Would you like to receive Commissioner Meieran's newsletters in your email?


Commissioner Sharon Meieran Newsletter - June 2022

Coming soon!


Commissioner Sharon Meieran Newsletter - May 2022

Greetings Friends and Neighbors,

I look forward to writing a newsletter that does not begin with a reflection on something unprecedented, extreme or tragic. But sadly, this will not be the day. Over the past three weeks, we witnessed three mass shootings in short order, including the racially motivated rampage in Buffalo, NY, the mass murder of elementary school children and teachers in Uvalde, TX, and the killing of hospital staff in Tulsa, OK. The events were horrific and devastating. 

Many people have spoken eloquently about these events and I wish I could say something meaningful. But honestly, I have few words left, and none that can do justice to the depth of sadness and outrage I feel. So instead, I will share some of what has inspired me and kept me going these past few weeks: The voices of youth taking to the street and demanding action on the climate crisis. The social media post of a Hillsboro dad and former Marine, Ben Beers, who surrendered his guns to the Hillsboro Police Department to be destroyed, noting that it is past time for the United States to wake up about our gun violence problem and question the application of the Second Amendment that was created when Black people and women were not considered human, and the guns we have today could not have even been imagined.  And the voices of teens at our Youth Mental Health Forum, courageously speaking their truth to policymakers in hopes of changing the mental health systems that are failing them. 

Speaking of mental health… 

I am always grateful for efforts that seek to raise awareness about mental health, fight stigma, and promote healing, and there were many opportunities to engage over the past month. I supported a Board proclamation that established May 2022 as Mental Health Month, spoke and walked at the first in-person NAMI Walks Northwest in three years, met with regional behavioral health leaders to discuss the issues and tour the beautiful, trauma-informed Fora Health Recovery Center, and hosted Multnomah County’s second ever Youth Mental Health Forum.

My commitment to mental health advocacy has been longstanding, informed by my experience as an emergency physician. All too often, we care for people in the ER because they have not received adequate mental health support in the community, and end up in crisis, in the place that too often is the most expensive and least effective place to deal with their underlying issues (save jails). And then they languish in ERs for days, and even weeks, because there is nowhere for them to go. The conditions are particularly devastating for youth. In 2014, I called out the crisis of youth languishing in emergency rooms in an Oregonian Op-Ed: 'Boarding' psychiatric patients in emergency departments is barbaric, and I desperately advocated for changes in our system of behavioral healthcare. Sadly, the crisis has only worsened, as described in two recent New York Times articles: “‘It’s Life or Death’: The Mental Health Crisis Among US Teens,” and “Hundreds of Suicidal Teens Sleep in Emergency Rooms. Every Night.”  

To address the challenges facing youth, in 2020, my office hosted Multnomah County’s first Youth Mental Health Forum, planned in partnership with an incredible core team of youth, along with mental health providers, community organizations, and school-related groups. Teens were invited to share some of the mental health challenges they were facing, identify barriers to getting the support they needed, and suggest solutions to fix our dysfunctional system. Elected and community leaders were invited solely to listen and learn. The event was powerful and illuminating. One pandemic, two years and countless COVID variants later, I hosted a follow up Youth Mental Health Forum, and the experience was mind blowing as teens avidly participated in small group discussions, and courageously shared their experiences with the entire audience. 

My office is compiling the information, and we will share a detailed report with policymakers and the public. In the meantime, some common themes did clearly emerge:

  • A sense that parents, teachers, school counselors, administrators and other adults didn’t actually understand what youth were experiencing or have the tools or language to support them; 
  • that parents and other adults often did not just listen to kids; that the approaches implemented by most schools were not informed by students and were largely ineffective; 
  • and that there were no services available, particularly services that were culturally specific. 

Our work is cut out for us, and I already have meetings scheduled with Portland Public Schools and other stakeholders to talk about next steps.

A huge thank you to Congresswoman Bonamici and City Commissioner Hardesty - two champions for youth mental health and education - who provided opening remarks, and all the elected officials, including my fellow County Commissioner Lori Stegmann, and policymakers who attended and engaged. 

Moving on to Universal Healthcare…

In partnership with Commissioner Jayapal, I was proud to introduce a resolution to support single-payer universal healthcare. As a doctor, I have seen firsthand how unequal access to affordable health care can devastate families and individuals facing some of the most challenging moments of their lives. Income should not dictate whether someone lives or dies, or the quality of healthcare they receive. The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed the resolution, which strongly urges the Governor to request the federal waivers that would allow Oregon to receive the federal dollars for its own state-based single payer universal healthcare system that is comprehensive, equitable, affordable, accessible, and of high quality. 

As the Co-Chair of the Association of Oregon Counties Health and Human Services Committee, I am also honored to have been appointed to the State Task Force on Universal Healthcare and look forward to diving into this work. If you want more information on how to engage with the Universal Healthcare Task Force including, listening sessions, agendas, and how to utilize language services to participate, click here.

And now - Highlighting a proposal I will be making for the FY 2023 budget regarding homelessness! 

As mentioned in previous newsletters, the Chair released her proposed budget May 5, and the Board has been hearing from department directors about their goals for using investments to adequately fund County services, and from community members about their priorities.

