A budget of opportunity
June 16, 2022

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Today, I cast my vote to approve the Multnomah County Budget for the 2023 fiscal year. The budget we approved this morning is a budget of opportunity. We are moving to a different, still important but hopefully less urgent phase of the pandemic; and, for the first time since I’ve been on the Board, we have a positive revenue forecast. This has given us the opportunity to create a budget that not only moves us into an equitable recovery, but lays the foundation for more transformational work to come in the years ahead.Throughout the budget process, I asked critical questions to ensure that our funding would benefit residents of Multnomah County through a social justice framework. Our budget must not only ensure equity across the board, but must maximize resources for oppressed communities and organizations serving those community members, and fund action that will help resolve systemic issues. I believe our budget reflects these values.

By the numbers

A budget this size is impossible to summarize, but here are just a few numbers to provide an overview:

  • The total County budget is $3.3 billion
  • Of this amount, $742 million is unrestricted County General Fund, meaning that these are the funds over which the County has the most discretion. The balance of the budget is restricted to particular uses, and the County’s discretion over how those funds are used varies depending on the source of the revenue.
  • Restricted funds include the Supportive Housing Services Measure ($107 million), for homeless services; Preschool for All ($191 million), for universal preschool; and the Library Capital Bond ($417 million), to fund expansion and modernization of our library system.  

Other restricted funds come from the state and federal governments, and include, for example, American Rescue Plan funds and other COVID response funding.

Homelessness There is no one strategy that will solve homelessness, and this budget presents a balanced approach across the spectrum: prevention, emergency shelter, and housing placement and retention.

The total budget for our homelessness response is $255.5 million. This includes the Supportive Housing Services Measure mentioned above, as well as County General Fund, City of Portland, state, and federal resources. These investments will yield more than 450 new shelter beds, pods, or motel rooms, for a total of more than 2,000 beds of year-round shelter; place more than 1,400 additional people into housing; and create more than 1,000 new units of permanent supportive housing, for a total of more than 1,700 (these are units that will be affordable, and will have services attached, including mental and other behavioral health services). They also fund a host of related services, such as outreach, employment assistance, physical and behavioral health services, and hygiene.

Specific items that I advocated for include a $15 million strategic capital fund that will allow us to respond to opportunities to acquire or invest in property for shelter or housing, and a master leasing pilot to recruit additional landlords into our rental pool. Both are current investments that will build future capacity. 

And I’m particularly excited about some new investments that will address the specific needs of people experiencing homelessness as well as mental health and addiction issues - a portion of the population that we know struggles the most to move from homelessness to housing. These include the downtown Behavioral Health Resource Center, scheduled to open in the fall, which will provide a one-stop shop for people experiencing homelessness and mental health or addiction issues; new behavioral health-focused shelter programs which will provide shelter and services specifically designed for this population; and new permanent housing programs run by behavioral health service providers. 

Community Safety

Every Multnomah County resident deserves to live in safety, free from the fear of violence. We continue to experience a tragic escalation in gun violence, and this budget includes long term strategies to address the root causes and consequences of violence, as well as strategies that can have more immediate impact.

Youth employment is a proven strategy to combat youth violence. Multnomah County has long invested in this area, and I have lead recent efforts to strengthen and expand our programming. The budget contains a $1 million expansion of our youth employment and opportunity programs.

The lack of economic stability is a contributing factor to violence; and a new Gun Violence Interruption pilot  will provide stipends to people at risk of engaging in violence, and engage them as credible messengers to prevent gun violence. Removing guns from the streets is one of the most effective and immediate ways of stemming gun violence, and the budget includes new funding for gun dispossession and for prosecution of crimes involving gun violence. 

Behavioral Health

Programs that address the intersection between homelessness and behavioral health are mentioned above. Additional highlights include expansion of our mental health services for school-aged kids, and planning for the Behavioral Health Emergency Coordination Network (BHECN). Mental health issues among young people have long gone unattended, and we know that the pandemic has exacerbated these issues. The County currently provides school-based mental health services to children in kindergarten through 3rd grade; this budget expands our services through 12th grade. The BHECN project is a multi-jurisdictional effort to develop a coordinated response to people experiencing a behavioral health crisis. The County is leading this effort, which will fill gaps in the current system, including a need for stabilization spaces that will allow people to recover from crisis before moving to additional services. The budget funds continuation of the planning process for BHECN.

