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The lead-up to spring has been busy
March 25, 2023
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The lead-up to spring has been exceptionally busy. The legislative session is well under way, and the public part of Multnomah County’s budgeting process for Fiscal Year 2024 will begin in the next month. More on both of those, as well as recent developments on our work to address homelessness, below.
Housing and Homelessness
As we enter the year with a new Governor and a new County Chair, we have an opportunity to take a fresh look at our homelessness response systems - evaluate what’s working, what’s not, and how to evolve.
Last week, the Board of County Commissioners approved funding for Chair Vega Pederson’s Housing Multnomah Now (HMN) initiative. This will be a focused effort to resolve unsheltered homelessness in two specific geographic areas - one downtown, and one in East Portland/East County.
Modeled on the “command center” approach to emergency response that we observed in Seattle, HMN will be implemented by a Multi-Agency Coordinating group (MAC) comprised of County and city representatives, service providers, and representatives of people with lived experience of homelessness. Outreach workers will engage with each person living unsheltered in the area; create a “by-name” list; assess what each person needs; and place them in shelter or in housing. The MAC group will meet daily to track progress and tackle barriers.
Also new will be a centralized effort to recruit landlords into providing their apartments for housing people exiting homelessness. At present, each nonprofit that provides homeless services recruits landlords for its clients. A centralized agency will provide one point of contact for both service providers and landlords, and create an easily accessible database of available units. I have been advocating for this approach for some time, have met with organizations that serve this function in Seattle and San Francisco, and have done extensive engagement with providers and landlords about this concept; I am very pleased that we will be moving forward with it. I’m also advocating for a mobile behavioral health and crisis management team that will provide 24/7 support to tenants and landlords once they are placed in housing. In my conversations with private landlords and affordable housing providers, this has come up as an important need.
While the immediate impact of HMN is important - moving 300 people into housing, and having visible impact downtown - what’s also important is what we will learn about the systemic barriers to moving people from the streets into housing.
It’s important to stress that the “now” part of Housing Multnomah Now is relative. The initiative will require a significant retooling of our data systems. The Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS) will also need to hire additional staff to support this initiative, as it will sit alongside all of the other work currently being done. Hiring and workforce issues continue to be a very challenging bottleneck, both for the JOHS and for nonprofit service providers. Not the least of the current staffing gaps is the fact that we have not had a permanent Director of the JOHS since June. This leadership gap has been a huge impediment to moving work forward. An announcement about this is close, and the position should be filled by the end of April.
HMN fits within and will also be supported by Governor Kotek’s emergency directives on homelessness, which will provide important additional funding to the work of the MAC group. HMN was created with input from service providers and advocacy groups, and I very much appreciate their engagement and support.
Fiscal Year 2024 Budget
An overview of our process:
It begins in the fall, with the Budget Office presenting its economic forecast for the following fiscal year (July - June). This forecast will be revised several times, but the fall forecast provides a starting point.
In December, the Chair issues directions to County departments on the revenue assumptions they should include in their budgets - in particular, whether service cuts will be required. It’s important to remember that costs go up every year, so service cuts may be required even if revenues go up. (Our property tax system creates an ongoing gap between the increase in revenue and the increase in cost.)
During the spring, departments meet with the Chair to discuss their proposed budgets. Her decisions are finalized at the end of March, and her budget is released publicly at the end of April.
Once the Chair’s budget is released, the Board begins discussion and deliberation. This takes the shape of worksessions throughout May, in which departments present their budgets to the Board. The Board has the opportunity to ask questions and for more information; those questions and the responses are posted on the Budget Office’s website.
Commissioners can propose amendments at any time, though during my tenure amendments have always been proposed during the last week. Final decisions are made and the budget will be adopted on June 8.
This year there will be three public hearings on the budget: on May 10, May 17, and May 31, all at 6 pm. This is a chance for the public to weigh in on the budget, including to advocate for specific programs they want funded. If you’re interested in attending, please check the Budget Office website for details closer to the date.
2023 Legislative Session
Each session, the County’s Government Relations team puts together a legislative agenda and lobbies for funding and policies that support the County’s work. Not surprisingly, this year’s agenda prioritized housing and homelessness, and mental health and substance use services. Our team worked hard to help shape the unprecedented $200 million housing and homelessness package that passed earlier this week. It’s a tribute to Governor Kotek and the hard work of legislators that such a substantial package passed so quickly. These funds, as well as the policy changes in the package, including policies to incentivize housing construction and to protect renters, are much-needed.
I have personally testified or provided written support for several bills, including:
- HB 3301 and HB 3323: funding for the Earthquake Ready Burnside Bridge project;
- HB 2005, 2006, and 2007: prohibiting the purchase and sale of “ghost” guns, raising the age of assault weapons purchases to 21, and allowing local governments to regulate concealed carry on their properties;
- HB 2396 and HB 3158: regulating indirect sources of diesel pollution, such as distribution centers; and funding replacement of dirty diesel engines;
- SB 1070: requiring courts to consider a defendant’s experience of domestic violence in sentencing on crimes committed as a result of that violence; and
- HB 2601: requiring the Oregon Treasury to divest from fossil fuels.