Although I have a range of budget priorities, I will highlight a single one here: A way to urgently address the public health, public safety and humanitarian crisis of people living, and dying, unsheltered, outside.

Last year, I proposed a Framework to Reduce Harm for People Living Outside. This was not adopted by fellow commissioners, which I believe was a missed opportunity. This year, having seen a worsening of unsheltered homelessness, and some successful examples of how we can do things differently, I am submitting a refined version of my original proposal, and I hope that my fellow commissioners will join me in supporting it. The detailed version is posted on my website (it is still a work in progress!) and I hope you will take a look and provide feedback. But here is a brief summary: 

Problem Statement:

The most pressing issue facing Multnomah County is the public health, safety and humanitarian crisis of people living and dying, unsheltered, on our streets. We do not have an accurate count of how many people are living outside or have a breakdown of what their needs are, but we do know that:

  • There are thousands of people living outside;
  • They are living in squalor, in unhealthy, unsafe and inhumane conditions; 
  • They are dying in ever-increasing numbers;
  • There is a prevalence of serious behavioral health issues, particularly serious mental illness and/or methamphetamine and/or opioid use; and
  • Many people living outside desperately want to live in better conditions, but for a variety of reasons are unable to live in traditional indoor shelter, and in the best case scenario, the thousands of housing units it would take to house them will not be available for years. 

What we need to do:

  1. Urgently reduce harm to unhoused individuals and the community at large;
  2. Save lives; and 
  3. Establish a system where relationships can be established and services provided in a way that optimizes people’s pathways to health and housing. 

How we can get there:

We can meaningfully move toward the goals described above by adding three components to our existing shelter options to form an ecosystem:

  1. A new and broadly distributed type of low impact living space with a very small footprint (“microsite”). Each site will have about 10 living units with basic amenities (toilet, handwashing, laundry, showers, trash collection), easily built and replicable, distributed equitably throughout the City/County. 
  2. Safe parking sites. Various sizes, with basic amenities, distributed throughout the City/County.
  3. Coordination and centralization. Outreach workers need to know where to consistently find people to establish relationships and get them the housing, behavioral health and case management services they need. 

Why is this proposal worth investing in?:

  1. This is what many people living outside would prefer; 
  2. It allows outreach workers to consistently find people and establish relationships, which is the key to getting people the services they need; 
  3. Outreach work can be coordinated and therefore optimized; 
  4. People can live safer, healthier, and with more dignity, setting them up for success in permanent housing once it becomes available; 
  5. This model can be rapidly scaled to meet the real scope of need at less cost than any alternative; and
  6. The negative impact on the environment - garbage, biowaste, toxic waste, vermin - can be dramatically improved. 

The reality is that many people living outside, business owners, direct service providers, faith leaders, and other community members, are asking for the same thing. Rather than pitting people against each other and perpetuating divisive rhetoric, my proposal can bring people together. 

To be clear - this proposal will not solve homelessness, and it is not a “housing” solution. It is a small part of a massive puzzle. But it can make a tremendous difference in the lives of real people who are suffering every day, and it can improve our community.  

If you support the proposal, please consider letting my fellow commissioners know that you would like to see it funded in this year’s budget. And if you have a small property, parking lot, facility, or funding you would be interested in dedicating to this project, please let me know! 

As mentioned in prior newsletters, you can advocate for programs/services to be included in the budget, or raise any other issue you believe needs attention, in a number of ways: 

  1. Email the County Commissioners at: 

Chair Kafoury: mult.chair@multco.us 

Commissioner Susheela Jayapal: district2@multco.us 

Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson: district3@multco.us 

Commissioner Lori Stegmann: district4@multco.us

  1. Testify at a Multnomah County Board meeting. Community members can offer testimony, either written or oral, in person or virtually, any Thursday morning starting at 9:30am. If testifying in person, please sign up using the sign in sheets as the check in table on the day of the meeting. If testifying virtually, you must sign up by 4:00 pm the Wednesday before the meeting. Virtual attendance sign up can be completed on the Board Clerk’s website. 

I always appreciate hearing your questions, concerns, thoughts and ideas, so please don’t hesitate to reach out! I hope June is a good month for you and your families. 

In good health,

Sharon


Commissioner Sharon Meieran Newsletter - April 2022

Greetings Friends and Neighbors,

As always, I hope this newsletter finds you and your loved ones well. As I was preparing to send out my regular newsletter, I was shocked to learn of the leaked US Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade. I will address this first and foremost. 

As I expressed during our Multnomah County board meeting today:

“I was outraged and horrified, but sadly not surprised, to read the draft SCOTUS opinion. It has felt like a ticking time bomb which has now exploded, and the shrapnel is landing in every community throughout our country.

As the Medical Director for the Oregon Foundation for Reproductive Health I fought for abortion as part of our public health continuum. As an ER doctor, I’ve cared for individual women who have been devastated by unwanted pregnancy or complications, and counseled them about their full range of healthcare choices, including abortion. I have performed abortion services. As a County Commissioner I’ve championed policies that support reproductive health and justice for all women, particularly those who are most vulnerable and marginalized. And as a mother, I’ve fought for my children’s healthcare rights.

