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Working together, in and for our community
December 29, 2022

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Just under four years ago, I crossed the sky bridge that connects the Multnomah Building with our parking structure to start my first day as a County Commissioner. As I looked to the west, I could see the new County Courthouse - now completed - rising on the other side of the river. To the east was Mount Hood, outlined against a clear sky.

Four years later, as I complete my first term, I still look to either side as I cross the bridge. Our city and county have been battered, but they are still beautiful. We have great challenges; but we also have so many people of good will who are working hard with and for each other. 

As I embark on my second term, and as we begin this new year, I still feel the same sense of gratitude that I felt on that first day - gratitude that I get to live in this place, and to serve in this way.

Board Action - Emergency Rent Assistance to Prevent Evictions

As the year comes to a close, pandemic era protections against eviction have expired, and thousands of people are at risk of losing their homes. In October alone, 840 eviction notices were filed in Multnomah County. The rate of evictions is now greater than it was prior to the pandemic. For the many people understandably wondering why we continue to see people on the streets even as we move thousands of people off the streets and into shelter and housing, this is one of the reasons: people continue to lose their housing and become homeless.

The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) recently released a strategic plan on homelessness which emphasizes the importance of prevention: catching and supporting people before they become homeless is far less expensive and less difficult than pulling people out of homelessness. We have consistently recognized this, and have allocated substantial funding  to preventing homelessness. But the eviction landscape is dire, and we face a substantial gap between the need for emergency rent assistance and the available resources.

The County doesn’t normally make mid-year budget allocations. This year and last, however, we have experienced unusually substantial “one-time” funds available through a combination of unanticipated revenues and unanticipated underspending in the prior year, and have decided to use some of those funds to address emergent conditions. 

In one of our last actions of the year, the Board allocated $15 million towards rent assistance for people at risk of eviction. This doesn’t come close to meeting the need, but it is the amount that we estimate we can distribute before the end of the fiscal year (June 2023) through our community partners. This will help keep approximately 3,400 households in their homes, and off the streets.

We also allocated an additional $1.2 million towards flexible assistance to help people move into permanent supportive housing units coming on-line in 2023, and to support households who have received federal Emergency Housing Vouchers. These funds will pay for things like getting IDs, security deposits, furniture, and other move-in costs. Our providers report that clients are struggling to cover these items, which is delaying our ability to get them off the streets. We expect to help over 400 households move into housing with these flexible funds.

2022 Accomplishments

As we wind up the year, a brief summary of Team D2’s 2022 accomplishments:

  • Secured an additional 1% pay increase for nonprofit partner front-line employees;

  • Secured funding for legal services and services for sex-trafficking survivors;

  • Secured full-time staff focused on (a) immigrant and refugee services and (b) economic justice;

  • Partnered with Commissioner Lori Stegmann to reduce property taxes on manufactured housing;

  • Partnered with Chair-elect Jessica Vega Pederson to expand wood-smoke regulation;

  • Partnered with Senator Michael Dembrow to secure funding for a wood stove changeout program.

  • Held or participated in more than 60 constituent coffees, panel discussions, and community events.

I’m deeply appreciative of my team: Sara Ryan, Jesse Rawlins, Monique Smiley, and Angela Donley (now working for the Oregon Senate Democratic Caucus). They are dedicated public servants who respond to our constituents’ needs with consistent empathy and resolve.

In the Community

The last couple of months have included a series of visits to community partners who are providing critical services to people experiencing homelessness and housing instability; events focused on clean air and environmental resilience; and my last constituent coffee of the year. 

Community Partner Visits

Jolene’s First Cousin (JFC) is an innovative affordable housing model that clusters a small number of studio apartments around shared facilities - kitchen, community space, bathrooms and showers, and laundry. JFC is master leased by JOIN, a nonprofit partner that provides a range of homeless services. The majority of JFC tenants were unsheltered prior to moving in, and JOIN has successfully kept them housed by combining intensive, person-centered property management and case management services.

Cultivate Initiatives is a grassroots organization working to house, employ, and stabilize people exiting homelessness. This summer, they housed 70 people in just two months, using our Move In Multnomah program. I heard from clients about their journey out of homelessness; and it was great to see one of the shower trucks for which I was able to secure funding.

WeShine’s Parkrose Community Village provides temporary shelter and transitional services to 12 people transitioning from homelessness, and is proof of what can be accomplished through the vision and hard work of a dedicated group of volunteers. 

And at the other end of the scale,  Renaissance Commons, developed by REACH CDC, offers 198 affordable housing units with a preference placement policy for people with generational ties to North and Northeast Portland. Behavioral health services are provided by Miracles Club, and additional supportive services are provided by the Urban League of Portland

As these projects illustrate - one size does not fit all. We need a variety of types of shelter and housing, always centering the needs of those we are trying to support.

Clean Air/Environmental Resilience

Poor air quality is a significant issue in Multnomah County, leading to poor health outcomes - especially for low income and other marginalized communities. And diesel emissions are one of the primary contributors to that poor air quality. I began working on diesel emissions in 2020, when I chaired a legislative task force on helping businesses make the transition to cleaner fuel. More recently, I have been focusing on the diesel emissions associated with “indirect sources” - places where equipment or vehicles that use diesel congregate, such as rail yards and distribution facilities. 

In November I partnered with Neighbors for Clean Air to co-host an event at Parkrose Middle School to roll out a new tool that maps diesel pollution in our county.  Dr. Vivek Shandas, a professor at Portland State, walked community members through this new mapping tool, which shows how different neighborhoods are impacted by diesel and other pollutants. This data will help us connect the health impacts of pollution on our residents, help us to plan for better health outcomes, and help us advocate for policy solutions. 


Constituent Coffee

The Stacks Coffeehouse in North Portland hosted our final constituent coffee of the year. Please stop by when you’re in the neighborhood - it’s a great gathering space, with stacks of books (hence the name) and warm hospitality. We had a lively conversation, primarily focused on homelessness and the intersection between homelessness and behavioral health. While homelessness is caused by the lack of affordable housing, mental health and substance use issues can make people more vulnerable to homelessness; and in turn, the experience of being homeless can create mental health and other behavioral health issues. In either case, the bottom line is that Oregon has woefully inadequate mental and behavioral health systems and services, and we must advocate with our Governor-elect, the legislature, and state agencies to fill the gaps.  There is a great deal of wisdom and expertise in our community and I value having the opportunity to hear from constituents at these events. 

And with that - I wish each of you a peaceful close to 2022, and the very, very best for 2023. I look forward to our continued partnership –  working together, in and for our community. Happy new year!

With gratitude,

Susheela


Severe Weather Donations and Volunteers

After experiencing days of extreme cold last week, the Joint Office of Homeless Services will continue to partner with outreach providers who are heading out to distribute life-saving gear to those who may not be fully prepared for cold conditions. If you are able to donate gear, some winter items that are especially important include waterproof hats, gloves, blankets, tarps, sleeping bags and coats.  

Please visit 211 info at the link here to see a specific list of winter gear and where it can be dropped off. 

Severe Weather Shelters open when temperatures reach 25 degrees or low, or when there is an accumulation of snow, ice, or freezing rain. Volunteers are needed to keep shelters operating and serving people experiencing homelessness. You can learn more about volunteer opportunities and requirements at the link 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.

Save the Date: 2023 Point-in-Time Homeless County

This year all three counties in the Portland-region will participate in the unsheltered count — jointly conducting the 2023 point in time count. PSU's Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative and Focus Strategies are administering the count.

Please sign up here if you are interested in helping out with the coming count: Point in Time 2023 Surveyor Sign-up.