Dear Colleagues,


It has taken me some time to process my thoughts around the IGA because until the day before our joint session I had a totally different understanding of what was being negotiated - I had thought that the City and County were considering how to make the Joint Office of Homeless Services, which is in fact a County department, more of a truly joint office in terms of shared authority, accountability, decision-making and budgeting. Having had some time to think, I’ve made some recommendations below (highlighted in yellow) and also provided some context to help explain my thinking. 


Note that this is a work in progress, not a final proposal, and I look forward to discussing it with you come the new year. 


  1. Change the name of the Joint Office of Homeless Services as soon as possible.


  • The current name has been misleading since the inception of the Office. It conveys to the public that the Office has shared ownership between the City and County when in fact it never has. 


  • Transparency and accountability should start with truth in advertising, and this is low hanging fruit. A name change, such as to the “Multnomah County Department of Homeless and Housing Services”, would be a great step forward. A County departmental name change wouldn’t require an IGA, but could go a long way in clarifying roles, responsibilities, and authority. I can think of no reason not to do this, and myriad reasons to proceed.


  1. Clearly state the purpose of the IGA. I realize that the two-page communication shared with the Board does not reflect the actual IGA, but I can’t tell what the actual goal of the IGA is - what is being agreed to or why.


From what I can gather from communications outside the document it seems like there are two separate purposes:


          1. The County will promise to deliver on certain specific outcomes related to shelter in exchange for the City investing a certain amount of money toward shelter delivery. 

          1. The City and County will agree on a governance and advisory structure for a shared approach to homelessness and housing policy.



My further comments are based on my interpretation being relatively accurate. If this is the case, I don’t think that either of the purposes requires an IGA. I hope someone can help clarify why this is being pursued in this structure.


Assuming that there are good reasons for pursuing an IGA, it seems like there should actually be two separate agreements based on the two very different purposes. Has this been considered? 


My subsequent comments assume the City and County proceed with one or more IGAs, with the hope that there is significant clarification regarding purpose.


  1. Refine Outcomes and Data consider and explain what is being asked for and why. I have long stated my belief in the need for data-based decision-making with timelines, opportunities for assessment, and measurable outcomes. This has not been supported in the past, so I appreciate that the IGA is attempting to fulfill what for me has been a longstanding call for action. However, I’m concerned that, as used in this document, most if not all of the references to “outcomes” or “metrics” seem arbitrary, not tied to systems change or other aspects of the homelessness to housing continuum, and based on inaccurate, misleading, or irrelevant data. I believe that the data and outcomes measures would need to be significantly refined in order to pass muster for an IGA. . 


  1. I believe that the City and County’s data basis for making claims around homelessness is often false, misleading, and/or irrelevant. I’d like to see an urgent forensic audit or deep analysis by an external expert to identify more appropriate and reliable data and outcomes. For years I’ve expressed grave concerns about the data being collected, tracked, shared, and reported by the JOHS. I do not believe that it is accurate, complete, or often even relevant, particularly to people who aren’t experts in homelessness systems and jargon. The data described in the IGA - in particular having a count of how many people are unsheltered so as to be able to measure reductions over time - establishes a false baseline for any further assessment. Furthermore, it can be easily manipulated and is inherently misleading. 


For example, I tried to locate reports of the most basic data regarding homelessness - availability of shelter beds from 2015 through 2023 - and I could not find a single source of accurate consistent information. Information reported by City and County from supposedly the same sources was totally different (assuming it could be located at all on the County’s website), and information reported in the press, even from the same sources within the County itself, wildly varied. I do not know how many shelter beds exist even now, when this is an easily counted, easily trackable number, and is top of mind for the public and policy makers.


The HMA report confirmed the challenges regarding data and coordination that have been ongoing for years, but I’d like to see meaningful action to create a meaningful and reliable data strategy. 


  1. There are massive inherent flaws of HMIS and PITC - the two sources used to make supposed data-based claims about homelessness - that should be acknowledged. The County does not have a true By Name List (even though it may be working on one), and the PITC is a highly inaccurate and skewed proxy for how many people are homeless and what their needs are. 


It has been frustrating to continue to see JOHS and County leadership claiming that the County has a true By Name List and that it is adhering to Built For Zero. The County’s own admissions during Housing Multnomah Now illustrate how inaccurate, unreliable, and misleading these claims are. Thousands of hours, millions of dollars, and immeasurable goodwill was squandered when promises were made to achieve wildly unrealistic goals through Housing Multnomah Now based on incomplete data and misunderstanding of the homeless system. The proposed IGA as I understand it perpetuates a false narrative leading to unrealistic expectations. 