The SCOTUS opinion pierces the heart of freedom and justice in our country. It is not acceptable. I will stand up and fight for the rights of all people to make decisions about their own bodies, and healthcare providers to help them make the decisions that are right for them.

Healthcare is a human right, and abortion is healthcare!"

Now to resume with my regular newsletter. 

April was quite a month - snow fell, Ramadan, Easter and Passover all coincided (for the first time in 30 years!), the Lao New Year was celebrated, our community Marched Against Murder, we read names of those murdered in the Holocaust, Black April honored and commemorated the lives, land and freedom lost with the fall of Saigon. In my office, we continued to work on some of our key policy issues and prepared for the upcoming budget process. 

Budget Process

As I mentioned in my last newsletter, the Fiscal Year 2023 County Budget development process continues to ramp up, and the Chair will release her proposed budget on May 5th. For now, I will share my general areas of focus for this budget season:

  • Urgently addressing the humanitarian crisis of people living and dying in increasing numbers on our streets. 
  • Ensuring access to baseline and crisis response services for mental health care and substance use disorder. 
  • Unsiloing and integrating our systems through innovative programs and strategies such as Frequent User Systems Engagement (FUSE),the Behavioral Health Emergency Coordination Network (BHECN) and emergency management.
  • Enhancing the County’s contracting process to provide improved accountability, transparency, quality, and cost-effectiveness, and optimize alignment of spending with the County’s policy priorities. 
  • Improving public safety through investment in services that focus on real time and local solutions, such as the Multnomah County District Attorney’s community-based teams, and interrupt violence at the community level. 
  • Pursuing interventions that go beyond identifying people who have died while living outside, but actually focus on solutions to decrease deaths.
  • Continuing to champion meaningful access to reliable high speed internet, particularly for marginalized community members.
  • Preventing and mitigating the impacts of climate change and natural disasters.

Throughout the budget process, I encourage you to voice your priorities to the Chair and all of the Commissioners by testifying during Public Testimony on Thursday mornings at the beginning of each Board meeting, by testifying at dedicated virtual listening sessions which are scheduled for May 18, May 25, and June 1, and/or by contacting the Chair and Commissioners directly by phone or email. 

Potpourri:

Earth Day: I was happy to join fellow volunteers picking up trash in Multnomah Village with SOLVE, a fantastic organization that connects community members to opportunities to improve our environment and build a legacy of stewardship.

Lao New Year: I joined hundreds of Lao community members in celebration of the new year at the Lao Buddhist Center in Gresham. The Lao New Year is traditionally a time for cleansing and renewal, and the day was filled with celebration, joy, dancing, food, and connection. 

We Choose Love Ramadan Iftar - Muslim Educational Trust (MET): MET has served as a bridge between Muslims and non-Muslims by bringing people together, forming partnerships, and encouraging open and honest communication. This month, I was happy to join MET and community members for the We Choose Love Ramadan Iftar (fast breaking) Dinner to celebrate 29 years of MET’s incredible work. I am so grateful to Wajdi Said and so many other partners for continuing the process of building a Beloved Community. I look forward to many more years of partnership and bridge-building. 

March Against Murder: In response to an unprecedented level of gun violence and homicides across the Portland metro area, peace activists, family members of gun violence victims, community based organizations and neighbors gathered and marched to call for and end to the violence. I deeply appreciated hearing from leaders like Lakayana Drury of Word Is Bond and Pastor Mark Jackson of REAP Inc., who are elevating the voices of young Black men and creating a new generation of Black leaders, and speaking with so many of the youth. The event was supported by the Multnomah County Health Department, and I appreciated the employees who showed up for the community.  

47th Black April Remembrance: April 30 commemorates the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War. I was honored to join members of the Oregon Vietnamese Community in their ceremony remembering the loss of their loved ones and their beloved land, and their harrowing journeys to new lives in the United States. The day was also a celebration of freedom and resilience, and the songs, stories and music were beautiful expressions of the power of community to heal and to thrive. 

Yom Ha’Shoah (Holocaust Day of Remembrance): This day falls on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in the Jewish calendar. Every year on Yom Ha’Shoah, communities around the world uphold the memory of victims of the Holocaust through the Reading of the Names, a public recitation of Holocaust victims’ names, ages, and birthplaces. The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education (OJMCHE) sponsored the Reading of the Names at Pioneer Courthouse Square on April 28. A selection of community members and elected officials continuously read names from 10-5, and I joined in the reading, including the names of 19 of my own family members. This experience is hard to bear, but is always profound and powerful. I appreciate OJMCHE sponsoring the event, and fellow community members who joined me in reading names. 

Central Eastside Together Contract Renewal: Central Eastside Together is one of three “enhanced service districts” in Portland that are funded by the collection of fees from local businesses and in turn provide trash cleanup, outreach, safety, graffiti abatement, and other services in the districts. I testified before Portland City Council in support of Central Eastside together, and am thrilled that City Council voted to renew the service contract. Central Eastside Together is a truly innovative approach to a service district, with meaningful inclusion of people experiencing houselessness on their board, incorporation of trauma-informed approaches, and support of safety and dignity for all who live, work, or visit the Central Eastside. I want to thank Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty for her work in making Central Eastside Together a reality, and Kate Merrill for her years leading the Central Eastside Industrial Council. She has been a phenomenal partner, and has been instrumental in putting the “together” in Central Eastside Together.

