Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Last month, I asked you to share your top priorities as we determine the County’s budget. Nearly 500 of you responded(!), and the results are not surprising: 83.6% of you identified homelessness as a top concern. Another 58.8% identified behavioral health as a top priority and 43.1% gun violence (respondents could identify more than one priority).
This mirrors what I’ve heard loud and clear from the community, as well as what other public opinion surveys have shown: homelessness is the number one issue.
What I found more interesting were your thoughts on how best to address homelessness (note: respondents who selected homelessness as a top issue could specify three priorities therein):
54.7% of you want the county to invest in mental health services and addiction treatment for our homeless neighbors;
46% support the acquisition of apartment units to quickly house those without homes;
43% seek additional investments in shelters, including RV sites and alternative shelters like Safe Rest Villages;
31.9% want to see the cleanup of unsafe encampments and the debris that comes with them;
30% support the construction of more affordable housing;
25.5% want to prioritize addressing camping on sidewalks and other public spaces;
23.2% want to reduce the crime associated with certain encampments (i.e. chopshops); and
18.8% support better outreach for those living on our streets.
These results demonstrate several things. First, that you understand the complexity of homelessness and the various strategies needed to fully address it. Second, that the solutions are numerous and intertwined, but all are necessary if we are to tackle the interconnected problems of homelessness. And lastly, we'll need to track multiple data points, continue to make strategic investments, and maintain our laser focus on this if we are going to make progress.
In many ways our homelessness problem is similar in complexity to childcare. In that arena we had high costs, low pay for workers, a shortage of providers (both geographically and at various price points), a dearth of culturally diverse offerings, and families making difficult economic decisions about how to care for their children. We also have an insufficient pipeline of teachers and providers, as well as a shortage of childcare spaces in our community.
In homelessness, we have high housing prices and a dramatic shortage of units. We’ve seen rents increase at a much higher rate than wages, particularly for lower income workers. Our region has grown in population, with many of those moving here being high income earners, who can gobble up housing and push prices higher. As a state, we have underinvested in mental health and addiction treatment, while decriminalizing recreational possession of drugs without yet beefing up our addiction treatment services. And, we’re coming out of a pandemic.
This makes homelessness a complicated issue, but I am confident that we can tackle this issue just as we’re tackling the challenges of childcare.
The investments we’ve made in addressing homelessness - in shelters, outreach workers, supportive housing services, affordable housing, and more - need to be monitored and scrutinized, and if they are working expanded and sped up. But we can get on top of this issue - that is my North Star.
Addressing gun violence will also be a top priority. This issue is ravaging our Black community in particular, and is acute in east Portland. That’s why I have strongly pushed for the inclusion of gun violence prevention in the County budget, and why I am pleased that Chair Kafoury included in her budget a proposal I’ve been advocating for, which will establish small cohorts of individuals who are at risk of engaging in gun violence to receive intensive life coaching, case management and service navigation assistance. The program will also provide a financial stipend to incentivize participation and address the economic challenges that often are at the root cause of community violence.
This model, which has been utilized in multiple jurisdictions and has been shown to reduce levels of gun violence, is an opportunity for our community to test new methods of preventing violence and supporting our most vulnerable communities.
Thanks to those of you who have shared your thoughts on the budget. I appreciate your input and engagement, and will look forward to sharing more about the budget in the coming weeks.
In your service,
PS: There is still time for community members to provide input and feedback on next year’s Multnomah County budget. The Board will hold our third and final virtual public budget hearing tomorrow, June 1st from 6-8 pm. The meeting will be virtual, and you can sign up to testify here.
Additionally, you are welcome to submit budget feedback to my office directly by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. The budget will be finalized and voted on Thursday, June 16th.
Roe v. Wade
Earlier this month, Politico reported on a leaked draft Supreme Court opinion, which, if adopted, would overturn the fundamental right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
While we are still awaiting the final decision of the Court, which could come anytime between now and the end of June, we have seen a dramatic spike in anti-abortion laws being introduced or enacted, and it is very possible that the right to abortion will be curtailed by the Court.
Let me be clear: here in Multnomah County, access to abortion and other reproductive health services will be maintained.
To prepare for the likely overturning of Roe, I have been meeting with local abortion providers and reproductive health advocates to understand how these changes may impact Multnomah County.
In the coming weeks I will be announcing additional actions that we’ll be taking to protect access to reproductive care in Multnomah County.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus remains with us. Case counts have gone up, and COVID hit me and my family two weeks ago, despite being vaccinated and boosted. It was not fun. This is a reminder to continue to be cautious to protect those with underlying health conditions. Multnomah County’s public health officer has recommended wearing masks indoors. Top of mind for me is protecting our teachers and students, who are trying to enjoy the final weeks of school and all that goes with it.
In the Community
Last month I was a panelist at The Street Trust’s Active Transportation Summit, with Washington County Commissioner Nafisa Fai and North Clackamas School Board member Libra Forde, among others, where we discussed building a transportation system that’s focused on safety, community, multimodal and transit options, and reducing carbon emissions.
I was excited to attend Love is Stronger’s Peace in the Streets celebration at Dawson Park, where community organizations, local agencies, and community members came together to build community, enjoy delicious food, and create spaces where we can safely celebrate our neighborhoods and the bonds that tie us together. At the event, held on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, I had the opportunity to visit with my friend Lionel Irving, who organized the event; to meet with employees from the County’s Health, Human Services, Library and Elections teams who were sharing resources and information; and to talk with some of the many outstanding young people who are working through organizations like Love is Stronger to keep our communities safe.
I also celebrated the opening of Native American Youth and Family Center’s (NAYA) Mamook Tokatee, a 56-unit affordable housing development located in the Cully neighborhood. Mamook Tokatee, the Chinook Wawa expression for “make beautiful,” is thoughtfully decorated with murals and statues created by Native American artists.
Multnomah County recognized Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Relatives Week of Awareness in early May. I joined tribal community members at the waterfront that evening for a community gathering and to call for the safety of Native women, girls, and two-spirit people from trafficking and sexual violence.
Earlier this month, I participated in an east Portland neighborhood clean-up event organized by the Mill Park, Russell & Hazelwood neighborhood associations; the Menlo Park Business Association; and SOLVE Oregon. We cleaned up hundreds of pounds of trash and made the sidewalks shine a whole lot brighter.
As we get closer to the end of the school year, I had the privilege of participating in two events that honor graduating students and support the next generation of leaders. The first event was Philippine American Chamber of Commerce of Oregon’s (PACCO) 12th Annual Asian and Pacific Islander Night, whose theme focused on investing in Asian and Pacific Islander youth to become future business leaders. The second event was a scholarship ceremony for Latinx entrepreneurs graduating from the Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber’s (HMC) Latino Leadership program and Latinx youth going into higher education. HMC gave away $161,000 in scholarships to 54 students and leaders across Oregon and southwest Washington.
Finally, I attended the Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs (OAME) 34th Annual Trade Show and Luncheon, which brings together BIPOC business leaders. OAME’s legendary founder, Sam Brooks, is stepping into an Emeritus position, so I was proud to celebrate his many decades of work to build a robust coalition of over 850 businesses led by Indigenous people and people of color here in Oregon.