system to promote community well-being and safety, protect the rights of victims, improve rates of pretrial court appearances, and ensure fairness and equity, while continuing to adhere to the U.S. Constitution and the right to due process.
I want to thank Multnomah County’s District Attorney’s Office, law enforcement, including the Sheriff’s Office and Portland Police Bureau, the Department of Community Justice, the judiciary, the defense bar, victims’ representatives, and the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council for their collaboration and partnership in this effort.
For more information and updates, please visit the new Pretrial System Improvements webpage.
At my direction, Multnomah County Animal Services is conducting a review of policies and operations and engaging with community members to understand how we can better serve our communities and the animals in our care. You can participate in this review by providing feedback that will be incorporated into the final work plan for improvements at Multnomah County Animal Services. Click here to take our survey and see below for information on how to schedule an interview to provide important feedback on how we can improve services at Multnomah County Animal Services.
Budget Amendments & Adoptions
This year’s Multnomah County budget confronts the short-term revenue challenges of ramping down federal pandemic relief and reflects Multnomah County’s core goals of providing our community, partners, and employees with a more equitable and just community. We were pleased as a Board to increase funding in a few key areas, adding a total of $7.77 million in funding to more comprehensively address human services and community safety, with nearly $1 million for additional micro villages to shelter people experiencing homelessness, full staffing for the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office river patrol program, $310,000 dollars for the New Avenues for Youth New Day program and nearly $4.5 million dollars for SUN Family Resource Navigators. Throughout this process, our Board has made the tough decisions to protect our safety net while continuing to make the upstream investments that make our safety net most effective in helping people in Multnomah County thrive.
Watch & Listen Again