Cynthia Castro Appointed My Interim Designee!

County Commissioners each designate a district resident to serve in their stead should they be unable to serve the remainder of their term. The Board recently approved my Chief of my Staff, Cynthia Castro, as my Interim Designee. Cynthia is brilliant, thoughtful, kind, equanimous (word of the day!) and collaborative. She worked for Commissioners Carmen Rubio and Amanda Fritz at the City of Portland, where she spearheaded programs related to language access, equity, and health, and served as liaison to Portland Parks & Recreation, the Office of Equity and Human Rights, and the Regional Arts and Culture Council. Cynthia earned her Masters of Public Health from Oregon State University, and her broad range of public health work spanned women’s health, nutrition, and health disparities. Cynthia has been invaluable in helping bridge the gaps in procedure and culture between the City and County, and I know she would serve District 1 effectively, with community voice always at the center, should my seat be vacated and she be appointed as the District 1 Commissioner.

Finally, we are preparing for our 2022 Youth Mental Health Forum. My office is working with youth leaders, community partners, school districts, and service providers in planning a 2022 Youth Mental Health Forum, building on the event I hosted in 2020. We were at a crisis point in terms of youth mental health even before the COVID pandemic, and the challenges our youth are experiencing now are extreme. This forum will provide a space for youth to come together to share their experiences, and empower youth voices in informing policy decisions that will impact them. The forum is for youth ages 13-21 and will take place on May 21st in-person and virtually. Email my office at district1@multco.us for more information. Details will soon be posted on my website and shared via a number of avenues, including on social media. 

Thank you for continuing to engage with my office and share your thoughts, wisdom and perspective on the crucial work of the County. I look forward to engaging with you as we officially enter into our budget season!

In good health,

Sharon


Commissioner Sharon Meieran Newsletter - March 2022

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Spring has sprung, and I am ready for the longer and warmer days ahead. I hope that you and your families have been well, and have had a chance to spend time outdoors (and maybe even travel for Spring Break!) At the County, spring also means budget season. Much of my focus for the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget will continue to include addressing homelessness, along with investing in mental health, substance use, public safety, and, of course, public health. I will discuss all of these in more detail over the coming months.

My goal is to make sure that you, as a member of the community, are able to understand the budget process and effectively advocate for your priorities. 

Multnomah County Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Development Process

The County’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget development process is well underway and will ramp up in the coming months. I want to keep you as informed as possible throughout this process and make sure you know how you can engage. 

Unlike at the City of Portland, County Commissioners do not oversee bureaus. Departments are overseen by directors, and directors report directly to the County Chair. Prior to fall, directors work with their teams and other partners to develop their departmental budgets. During the fall they meet with the Chair to discuss their proposals. After discussion with the Chair, departments’ proposed budgets are posted in the form of “program offers.” You can find this year’s submitted department budgets on the County’s Budget Website

Based on all of the information she receives, the Chair makes executive decisions on what to include in the budget, and shares her decisions with department directors. The directors adjust and finalize their budgets in line with the Chair’s direction, and submit their final versions to the County Budget Office. The County Budget Office puts all of this together into the Chair’s “Proposed Budget,” which this year will be released on May 5th.

During the month of May, County departments will present their proposed budgets to the Board in a series of work sessions. The County will also host public forums, which provide opportunities to advocate for funding to be allocated to specific programs. Check out our Budget Calendar for information about work sessions, public hearings, and other budget process milestones.

As in prior years, I will be hosting virtual Budget Open Houses, which provide opportunities for people to learn more about the County’s Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Development Process, hear about my budget priorities, and share their thoughts about how the County should be spending public dollars. Given the relatively short turnaround time for budget decisions once the Chair’s Proposed Budget is released, and to provide ample opportunity for people to learn about the process itself, my first open houses will be held in April, on Wednesday April 27 from 4-5 pm, and on Saturday April 30 from 9:30-10:30 am. Click Here to RSVP 

Homelessness

Addressing the homeless crisis continues to be one of my top priorities and will be one of my main focuses this budget season. For Fiscal Year 2023, the County’s budget for homelessness exceeds $250 million, primarily through the Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS). Our budget is supposed to allocate funds in a way that puts our policies into action. However, over the years I have been doing this work, I have observed many issues with our budget processes, which I believe contribute to systems not working as they should.

One of the challenges involves lack of a shared and articulated vision about how to effectively address homelessness. Since the new year, it has felt like every week or two there is a new statement or proposal about how we should address homelessness, without any formal plan or proposal that supports the plan or puts the idea into the context of our larger system. This is exacerbated by underlying structural fissures and siloes not only between the city and county, but within the county itself. I could write a treatise about the structural issues, but a picture speaks a thousand words: click here to see image.

I have previously provided a written summary of the landscape of homeless services governance in the region, but decided to depict it in diagram form because I felt it would better convey the complexity of the system. It turns out that was an understatement, and this issue of underlying structure demands attention. 

