Mayor Wheeler, Commissioner Ryan, and all Commissioners,
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I’m Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran, and I use she/her pronouns. I am also an ER doctor and a volunteer with Portland Street Medicine.
Throughout my time as a commissioner I have called for urgency in addressing the public health crisis of unsheltered homelessness because of my experience working directly with people experiencing the trauma of living outside. And I have been frustrated that the County has not acted with the urgency the situation has demanded, and more and more people have suffered and died while living in squalor.
Although the City has been bearing the brunt of public criticism related to homelessness, in reality the County has the more direct role providing homeless services, along with mental health, addiction and public health services. The Joint Office of Homeless Services is a County department, overseen by the County Chair, with over 100 staff and a $250 million budget.
We have massive amounts of work to do, and the County needs to be a true partner.
I have appreciated working closely with Mayor Wheeler and Commissioner Ryan, and all of you, over the past years, to address many aspects of the homelessness crisis. You have stood in to fill gaps where the County has failed to fulfill its role and responsibility as the Local Public Health Authority and the Local Mental Health Authority. But we need to identify and accept our roles.
I am grateful that, as we transition to new leadership at the County, you have voiced your clear intent to act, researched the issues, and called for clear delineation of roles and responsibilities.
I offer my unequivocal commitment to partner with you to find urgent and innovative solutions to make real improvements in people’s lives in real time.
I also want to share some ways the County can step up to address the humanitarian crisis and be a true partner with you moving forward, in a way you may not have experienced:
- First, as the Local Public Health Authority, the County can - and should- declare homelessness a public health crisis. This will help focus resources, and further support coordination, collaboration and a true emergency response, such as the successful approach being taken in Seattle.
- Second, we can - and should- support a diversity of shelter options - an ecosystem - to meet the diverse needs of people experiencing homelessness. This ranges from a network of microvillages, which have proven successful and are cheaper and faster to build than any other shelter option, to larger sanctioned campsites and safe parking sites. I appreciate your including my Chief of Staff, Cynthia Castro, in the Council’s visit to Los Angeles to learn about a promising and practical model. I look forward to exploring the possibilities.
- There is also an Alternative Shelter Learning Collaborative that I helped establish, and they are a constructive, useful resource to help plan alternative shelter approaches.
Lives and livelihoods depend on the actions you are considering, and I stand ready to roll up my sleeves and join you in taking action, urgently, to holistically address the public health and humanitarian crisis of homelessness, even as we take the steps needed to increase long term affordable housing options and supports. Thank you.
902 Set City budget priorities to implement affordable housing, connect homeless individuals with sanitary, mental health and substance abuse recovery services and request assistance from County, Metro, State, and Federal partners