November 15, 2021

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

The unpredictability of these times continues - but sometimes the unexpected news is good.

Three weeks ago, Multnomah County’s economist advised the Board of Commissioners that we had received a $30 million surplus in our Business Income Tax revenues for the last fiscal year. The reasons for the surplus include the impact of the massive federal government intervention through the pandemic - an investment that increased overall income and supported demand; and the continuing tale of two economies - one economy for sectors such as hospitality, that were hard hit; and another for a handful of very large businesses that reaped record profits over the past 18 months.

Ordinarily, we are conservative with the use of such unanticipated revenue. Rather than spending it immediately, we carry it over to our next fiscal year. 

This year, we have decided to spend these unprecedented resources in the current year. It’s clear that even as we make progress (though in fits and starts) in emerging from the pandemic, we face a continuing crisis on our streets. As I said in my last newsletter, our priority must be on long-term solutions - but we also have to adjust and respond to current circumstances, and this unexpected infusion of funds allows us to do that.

The Board approved a spending plan for the surplus earlier this week.  A substantial portion - just over $19 million - developed in collaboration with the City of Portland, will be focused on houselessness. The balance will be allocated to additional County priorities. I’ll summarize some of the investments that were particular priorities for me, but you can find additional detail here

Houselessness Package

This package addresses the immediate health and safety issues associated with the growth of large, unsanctioned encampments - both for people living unsheltered and for the surrounding neighborhoods. Dollar amounts are the County’s contribution; some are shared investments in which the City is also making a contribution.

Shelter Capacity ($13,000,000): Funds will pay for the acquisition or lease of motel properties and other sites, including some that will be suitable for longer-term development as housing. These sites will provide 400 new shelter beds, sleeping pods, or motel rooms. As I’ve said many times, we need to be cautious about continuing to expand shelter capacity at the expense of longer-term solutions, but I believe this expansion is strategic, and that property acquisition is generally a good use of one-time funds.

Outreach and Navigation Services ($687,500):  Approximately 20 additional outreach and navigation workers. While we have many other outreach and navigation teams (including peer outreach workers funded by a budget amendment I introduced), these workers will focus specifically on areas that are experiencing a high degree of impact from unsanctioned camping, including downtown and Old Town. Goals are to increase connection to services and shelter; decrease unsanctioned camping; and prevent or resolve conflicts without the need to resort to law enforcement.

Hygiene and Storage Services ($1,000,000): We know this is an enormous need, and it was one I focused on during our last budget process with an amendment that funded hygiene services. This investment will provide expanded toilet, shower, trash, laundry, and storage services for people living unsheltered, serving up to 300 encampments. The goals are to address health and safety issues for people living unsheltered as well as for the surrounding community; to facilitate movement into shelter by providing storage; and to increase connection to services.

Behavioral Health Services ($2,500,000): Two to three teams of behavioral health workers to support service providers in Old Town by preventing and defusing conflict, providing crisis management, and connecting people to services. This is in response to a specific request made by providers like Blanchet House, William Temple, and others, who are experiencing a high volume of conflict during service and need support other than law enforcement.

Hiring Incentives and Pay Increases ($1,500,000): Without the workforce, none of this gets done; and the homeless services system is contending with a severe shortage of shelter and outreach workers - workers who are so underpaid that they are often on the verge of homelessness themselves. Hiring incentives and pay increases will help hire and retain this essential workforce.

Additional County Investments

Gun Violence Interventions ($321,000): Additional capacity for the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office to take guns off the street and to serve family protective orders. Both gun violence and domestic violence have sharply increased over the last 18 months, and these are concrete steps we can take to address those issues.

Community-led Alternative Shelter Capacity ($500,000): This augments an existing $3 million fund to support community-led groups in developing non-congregate shelter, such as pod villages.

Community Capital Fund ($600,000): Augments an existing $1.5 million fund available to community-based organizations undertaking capital projects, acquiring property, or in need of other capital investments. This fund recognizes that our partners have infrastructure needs that are vital to the services they provide; and I’m pleased that the additional investment allows us to open it up to smaller organizations like volunteer-led food pantries, which provide essential services but often struggle to buy equipment like freezers and vans. 

Pandemic Pay for Frontline Workforce ($9,000,000):  The County's front line workforce was called on for an extraordinary effort during the pandemic. This one-time pandemic payment, negotiated with the union, recognizes that effort and supports employee retention and performance.

I advocated for several of the elements in the overall package, and was very pleased to be able to support it. I did so while expressing some cautions. 

First, “immediate” is relative. There are a few initiatives that will be under way within the month, but others will take additional planning and hiring, and likely will not be deployed till early next year. I know that is frustrating, but it is the reality; and if you think about how long it’s taking restaurants to hire just a few people here or there, you can appreciate the challenge (and by way of context - County-wide, we currently have about 600 open positions). 

And second, while some will have longer-term impacts - especially property acquisition - these investments will not solve houselessness. As we implement them, we must also continue to keep our focus on the long-term and very complex challenge of actually housing people.

In the Community

For more than a year, I’ve been partnering with community leaders and organizations serving the Cully community to develop community-based strategies to respond to and reduce violence. One of the short-term priorities they identified was community events that bring residents together to engage with each other, access resources and share communal space.  The Cully Celebration Fire + Water was a wonderful gathering to honor lives lost to violence and celebrate the power of community connection. Reconnecting and investing in communities is a public health approach to halting gun violence - it is long-term, complex work, and can achieve lasting change. A huge thanks to Living Cully and all of the partners that made it possible. 

"I'm just being a good human," is how Terrance Moses of Neighbors Helping Neighbors describes why he goes out, six days a week, on his own dime, to pick up trash from homeless encampments in North Portland.  I joined him on his rounds a few weeks ago, and saw firsthand how he meets a basic need, and provides connection while doing it. I was very pleased to see that the City is proposing to provide funding for volunteer-led trash pickup efforts like Terrance's in their surplus package. 

Here's to "good humans."  They are the true bedrock of our community.

With gratitude,

Susheela


Rent Assistance

  • How to apply for Multnomah County rent assistance here.

  • Oregon Emergency Rental Assistance Program (Allita) toolkit here.

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

Vaccine Clinics

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

Winter Donations & Shelter Volunteers

Outreach providers need life-saving gear to distribute during cold weather, and volunteers to support our severe weather shelters. Learn how to support our neighbors living unsheltered here.

2021 Property Tax Statement

2021 property tax payments are due November 15, and you can learn more about your statement and how to pay here

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