Rather than repeating the false claims and elevating them through an IGA, the County should acknowledge that it does not have a true By Name List but desperately needs one, and make this a priority. This is a discrete, accomplishable task that can restore public trust and help actually reduce homelessness. It’s a win-win.


More information is provided below on HMIS and PITC for those who wish to delve deeper.


  • The Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS) is a massive undercount and skews information so that things look better than they are. HMIS only identifies people using County services, provided by organizations contracted by the County. This self-referential measure doesn’t identify people who do not use County services but are engaging with other organizations (such as the Salvation Army, City Team, Portland Rescue Mission, and, until very recently, Bybee Lakes). Thus, for example, if Bybee Lakes was sheltering 175 people before signing a contract with the County, then signs a contract, HMIS would add 175 people to its “sheltered” list even though no new beds have actually been added to the system.


It also does not identify people truly living off the grid, such as the individuals at “The Pit” under the Steel Bridge, or in forests or other less accessible spaces. This was part of what went initially wrong with Housing Multnomah Now.


  • The Point In Time Count (PITC) - almost always referred to as if it is an accurate count of people experiencing homelessness - is a massive undercount and skews information so that things look better than they are. It fails to identify people who are not already in spaces that are known, and leaves out individuals who may be intoxicated, unresponsive, agitated, have serious mental illness, or are otherwise unable or unwilling to engage in the count. It uses de-identified information, so it can’t even be used to circle back and help support the people being interviewed. It is a substantial waste of time and money in the way it is currently done, but has the potential to be useful if combined with an effort to obtain true, complete, by-name information.


  • Both HMIS and PITC exclude hundreds to thousands of people who are arguably the most vulnerable and who we most need to identify in order to allocate resources effectively and provide the right services. The counts are so flawed as to not serve as a basis on which to make meaningful decisions. 


  1. Additional ways the County measures aspects of homelessness, such as “returns to homelessness”, “retained housing”, “placed” or even “permanently housed,” are often inconsistent, inaccurate,  misleading, and/or easily manipulated.


Please provide a list of commonly used terms and their accurate and consistent definitions. I encourage colleagues to review these definitions, because they may not mean what you think they mean. Think about them in terms of what they would mean to you if you were a person not deeply engaged with homelessness policy and consider if they make sense. I feel it’s extremely important that key metrics use common-sense definitions that are consistent and accurate. 


I do not support an agreement containing measurements that start from a false baseline, do not accurately measure data in an ongoing way, create unrealistic commitments not supported by history or evidence, can be grossly misleading, and do not inform the public with transparency or accountability. But I do believe there are urgent and achievable goals that could move the dial in getting people off the streets into improved safety, health and dignity that meets their needs and the needs of their housed neighbors. These are my recommendations: 


  1. Change the name of the Joint Office of Homeless Services.


  1. Proactively create a baseline count (a true By Name List) of all people living unsheltered in Multnomah County within 6-12 months.


  1. Combine the BNL, HMIS and PITC so as not to repeatedly waste valuable resources and time collecting the same data from the same people, most of which doesn’t actually go anywhere toward helping them or improving the system as a whole. 

  1. Create a shared agreed-upon count of all shelter beds available in Portland, subcategorized into type and cost per night per bed.
  1. Create a shared agreed-upon count of all Transitional Housing, including bridge housing, recovery housing, and anything else that might be included in this catch-all phrase. Decide on a shared definition.


  1. Create a mechanism to update counts of shelter beds and people living unsheltered in real time - this should be accomplished as part of (b), (c) and (d) above.


  1. While the true baseline count of people living unsheltered is pending, use the Point In Time Count as a very rough estimate, and set a realistic numeric goal for getting individuals into places where City and County can be reasonably assured they will not return to being unsheltered. Back up this recommendation through clear reasoning and evidence. 


  1. Jointly invest in an external forensic audit of where the $300+ million in JOHS budget has gone (with cost of the audit borne proportionally by City and County according to their investments in the JOHS) and tie it directly to services provided and outcomes. 


  1. Jointly invest in an exhaustive analysis by an external source that makes actionable recommendations for a cohesive and functional data system that is (i) accurate, (ii) evidence-based, (iii) interoperable, (iv) navigable, and (v) contains public facing dashboards that are easily digestible. 


  1. Jointly invest in a forensic or other external audit focusing on all 

organizations contracting with the JOHS and the City in regard to homelessness operations or support/outreach/inreach services to ensure they are using resources effectively and achieving agreed-upon outcomes. 