A little more about the Earthquake Ready Burnside Bridge project, which Chair Vega Pederson and I co-chair: we all know that the region faces a one-in-three chance of a magnitude 8+ earthquake occurring in the next 50 years. When that happens, we will need to be able to get emergency vehicles and people across the Willamette River. Most of our bridges will not survive the event.
Seismically upgrading the Burnside Bridge, which is on a designated lifeline route and connects one of the longest east-west roads in the Metro region, will substantially improve the region's earthquake readiness. The current budget is $895 million, $300 million of which has been secured through local vehicle registration fees. We are actively seeking state and federal partnership for the remaining funds, and I testified earlier this week in support of two bills that will help provide funding for the project as well as ongoing maintenance of all the Willamette River bridges. My testimony is attached here.
In the Community
I’ve enjoyed lots of opportunities to meet with constituents and service providers over the past couple of months. Some of the highlights:
I caught up with PCRI, which owns and manages affordable housing in North and Northeast Portland, including the Beatrice Morrow apartments on MLK Jr. Blvd. Many of their units house people through Portland’s groundbreaking preference policy, which prioritizes people whose families have been displaced from North/Northeast.
Street Roots' vendors invited Chair Jessica Vega Pederson and me for a listening session on ways Multnomah County can improve services in outreach, rent assistance, and eviction prevention. We heard anger at an economic system that favors the very rich over the very poor; pushback about the public perception that all people experiencing homelessness are drug addicts, along with personal observations of a crisis of substance use; and frustration about spotty outreach and inadequate follow-through.
Earlier this week, I visited the El Rancho mobile home park, in the Cully neighborhood. Residents of El Rancho have been organizing to improve conditions at the park, including by demanding such basics as regular garbage service and functioning mailboxes. The owner has responded by refusing to accept their rent and filing eviction notices. We were able to immediately respond, with five outreach workers from the County’s Bienestar de la Familia program knocking on every door, cutting rent assistance checks for those who needed them, and connecting folks who had received eviction notices with legal help. This kind of rapid response is essential to prevent evictions and keep people housed.
Last but certainly not least, I celebrated with neighbors, the JOHS, and Do Good Multnomah at the Arbor Lodge Shelter Groundbreaking Ceremony. The property has proven to be a huge asset to the county during some difficult years. Multnomah County bought this building in 2020 with COVID funding; it provided additional shelter beds when we needed them, throughout the year and especially during severe weather events. Construction to turn it into a permanent shelter, serving up to 120 people, is expected to be completed in early 2024, when a grand reopening event will be scheduled. The existing outdoor sleeping units have been stored and saved for future use.
I leave next week for some extended time with my parents, in India. I hope you enjoy your spring break, and that we all return renewed and refreshed.
Apply for the Community Involvement Committee
The Multnomah County Office of Community Involvement is recruiting members for the Community Involvement Committee. The committee serves as Multnomah County’s advisory body on community engagement and involvement. We are currently recruiting for four new members.
To start the application process, click on the link here to complete our online application form or download the paper application at the link here. Applications are due by Friday, March 31, 2023 at 11:59 PM.
Apply for the Multnomah County Auditor's Community Advisory Committee
The Multnomah County Auditor is seeking community members to serve on the office’s Community Advisory Committee. The Community Advisory Committee provides guidance directly to the County Auditor; it is not a decision-making body. Community Advisory Committee members are considered to be public officials. In addition, the Auditor will provide reimbursement for parking or TriMet passes to support community member participation on the committee.
You can apply at the link here. Applications are due Wednesday, March 31, 2023 at 11:59 PM.
College to County (C2C) Mentorship
Going on their 12th year as a program, College to County (C2C) provides college students from underrepresented communities with paid summer internships. Our program increases participants' understanding of career pathways at the county, with focused mentorship and professional development opportunities.
Students can review eligibility and recommendations at the link here and apply for internship positions at the link here. Applications are due Sunday, April at 11:59 PM.
2023-2024 Multnomah Youth Commission (MYC)
The Multnomah Youth Commissioner (MYC) is looking for youth who truly represent the cross-section of demographics, identities, and experiences of ALL young people in our community. No special skills or experience required; just a passion for making our community a better place. Youth interested in policy, activism, or community organizing are encouraged to apply.
The application and references can be completed online at the link here. MYC applicants must be between the ages of 13-21 (as of August 1, 2023) and live, work, or go to school in Multnomah County. Applications are due by Monday, April 17 at 11:59 PM.
Parkrose Student Health Center Open for Spring Break
Parkrose Student Health Center will stay open March 27-31 for health services during spring break. All other Multnomah County student health centers will be closed. Call for an appointment at 503-988-3392.
Click here for more information on upcoming COVID-18 Vaccination Clinics. Booster shots are recommended for everyone 16 and over once enough time has passed from your last dose.