Further complicating matters is the ongoing debate that seems to pit “Housing First” (providing permanent housing to people without precondition, along with services that support them if they are amenable to the services) against other approaches to homelessness (transitional housing, bridge housing, alternative shelter, etc.). The reality is that we need places where people can be as safe and healthy as possible, along all aspects of the shelter to housing continuum. In my view, if housing is available and people want it, then we should do everything possible to make and support this connection. At the same time, people living outside, for whom housing may not be available or desirable, deserve something better than the squalor in which they are currently living. 

I know we can do better, and in fact other regions have done better. I was encouraged by my recent tour of the “Safe Stay Communities” alternative shelter in Vancouver, Washington, along with its partner Safe Parking Zone. In particular, providers and individuals living in the site validated what I have heard from providers and those living unhoused for years - not everyone is ready to transition from living on the streets directly into permanent housing, and being in a small site with basic services can facilitate the establishment of relationships and transitions into housing. 

This month, I co-hosted a virtual Alternative Shelter Network Event with non-profit organization WeShine PDX. The event drew over 40 participants who were eager to come together and share their experiences, challenges, opportunities, and ideas for supporting people experiencing homelessness through alternative shelter projects in a more coordinated and effective way. Moving forward, the hope is to establish a new community-driven learning collaborative for alternative shelter operators and mutual aid providers in the Portland Metro Area, which I wholeheartedly support.

The event also reinforced my belief that we need a network of alternative shelters as part of a broader ecosystem of options. Alternative shelters can be done cheaply, quickly, they have smaller footprints, can improve safety and livability for all, and help people prepare for transition into permanent housing.  

In the Fiscal Year 2023 County Budget Development Process, I will again bring forward a proposal that supports a coordinated network of alternative shelters, at scale, dispersed across the County. Below is an outline of what I am proposing.

Proposal for a network of small alternative shelters and safe parking sites

My proposal envisions a holistic ecosystem of shelter sites that meet a variety of people’s needs, at a scale that will make a difference, with an urgency that speaks to the crisis we are facing. As I further refine my plan and seek funding to support it through this year’s budget process, I very much welcome your engagement and support.

My proposal adds the following elements to our current mix of shelters:

  1. A new and effective shelter type: Micro-sites of 10-ish structures, distributed equitably throughout the County, that all provide basic amenities (toilet, hygiene, shower and laundry access, trash and sharps pickup). 
  2. Safe parking lots: Many people are living in their vehicles. I envision safe parking lots where people can park their vehicles, other than the street, where they have access to basic amenities.
  3. Coordination so that case management, behavioral health and housing services effectively reach the people who need them and have the best chance of being successful.
  4. Scale. I envision micro-sites or safe parking lots dispersed equitably across the county. If there was one in every neighborhood, that is 100 sites serving at least 1000 people. Because of their smaller footprint, they would put less stress on neighborhoods. People are already living unsheltered in neighborhoods across the county, the micro-sites and safe parking lots would be vast improvements than current conditions. 

We need to address the crisis of unsheltered homelessness and death on the streets effectively and urgently, at a scale that makes an impact, in a way that makes sense, and, most importantly, improves the safety and health of people living outside, along with the community as a whole. 

Update on Homeless Advisory Structure

As I shared in my January 2022 newsletter, it has taken almost three years for the County to recommend an updated structure for its housing advisory body, A Home For Everyone. During this time I requested changes that could have been implemented in real time, such as inclusion of behavioral health, public health, urban camping impact reduction, people representing alternative views on shelter, and more individuals with lived experience of houselessness. I was told there was a consultant hired to do an evaluation and make recommendations regarding restructuring, but they left and there was no final work product. 

The Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS) took over the work themselves, and proposed some structural changes. I proposed a model incorporating required functions and also a broader oversight and advisory structure. I solicited feedback from you and others, and my most current proposal incorporating the feedback I received can be found on my website. I deeply appreciate all of your thoughtful emails and input. 

At our Board briefing on 3/15, we were informed that JOHS would be taking a different approach. Rather than making the structure more inclusive, streamlined, unified and accountable, to me it feels like we are going backward. Many people have invested untold time, money and energy into this process, but it seems we are ending up with only required elements that should have been present from the beginning. We do need these, but this isn’t progress; it’s what we should have been doing all along. I’m concerned that after two and a half years, we are back to square one, and have not achieved the improved advisory and oversight functions many of us were hoping for and that we urgently need. 

Please stay tuned for more updates.

County welcomes new Interim Joint Office of Homeless Services Director 

Marc Jolin led the Joint Office of Homeless Service (JOHS) since its inception in 2016. He recently announced that he would be stepping down, but staying on with the JOHS until June 2022 to help with leadership transition. I have appreciated Marc’s deep knowledge, thoughtfulness, compassion, ability to explain complex concepts, and dedication to changing the broader conversation around homelessness. We may have disagreed about certain aspects of how the crisis of unsheltered homelessness should be addressed, but Marc always took the time to talk about any aspect of the work, listen, and thoughtfully respond to my questions. And he was relentless in showing up, 24/7, whether driving someone to a warming shelter himself in the middle of the night, responding to a COVID pandemic, or responding to multiple government entities, each with a totally different structure and role, and each with its own set of unique personalities and political minefields. 

