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Exploring new approaches
August 22, 2022

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

In Portland and Multnomah County, summer has definitely arrived (after an unusually wet spring). I have thoroughly enjoyed being out in the city and county to meet with community members, businesses, and organizations to continue relationships, learn, and connect.

Monkeypox Update

While Multnomah County’s Health Department continues its focus on COVID-19, it is also pivoting to respond to monkeypox. Monkeypox is a rare disease that is caused by a virus, and the County’s Public Health leadership and staff are once again going above and beyond to address this new crisis. 

As of Tuesday, when the Board received a briefing from the Public Health team, there were 79 cases identified in Multnomah County. The outbreak has most impacted gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, but can infect anybody. The team made clear that there’s nothing specific about men who have sex with men that puts them at particular risk; it’s just that that is the first social network the virus affected.

Fortunately, there is a vaccine that’s very effective at preventing infection, and there are also antivirals that can help mitigate symptoms. Unfortunately, the vaccine is in short supply. The Center for Disease Control and Oregon Health Authority have published fairly stringent eligibility criteria for the vaccine, and Public Health is distributing it accordingly. They are also relying on organizations that serve those most at risk to push out information about the virus and vaccine. As of Tuesday, the county had vaccinated approximately 1,500 people.

You can view the briefing here, at the 2:45 mark. For more information, you can visit the County’s webpage, as well as this webpage that is specific to the queer and trans community. To inquire about eligibility, call 503-988-8939. Please note, our Health Department’s staff capacity is extremely limited and because of worldwide shortages, the local waitlist for the vaccine is long. 

In addition to immense appreciations to our Public Health division, I also want to highlight how queer and trans community members have utilized individual and collective resources in order to support all in their community. Community-based efforts have historically accomplished so many successes for health justice, and it’s important to recognize how that current work in community is a critical component when we face public health challenges.

Housing/Houselessness

Exploring New Approaches

As I’ve said many times, the lack of affordable and accessible housing is the primary cause of houselessness. While mental illness and addiction increase the likelihood of someone falling into houselessness, it is the lack of housing that’s the main driver.  There’s ample research showing that when you compare cities’ rates of unmet behavioral health needs, poverty, and other issues, none of those explain the numbers of houselessness. The key correlating factor is housing being unaffordable and/or unavailable.

So we need to add affordable housing inventory as quickly as possible. The Portland and Metro housing bonds will add thousands of affordable units, but the process is slow, and still will not meet the need. We have to explore all available strategies for building more units, including public-private partnerships that use different funding models. Meeting with community partners, private and non-profit developers, and real estate experts, I’m actively exploring ideas for how to do this.

Earlier this summer, for example, I toured a vacant downtown office building that could be converted into affordable housing. With an office vacancy rate of over 20% in the downtown core, such office conversions could offer a pathway to creating affordable housing more quickly and at lower cost than building from scratch. Additionally, the long term rental assistance available to us through the supportive housing services measure could be leveraged to obtain private financing for these projects. This idea is at a very early stage of exploration, but is an example of the types of new models we need to examine.

Another idea I’ve been exploring is one that could streamline and improve the process for connecting people trying to move off the streets to apartments already available in the market. Currently, people who are receiving rent assistance generally look for housing on their own, sometimes with support from a service provider. Anyone who has navigated the housing market knows how difficult and time consuming it can be to go from landlord to landlord or building to building, even when you can afford the rent. The process is exponentially more difficult for those experiencing houselessness, for all the reasons you can imagine - including landlords who are reluctant to rent to this population, and place barriers in their way. 

Centralizing the process for recruiting landlords, matching tenants with the pool of available units, and supporting both landlords and tenants during lease-up as well as during the lease term could bring more apartments into the pool of available rentals, and make them more accessible. I think this is a model we should consider, and am working on convening a group of service providers and other stakeholders to explore it further.

Tri-County Planning Body

I am honored to have been appointed to the Metro Supportive Housing Services Measure’s (“SHS”) Tri-County Planning Body. An important component of the SHS measure was its intent to develop Metro region-wide strategies in addition to county-specific strategies, and this group will focus on those regional goals and strategies. While the group is just getting started, I envision this as a place where we can develop region-wide coordination on issues that affect all three county homeless systems, including data collection and use, workforce pay and training, and nonprofit capacity-building.

In the Community

It has been a summer filled with community events, and I've thoroughly enjoyed each and every one. Here's a sampling:

In July, I visited the 2022 Mississippi Street Fair. This year organizers focused on increased outreach to local and BIPOC businesses, and I had the opportunity to meet an array of the local businesses and BIPOC vendors who sustain our economy. I also toured Oregon Community Warehouse at their Northeast Portland location — the only furniture bank in the region, providing home essentials for people experiencing housing instability. 

I was delighted to participate in a joyful event honoring the listing of Dean’s Beauty Salon and Barbershop in the National Register of Historic Places. Dean’s was established by Benjamin and Mary Rose Dean in 1956, and is Oregon’s longest-running, continuously Black-owned business. It continues to be a community anchor in Northeast Portland, and I was honored to join STARS Mentoring and Dean family members in celebrating this honor.

Youth employment, advocacy, and leadership opportunities build a thriving community. A critical part of this work is education and community building — connecting youth to issues that matter to their neighborhood. This month, the Multnomah Youth Commission and I met with youth at Neighbors for Clean Air Camp “AQ” to discuss air quality in the Cully neighborhood, and ways to get involved. The youths' participation with Neighbors for Clean Air equips them to be change-makers in their local communities. I was also honored to sponsor the 2022 Portland Youth Job Fair hosted by Worksystems Inc. Many young people in our community face significant barriers to employment, and the event was a one-stop shop of resources intended to reduce these barriers. Our young people are our future, and these events are all crucial to supporting them in becoming active, thriving, and engaged residents of Multnomah County.

I hope you and your families have all had a chance to relax a little and enjoy these summer days, and wish you a smooth entry into fall!

With gratitude,

Susheela


Rent Assistance

Oregon Housing and Community Services, emergency rental assistance application is currently open. Oregon Senate Bill 891 protects renters who have applied for rent assistance from nonpayment evictions if they provide documentation of their application to their landlords.

Oregon renters who apply for rent assistance and provide documentation to their landlord before July 1, 2022, are protected by this “safe harbor” protection until their application is processed, up until Sept. 30, 2022.

  • How to apply for Multnomah County rent assistance here

  • For landlords: help your tenant apply for rent relief here

COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics

Click here for more information on upcoming COVID-18 Vaccination Clinics.

ACCESS Shuttle

Multnomah County launched the new ACCESS (Alderwood-Cornfoot-Columbia Employment Shuttle Service) shuttle in District 2. 

The shuttle will provide transportation between the Cully neighborhood and Parkrose/Sumner Transit Center. Here is more information on the new transit service and click the link here to download a printable schedule.