Climate Change and Resilience

From the wildfires of two years ago to the heat dome of last summer and even the “atmospheric river” we experienced last week, climate change is here and we need to act with urgency to prevent it and to create resilience to its impacts. This budget makes important investments in the County’s work in this area, including a wood stove changeout program funded by $500,000 in American Rescue Plan funds that I advocated for; cooling support, including 1,000 portable air conditioners, for severe heat events; and a new Climate Resilience Coordinator to develop policies that will help our residents meet the climate challenges we know we’ll continue to face.

Support for Immigrants and Refugees

Among the communities most impacted by COVID were our immigrant and refugee communities, highlighting the need to strengthen our systems for engaging with and supporting these communities. Last year, I advocated for a study of existing services for immigrants and refugees, with a report to include recommendations for strengthening those services and creating stronger engagement with immigrants and refugees. I’m very pleased that we’ll be able to build on this work with a new position dedicated following up on and implementing the recommendations from that study. 

Amendments

Throughout the year I have engaged extensively with constituents, community leaders, non-profit workers and directors, County staff, and others to propose the amendments described below. 

  • Contractor Wage Equity Adjustment: The County is part of an ecosystem that includes the nonprofit human services workers who staff our shelters, provide wrap-around services to immigrant families, and support our children in schools. That ecosystem is at risk. It’s at risk because for too long, our society at large has undervalued this work - performed largely by BIPOC, and by women - and has underpaid its workers. As a result, too many of those frontline workers struggle to meet the growing costs of living and working in the County. This is neither equitable nor sustainable. If nonprofits can’t hire or retain workers, and if those workers themselves need our services, our residents will not get the quality of services they deserve, and this ecosystem cannot hold together.  This amendment adds funds to begin to address the wage gap experienced by our nonprofit partners.  
     
  • Multnomah Access Attorney Program (MAAP): The MAAP pilot will place a Deputy District Attorney at each of two locations in the County, with the objective of creating a community-based approach to public safety. The District Attorneys will engage with community members and partners, problem solve to prevent crime, and address safety needs specific to those geographic areas. This is an opportunity to try a new approach to community safety, and it has support from a wide range of community organizations. Along with those partners, we will closely monitor the impacts of the program to ensure that it promotes safety, prioritizes connection to services, and does not create disproportionate impact for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color; people experiencing homelessness; and other marginalized groups. I’m pleased to be able to support the District Attorney’s office in this effort. 
     
  • Expungement and Legal Service Days: Legal and financial barriers bar access to formal income, housing stability, educational opportunities, and more, disproportionately impacting Black and Brown communities and those experiencing poverty. Expungement services and legal service days are critical for racial and economic justice, but limitations on who currently qualifies results in 80% being turned away. That’s why I worked with Metropolitan Public Defender to resource and increase access to these critical legal services so that more community members can thrive. 
     
  • Economic Equity Pilot: As a social safety net provider, the bulk of the County’s work involves addressing the conditions created by poverty. Over the past few years, we’ve also added programs that actually lift people out of poverty. These include programs that remove barriers to economic mobility, provide unrestricted cash assistance, and build assets. The position funded by this amendment will develop additional strategies for building economic equity, by assessing existing County programs where economic stability is a component; conducting outreach and engagement centering the voices of communities of color; and researching other community models. 
     
  • Sex Trafficked Youth Services: Human trafficking continues to harm youth throughout our community. This amendment supports the safety, needs, and rights of people ages 12-25 who are experiencing sex trafficking or exploitation, trading sex, or are at risk. Services include mentoring and advocacy, referral to additional resources, access to employment and education programs, LGBTQIA2s+ and culturally specific services, and prevention education. 

In Conclusion

I want to thank Chair Deborah Kafoury and her staff for this, her final County budget, and for her leadership and service - particularly through these last, unprecedented years; fellow County Commissioners Sharon Meieran, Jessica Vega Pederson, and Lori Stegmann, and their staff; the County departments and amazing employees; community members; and my own staff for all the work that has gone into creating this budget. I believe it reflects my values, and those of our Multnomah County community.

With gratitude,

Susheela

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