This week, Shannon Singleton took over the helm of JOHS as the Interim Director. She will serve in this role while the County undergoes a national search for the permanent director position. Shannon was the Director of Equity and Racial Justice for Governor Kate Brown and is the former executive director of the homeless services non-profit JOIN. She also previously worked for the Portland Housing Bureau and Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare. I look forward to working with Shannon in her new role as Interim Director. 

Closing

So much has been going on at the County, in our community, and in the world at large. I hope that in the mix of all things you are in good health and doing well!

In Good Health,

Sharon


Commissioner Sharon Meieran Newsletter - February 2022

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Before going straight into my February newsletter, I want to take a moment to express my profound anger and grief at what has unfolded in Ukraine over the past few days, and share my support for those in our community who have family or friends in Ukraine. My heart goes out to them, along with the thousands of Russians who oppose the actions of their dangerous and malevolent president. 

I also want to express my horror and sadness at the incidents of violence over the past weeks that occurred in neighborhoods dispersed across Multnomah County that resulted in lives cut short, and families and loved ones with holes left in their hearts. 

While the specter of the devastating situation in Ukraine overshadows so much right now, along with the tragedies that unfolded in our County, it is important to continue to focus on what we can do to make things better in our community. I will use this newsletter to share some of the inspiring moments that shone through this past month. 

The Environment, Emergency Preparedness, and Clean Air.

CEI Hub Final Report Published

In 2019, I was proud to sponsor a Multnomah County resolution focused on the potential impact of fossil fuel infrastructure in our region. A key part of that work involved assessing the potential risks to human life, health and the environment that would flow from a major earthquake or other disaster causing the disruption of the fuel tanks located in the Critical Energy Infrastructure Hub in NW Portland. With an understanding of the potential impact, the County and other governments could consider what approaches could prevent or mitigate the catastrophic risks, and at the very least ensure that the companies storing their products in these tanks bore the full responsibility for paying the costs of any damages due to an infrastructure failure.

Toward that end, Commissioner Jayapal and I, with the partnership of Commissioner Hardesty at the City of Portland, secured funding for an assessment of the potential damage. We also held multiple Town Halls, engaging with neighbors and other community members about the risks. Our work culminated in the Critical Energy Infrastructure (CEI) Hub Seismic Assessment final report, released earlier this month, which found that a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake could potentially result in the biggest fuel spill in U.S. history and cost $2.6 billion in damage. 

The release of the final report dovetailed with the introduction of Senate Bill 1567 sponsored by Senator Dembrow. SB 1567 would hold industry to account to improve the seismic resilience of their tanks at the CEI Hub and direct the Department of Energy to develop a Seismic Security Plan so we are better prepared. You can read my testimony in support of SB 1567 here

We are awaiting a final legislative decision on SB 1567, but regardless of the outcome, our work around the CEI Hub paves the way for all levels of government to work together to address the risk stemming from the fossil fuel infrastructure located in our backyard.

Clean Air All The Time For Everyone!

As many of us have learned over the course of the past few years, woodsmoke, though evocative of coziness and fond memories for some, also results in poor air quality, exacerbation of lung and heart disease, and is a significant contributor to human-caused cancers. 

In 2017, after hearing from community members impacted by woodsmoke and poor air quality, I worked with Multnomah County’s Director of Sustainability, John Wasiutynski, joined by Commissioner Vega Pederson, to bring forward an ordinance to reduce wood burning on bad air quality days during parts of the year.   

I was pleased that Commissioners Vega Pederson and Jayapal continued to build on the original wood smoke by bringing forward amendments to further reduce the harmful effects of wood burning and with recognition that there are no good days for wood burning.  The updated wood smoke ordinance extends the wood smoke curtailment season from the months of Oct. 1 through Feb. 31 to all year round. The ordinance also removes the green-yellow-red burn advisory structure - “green days” are removed to indicate people are asked to avoid burning at all times, but the County will still post voluntary “yellow days” to alert people to worsening air quality, and on a “red day” people must not burn with very limited exemptions. The ordinance also removes an exemption for EPA-certified wood stoves. The new wood-burning rules are in effect now.   

Clean Diesel!

Climate models have confirmed that global emissions must be halved by 2030 to keep warming below 1.5 deg C. We know that exceeding this level will have catastrophic impacts on global health, safety, and the economy, and we have already gone beyond the tipping point. We, as a global community, need to take aggressive action to prevent further harm, reduce carbon emissions and reverse the impacts of the climate crisis, and improve resiliency in our communities so that we can respond/adapt to the ongoing impacts of the climate crisis. And all of this needs to happen as we shift our paradigms to center environmental justice and the voices of those most impacted. 

Although we need to be doing all of this work urgently, there are things we can do literally right now to make a significant difference. One major contributor to poor air quality, climate change, and major negative health impacts, is diesel fuel. “Renewable” diesel is a form of diesel that is highly refined, which improves combustion efficiency and reduces harmful emissions. Renewable diesel works in any truck engine without the need for modification, can flow through the same fuel pumps, and costs the same or even less per gallon.  It can be used immediately as a replacement for petroleum diesel. 