  1. Homeless Response System. I don’t feel that an IGA is the appropriate mechanism to create a governance or advisory structure for this body (see above for my reasoning). Assuming there is a desire to move forward, the following are my considerations and concerns:


  1. There needs to be a lot more understanding of what went wrong with AHFE and a clear explanation of what would be different here. A virtually identical approach to the HRS was undertaken through A Home For Everyone (AHFE), which became toxic and dysfunctional due to failed leadership and implementation. I do not think that the structures described in the current proposal address any of the major issues that led to AHFE’s failure, and I believe that as currently conceived, the proposed HRS will go down the same path. Additional information on AHFE is provided below for those who wish to delve deeper, and I would be happy to share my experiences and perspective from serving on the Executive Committee for several years.


  • AHFE was created around nine years ago, with virtually identical rhetoric to what we are hearing now, including “unprecedented collaboration” between the City and County, a “reset” of the prior ten-year plan to end homelessness, a promise to “reduce homelessness by 50%”, and an advisory and governance structure supposedly accounting for health, public safety, and other nontraditional but essential sectors involved in addressing homelessness. 


  • I believe that the Chair and Mayor should have identified the similarity and addressed it, especially as the Mayor co-chaired the AHFE Executive Committee for years and the Chair served on the County Board during this same time and had many opportunities to weigh in on AHFE structure and function. Unless there is direct reference to the unsuccessful model, with identification of what went wrong and how to fix it, the IGA seems like it will lead to a “repeat” rather than a “reset”. 


  1. I believe we should explore the potential of creating a body overseeing homelessness policy and investment OUTSIDE of local government - possibly under ORS 190 - to overcome the structural flaws inherent in this being a government body and resulting in inertia over decades.


  • We need to stop doing the same thing over and over and calling it a “reset”. 


  • I believe that the structure of our local government itself is a large part of the problem, with political agendas and individual projects predictably leading to a focus on the minutiae at the expense of the big picture. 


  • This is exacerbated by many political leaders’ lack of understanding of the workings of our homelessness and behavioral health systems, and lack of awareness or involvement in past efforts to change those systems. This lack of continuity isn’t a criticism, it’s just reality. Each time new leadership is elected or an elected official becomes attuned to homelessness systems for whatever reason, there is a “ramp up” period during which time little happens, except substantial amounts of time and money are invested in projects that won’t move the dial, rhetoric is used to make up for the time and money being spent, and the people being served - those living unsheltered outside, or on the verge of losing their homes - are harmed.


  • As a result, it feels like a Dystopian Groundhog Day every few years, when the public wakes up to City and County leaders saying all the same things: Promising a reset, bringing attention to the latest individual project, waiting out the political cycle, noting that it has taken decades to get to this point and we can’t expect change overnight/it’s complicated/my project will work if given time/etc., and repeat. 


  • I believe that what we are considering with the so-called HRS falls into this pattern. HRS is virtually identical to what has been done in the past in various incarnations - the “Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness,” “A Home For Everyone,” and more. City and County leaders are even using identical language as AHFE. If we want to accomplish real change, we need to actually change what we do.


  • ORS 190 offers a huge opportunity to do things differently, while aligning with the intentions espoused by the City and County through the HRS concept and all the efforts that came before. It allows for creation of an effective body that can rely on best practices, with less potential to be influenced by political whims or distracted by individual projects. I hope we will at least consider this approach and, if we won’t consider it, then I would like a clear explanation of why not. 


  • ORS 190 especially seems to make sense given the changes that will be happening at the City, which will be going through massive structural transition over the coming years. 


My recommendations if City and County wish to move forward on creating additional advisory and governance structures in the homelessness arena are as follows:


  1. Clearly identify the similarities and distinctions between AHFE and the current proposed HRS and how these were taken into account in devising the current proposal, including what efforts are being made to address the major issues that led to AHFE’s failure. 


  1. Create a more streamlined, informed and effective advisory and governance approach, utilizing the strengths of the AHFE model, but fixing its weaknesses. Create a body overseeing homeless policy and investment OUTSIDE of local government under ORS 190. 


  1. Objectively detail the pros and cons of adopting an external approach to governance - including through ORS 190 - vs. what is currently being proposed. Present this to City and County Commissioners at a joint briefing within three (3) months so there is sufficient time to understand this alternative. I proposed an advisory body that I shared years ago with County and City Commissioners. I have copied it below (with minor adjustments) and attached for convenience. 



  1. Finally, if the City and County move forward, I believe that whatever a joint effort is called, it should not be the “Homelessness Response System.” 


This may seem minor, but as I mentioned above, words matter. Part of the challenge for Multnomah County and Portland has been a public perception that these institutions are reactive rather than proactive. Having “Responsive” as a key element of a new body’s name only serves to reinforce the narrative. It’s like calling it the “Homelessness Reactive System”. The name should be changed.