House Bill 4141 - Better Fuels Oregon - was introduced at the Legislature, and I testified before the Joint Transportation Committee in favor of this bill from the perspective of a physician explaining the health impacts of petroleum diesel. You can read my testimony here.  Although unfortunately the bill did not pass, it raised awareness and garnered tremendous bipartisan support. A Task Force will investigate how HB 4141 could be successfully implemented by 2025. A tremendous “Thank you!” to Keith Wilson, who has been a pioneer in using renewable diesel, and who spearheaded so much of this work. 

Helping Hands - Teamwork and Collaboration.

HOPE Team Ridealong

I have heard a lot of positive feedback about the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Homeless Outreach and Programs Engagement (HOPE) Team and their engagement with houseless individuals in East County. Earlier this month I did a ride along with members of the Team, visiting members of the community living unsheltered, and I saw firsthand how they are leading with compassion, building trust, establishing meaningful relationships, and getting people the services they need. This was a perfect example of how we can help reduce harm and suffering to individuals and the community, even as we pursue the supports and services that will enable people to ultimately sustain permanent housing. It was also a window into the kind of program that can build trust and relationship between law enforcement and community. 

A Time to Listen, A Time to Act: Faith Community Forum on Houselessness

Having heard the challenges being faced by faith leaders wanting to provide services to help people living unhoused, and having heard the barriers faced by organizations and individuals wanting to get people the housing they need and work with organizational partners, I spoke with Pastor Rick McKinley of Imago Dei Church and we brainstormed ways to bring community together to learn about houselessness, hear about some innovative approaches to serve those living unsheltered, and find ways to form partnerships in furtherance of a common goal. 

On February 18th, we co-convened a forum on houselessness with the faith community, Multnomah County, City of Portland and City of Gresham leaders, service providers, and people with lived experience of being houseless. The forum was hosted by Pastor Mark Strong at Life Change Church in North Portland. The turnout was incredible, and the level of engagement and shared mission of service to help those most vulnerable was inspiring.  I have already heard about connections made because of the forum and I am excited to keep the momentum going. 

I want to thank all who attended the forum, including our panelists: City of Gresham Councilor Vince Jones-Dixon, City of Portland Commissioner Dan Ryan, Kevin Farmer, Mark Rowlett, Matt Lembo from Beacon Village, Tess Fields from Home Share Oregon, Janet McManus of WeShine PDX, and Caleb Coder from Cultivate Initiatives. You can view a recording of the event here.  

One aspect of the forum that really resonated with people was our office’s pictorial graphic representing how the homeless system functions in Multnomah County. When I started as a Commissioner, I was regularly frustrated in my efforts to understand how the pieces of the homeless governance structure fit together. I prepared a summary that describes the landscape as I understood it, which I have shared on my website. For this forum, I asked Tabitha from my office to create a basic graphic that put the information together in picture form. She did an amazing job, and, as they say, a picture speaks a thousand words:

Click here to see graphic

Seeing the system laid out, it becomes very clear very quickly why the system doesn’t function as effectively as it could and requires greater coordination across organizations, agencies, and all levels of government. This is a topic that needs a lot more discussion, and I will share further information in March. 

Black History and Future Month

Multnomah County Proclamation

Last week Multnomah County proclaimed February Black History and Future Month, with the theme”Health and Healing”. During the presentation, we heard inspiring testimony from Lisa Saunders, Executive Director of Faithbridge LLC, and Tia Jones, community member and Faithbridge client. Faithbridge is an organization that reconnects women in trauma and life transition to their roots in faith through hosted workshops and retreats. Lisa and Tia talked about what it would look like if an entire community was truly allowed to embrace healing, and how individuals who have been traumatized can face that trauma, and, through community, understand that the traumas they have faced don’t define them. 

“Word Is Bond - In My Shoes”

I joined two separate Word Is Bond “In My Shoes” walking tours through different areas of Portland. Word Is Bond is a fabulous organization with a mission to “rewrite the narrative between young Black men and law enforcement through leadership development, critical dialogue, and engagement.” The “In My Shoes” tours take community members through different neighborhoods, led by Black youth who grew up in the neighborhoods and share their own stories.  I am grateful to the youth who led these tours; they shared their time and talents with us.  I want to also thank the mentorship and vision that Word Is Bond has provided through the leadership of  Executive Director Lakayana Drury.

Walk, Hike, March Through History - Selma Bridge Reenactment

Finally, I joined a tribute to honor the spirit, work and words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with the Walk, Hike, March Through History Selma Bridge Reenactment. Pastor Edward Williams of the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church offered a beautiful and inspiring sermon in the spirit of peace, love, equity and liberation - “We need to wake up and stand up and speak up - so that the bright and beautiful victories of the past don’t become the faded memories of today.” We were met on the bridge with a stellar performance by hip hop artist Mic Crenshaw. The event was co-sponsored by Love Is King and Forest Park Conservancy.

As an elected leader, and as a human being, I am committed to doing everything in my power to address the systemic racism that permeates all aspects of life for our Black community members. 

In Conclusion

We continue to face challenges in our world, both far away and closer to home. We also see incredible, and sometimes unexpected, beauty. As we all do the best we can and move through our days, I hope that you will continue to stay in touch and reach out to share your experiences and insights with me. 

In good health,

Sharon 


Commissioner Sharon Meieran Newsletter - January 2022

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is already the first day of February! January has flown by, but it’s included some important milestones and events which have been powerful and grounding as we move forward into 2022. 

Events of note:

  • On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Skanner Foundation held their renowned annual breakfast, celebrating the life, spirit and vision of Dr. King. This was an inspiring event, where scholarships were announced for students who plan to pursue educational goals to serve their communities, and who you can already tell will be leaders. There were moving speakers, and I was particularly affected by the music and profound lyrics of singer/songwriter/poet Lo Steele, reflecting on self and power and belonging.
  • The prior Friday evening, Congregation Beth Israel held their annual Shabbat service in honor of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This is one of the events I look forward to each year, and even though we were not physically together for the second year in a row, the power and spirit of the speakers and the community and the music flowed through my computer screen and into my home and filled my heart and soul.
  • The Lunar New Year is celebrated in a number of Asian communities, and I was fortunate to be invited to two incredible celebrations welcoming the Year of the Tiger. I attended the Vietnamese Community of Oregon’s Vietnamese Lunar “Tet” Festival, and the Chinese Friendship Association of Portland’s Lunar New Year Celebration. I learned a lot about the importance and meaning of the Lunar New Year, which welcomes a new start, and is celebrated by gatherings of friends, family and community. I met an array of wonderful people, and was blown away by the art, music, calligraphy, costumes, colors, and traditions uplifted at both of the events. Each Lunar New year is celebrated by a cycle of 12 Zodiac animals, with this year’s animal being the tiger. I’ve been informed that the tiger symbolizes courage and strength, and is associated with hope. This feels particularly auspicious as we experience the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, need to stay strong, and look forward with messages of hope and healing. 
  • On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, on the 77th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp where over one million people were killed, I spoke to the rising antisemitism across the country and globally. It has been seen in direct acts of violence, like the recent hostage taking at Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, and in less direct but still vile forms of hate such as harrassment, offensive slurs, bullying, threats of violence, and Holocaust denial. The Holocaust was the systematic, state-sponsored, persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945 across Europe and North Africa. While Jews were the primary victims, the Nazis also targeted other groups for persecution and murder including but not limited to Romas, people with disabilities, some Slavic peoples, Black people, and people who now would identify as LGBTQIA+. I asked that we take the time to reflect on the millions of lives stolen by the hands of hate, and then read the names of 19 of my own family members, including my father’s four year old cousin Elinor, who were murdered. You can read my statement or watch me deliver it by clicking here

In the spirit of volunteerism, I trained with other members of the community to engage in this year’s Point In Time Count (PITC) which is required to obtain certain federal funding for homeless services. The goal of the PITC is to provide a snapshot of how many people are living outside during a certain period of time each couple of years. I am looking forward to the County pursuing a more meaningful count - a “By Name List” - over the coming year, which I have advocated for so that we can understand not only how many people are living outside, but who they are so that we can actually meet their needs. 

Finally, at the beginning of the year I shared that a process is underway to restructure A Home for Everyone (AHFE), the advisory body that makes budget and policy recommendations for Multnomah County and the City of Portland around homelessness and housing. Though reading about an advisory committee might not seem overly exciting to some, its makeup, structure and governance is extremely important in determining how hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on homeless and housing services. I am deeply grateful to those of you who took the time to review my AHFE restructuring proposal and provide feedback! I read and listened to all of your messages, and I incorporated this feedback and what I heard from others at neighborhood meetings and on my Virtual Office Hour into a second draft, which is currently posted on my website. The next steps and timeline for the process of adopting the new AHFE structure have not been made clear, but I will share them with you once I get further information. In the meantime, there’s still time to provide feedback on my revised draft, and I’d still love to hear from you!

Announcements:

Critical Energy Infrastructure (CEI) Hub Update!

Many of you have continued to check in with my office about the status of the Critical Energy Infrastructure (CEI) Hub seismic risk analysis final report and any follow up action.  I am excited to announce that the final report will be published by EcoNW very soon! Look out for updates on my twitter and facebook pages next week!

In addition to our work at the local level, I’m very excited that State Senator Michael Dembrow will be introducing Senate Bill 1567, “requiring energy terminal owners to submit comprehensive seismic vulnerability assessments and risk mitigation plans to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality no later than June 1, 2024. The legislation also requires the Oregon Department of Energy to develop a statewide Energy Security Plan to better prepare for a seismic event, protect local communities, and align with Oregon’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.” I plan to testify in support of SB 1567 during the short legislative session. 

Welcome new Policy Director Cristina Nieves!

Thank you for your patience and understanding during the month of December while my team was short staffed. I am pleased to share that we are at full capacity again with the recent hiring of our new Policy Director, Cristina Nieves. Cristina’s experience as the daughter of a single mother who immigrated to the United States drew her to public service, and she has been serving the public her entire working life. She was most recently with Common Cause Oregon, a non-profit organization focused on ensuring democracy and empowering all people to engage in our political system. Before that, she worked as a Senior Policy Advisor for Commissioner Amanda Fritz at the City of Portland. I am so excited to have Cristina as my Policy Director, she is a wonderful addition to our team. 

In Good Health, 

Sharon 


Would you like to receive Commissioner Meieran's Newsletters in your email? If so, subscribe, or let us know via email: