This month, I want to dedicate my newsletter to some wonderful news in our community.
Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote about the opening of a new winter shelter for families named Mitzvah House, sited at Congregation Beth Israel (my Congregation) in Southwest Portland. It was a modest operation in the basement of the synagogue with an organization called Portland Homeless Family Solutions operating it, and the Joint Office of Homeless Services covering the operating costs. Although it was humble and only a temporary shelter, I was tremendously proud to get to support something so important to me both personally and professionally.
Fast forward to this week: On Monday, I was honored to be part of the grand opening of Portland Homeless Family Solutions’ Family Village, a 24-hour shelter designed to serve up to 25 families experiencing homelessness. The Family Village includes all of the things we strive to provide as a standard in shelters across Multnomah County -- areas for sleep, hygiene, socializing, and building community, as well as behavioral health services, social-emotional supports, information and referral, housing assistance, employment support, and other essential services. These services are vital, and I’m so proud that most County-supported shelters include them to support people using our shelters.
But what’s really remarkable about the Family Village isn’t just the suite of supportive services for families. The building in SE Portland, formerly a church, is stunning. That is not an exaggeration. It is a truly beautiful space that has been imagined, designed, and built to be warm, welcoming, safe, and trauma-informed with curved architectural partition walls, calming colors, indoor plants, natural light, and beautiful landscaping.
Trauma-informed architecture and interior design can actually help people recover from crisis and trauma. Place and space truly do matter, and the importance of that can’t be overstated. Many of the families the County serves have experienced trauma again and again as they go through different systems, and people often end up in shelters at their most vulnerable moment. A physical environment can directly, positively and immediately impact peoples’ emotional, physical, and social health. I am so impressed with PHFS’ dedication to being trauma-informed not just in programming, but also in design and in place with the Family Village
PHFS has modeled here what it looks like -- what it actually feels like -- to focus not just on what we do for families in shelter but also how and where we do it. During the grand opening of the Family Village, PHFS Executive Director Brandi Tuck described PHFS’ commitment to healing trauma by building dignity, restoring power, and promoting autonomy. Families need and deserve all of these things as they regain stability, and I am so proud that our community has an amazing resource like this to serve parents and children.
With that, I wish you all a very happy holiday season and a wonderful new year! I look forward to continuing to work for you and with you in the new decade.
In good health,
I hope you’re enjoying the final weeks of autumn! I have participated in a number of events this month and they have all been quite different, and quite meaningful. For this newsletter I thought I would share some highlights from these experiences.
I have served as the County Commission’s liaison to the Multnomah County Veterans Task Force since 2017. Members of the Task Force represent a variety of agencies and organizations providing services in the community. In doing this work I have learned a tremendous amount about the history of Veterans in our country and in Multnomah County, and working with this group has instilled in me a profound respect for the contributions of Veterans, both during their military service and after they return to the community. Earlier this month the Board issued a Proclamation honoring the substantial contributions of Veterans, and members of the Veterans Task Force briefed the Board about the group’s ongoing work. I was also honored to march with and support the Portland Chapter of the North American Black Veterans (NABVETS) in the annual Portland Veterans Day Parade.
Protection from Scams, Fraud, and Abuse
I partnered with Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and Multnomah County’s Aging, Disability and Veterans Services Division in a presentation designed to increase awareness of, and also prevent and address elder abuse. I had been familiar with some of the information provided by the Attorney General, but learning about the full scope and extent of the issue was shocking. I learned that scammers target thousands of Oregonians annually and swindle them out of millions of dollars. And while we may consider older adults to be particularly vulnerable, in fact, a recent report suggests younger adults are more susceptible to scams. Basically, anyone can be a victim. Three key takeaways from the presentation that I incorporated immediately into my own life include: (1) If you don’t recognize the number, don’t answer the phone; (2) Don’t accept or respond to cold calls from seeming government agencies such as the Social Security Administration asking you to call them back about an “urgent” problem with your account - this is not how such agencies reach out; and (3) there are very personal scams where the scammer obtains a lot of information about a family member, then uses this information in an emotional plea for money to help the person out of a bind. I have a family member who actually paid a lot of money in connection with one of these scams. For more information, including how to avoid these insidious scams, you can visit the Attorney General’s “Six Signs It Is a Scam” and also the Sales, Scams & Fraud webpage. You can also submit a complaint online or call the Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline at 1-877-877-9392. The Hotline fields more than 50,000 calls a year!
Annual County-City session on the Joint Office of Homeless Services
Mid-month, Commissioners from Multnomah County and the City of Portland came together for an annual joint meeting to be briefed on the latest data from the Joint Office of Homeless Services. This year’s session focused on the growing number of people experiencing chronic homelessness, unmet behavioral health needs, and our goals around supportive housing to meet these needs. I have focused on homelessness in prior newsletters, which provide more detail and background on the issues discussed at the joint session. But essentially, one of the key takeaways is that many of the interventions in our system of housing and behavioral health are only effective (both in terms of long-term outcomes and cost to the system) when people have access to supportive housing. This is deeply affordable housing with services and supports attached. Many of the bottlenecks in our current system are due, in large part, to lack of supportive housing. To make a meaningful difference in chronic homelessness, we need to invest not only in the housing units, but in the wraparound services that make people’s housing sustainable and successful. This is an increasingly daunting challenge given our structural budget deficit, and the fact that bonds can pay for housing construction but not for services. One promising approach is being led by HereTogether, a regional coalition of service providers, business leaders, elected officials, and advocates building public support for a framework to raise revenue for the services our community needs.
Portland Downtown Neighborhood Association (PDNA) Forum on Homelessness - Raising Awareness and Focusing on Solutions
Last weekend I attended this forum in my district, which was sponsored by the Portland Downtown Neighborhood Association, and I was inspired by the energy in the room and the effectiveness of the approach. We sat at tables, and information was provided by different panels that included research and data experts, front line service providers, behavioral health experts, housing experts, and, most importantly, people with lived experience of homelessness. After each panel we had an opportunity to discuss what had been said and think about potential actions we could take at the individual and local community levels, as well as ideas we had for government and other stakeholder action. The whole experience was incredibly positive, action-oriented, solutions-based, and truly grounded in compassion and raising awareness regarding the complexities of the issues surrounding homelessness and the people experiencing it.
Portland Street Response
Last week, Portland City Council approved a report and recommendations to shape a Portland Street Response pilot program. This concept -- having professionals who are trained in trauma-informed care and mental health, rather than police, responding to people experiencing mental health crises and other non-criminal issues often related to homelessness -- is really important to me. My office has participated actively in the broad group of stakeholders convened by Commissioner JoAnn Hardesty to develop the pilot that was approved by City Council and will roll out next year. The goal of Portland Street Response is to make better use of our public safety resources by creating a different “branch” of first response to interact with people who have not committed a crime or who do not require emergency medical attention. The first round of the Portland Street Response pilot will deploy a two person team responding to specifically triaged calls in the Lents neighborhood in SE Portland. The pilot team will be staffed by an Emergency Medical Services specialist currently employed in Portland Fire and Rescue along with a crisis worker. I am excited and heartened to see this pilot become a reality, and strongly believe that an alternative approach to intervening and caring for people in need on the street should be brought to scale to meet the needs of our entire County.
This month, Multnomah County has ramped up our preparation, outreach, and communication around winter weather. One of the most important aspects of our work is in helping ensure that people experiencing homelessness have the right winter gear and access to resources to stay safe and warm. If you would like to find out information about shelters, warming centers, and what is available to people during severe weather; learn when and where to call when someone needs help; and/or learn how you can donate or volunteer your time, please check out Multnomah County’s Warming Shelters and Homeless website.
As you know, I always love hearing from you. Call or write anytime to share your thoughts, concerns, and ideas. I wish you and your loved ones a very happy Thanksgiving!
In good health,
I hope you’re enjoying fall. So much has been happening, and I wanted to take the opportunity to share some information about my work to address the risks of the fossil fuel tanks located in the Critical Energy Infrastructure Hub in NW Portland.
I had always wondered about the fuel tanks as I drove by Linnton in NW Portland - the Hub stretches for six miles between Highway 30 and the west bank of the Willamette River and looks like some sort of post-apocalyptic industrial landscape. I then learned about the risk of the fuel tanks in the Hub when I watched the Oregon Public Broadcasting documentary Unprepared (note: I recommend that anyone who lives in the region watch this excellent production!), and met with some Linnton neighbors who voiced concerns about this major threat in their backyards.
About 90% of all of Oregon’s liquid fuel passes through the pipes and tanks in the Hub, and 100% of the state’s jet fuel. Some of these tanks are nearly 100 years old and most were built decades ago, long before anyone was aware of potential earthquake risks and the risks of global climate change. Furthermore, the tanks were built largely on dredge spoils along the banks of the Willamette, on soil that will likely liquefy in the event of a major earthquake. As described in Unprepared, there is literally no worse soil in Portland that those tanks could have been built on. This liquefied soil would likely cause the tanks to buckle and release fuel into the river, causing toxic fires in the Hub and vicinity, burning on the river itself, and sending poisonous fumes and smoke into the air.
In addition to the environmental devastation caused, ruptures in the tanks due to the inevitable Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake or other foreseeable natural disaster would cripple the economy of the region and the state. As described in Unprepared, “After an earthquake, fuel will be needed for emergency vehicles, fire trucks, airplanes and generators. Other states have multiple fuel depots. Oregon has one... Losing the tank farm could be the greatest threat to Oregon’s post-earthquake recovery. Oregon has no backup fuel supply.”
The Hub is a known hazard that creates not only tremendous environmental and economic risk, but constitutes a major threat to human life and safety. These tanks truly create a perfect storm for an emergency management and environmental disaster.
There is a patchwork of State and Federal laws governing how the tanks can be regulated. I am committed to exploring every possible way Multnomah County can hold the fossil fuel companies accountable for all of the substantial risks created by their dangerous products.
An innovative approach was suggested to me by Center for Sustainable Economy (CSE), an advocacy organization that has done some cutting edge research about how to mitigate the dangers posed by fossil fuel infrastructure. One option could be risk bonds, which would require fossil fuel companies to purchase insurance that would cover the full cost of potential damage caused by the known danger of their infrastructure and products. Risk bonds could help ensure that fossil fuel companies would not be able to walk away from the costs of a disaster, leaving taxpayers on the hook.
Earlier this month I held two community events, one in Linnton and the other in St. Johns, about risks in Hub and what we are doing to address the risks. Both were packed rooms, and it was inspiring to see so many people come out to learn more and show their support. Many who attended are long-time, knowledgeable advocates who have been involved in this work for years, and I am grateful to them for their thoughtful participation. I am also grateful to my fellow Commissioner from across the river in District 2, Susheela Jayapal, for her participation and tremendous support on this issue.
At our regular Board meeting on Thursday, October 31, I will introduce a resolution that outlines the County’s approach to the dangers posed by the Critical Energy Infrastructure Hub. There will be an opportunity for anyone who wishes to provide public testimony in support of this resolution, and even if you do not wish to testify, you are also welcome to attend to learn about and/or show your solidarity and support. This item is first on the agenda at about 9:45 a.m. If you wish to attend, simply come to the Multnomah County Boardroom on the first floor of the County building at 501 SE Hawthorne Blvd. If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at District1@multco.us or (503) 988-5220.
As you know, I always love hearing from you! Call or write anytime to share your thoughts, concerns, and ideas.
In good health,
Happy Autumn! There is so much I could talk about since I last wrote to you in July, but this month I want to honor September as National Recovery Month, and share a bit about what that means to me.
For 30 years, National Recovery Month has celebrated millions of people across the country in recovery from mental health challenges and substance use disorders. This observance is about hope, resilience, and reducing the stigma and misconceptions that can prevent people from seeking help and speaking openly about their recovery journey.
I’ve worked on behavioral health issues for the better part of my career now -- as an emergency physician, an advocate and now as a County Commissioner -- and it is remarkable how the conversation has changed even over the past several years.
Importantly, the way people talk about and understand addiction has changed dramatically. During the 2019 Oregon legislative session, I sat by Governor Brown as she brought forth legislation that clearly and unequivocally declared substance use disorder a chronic illness. Addiction is not a moral weakness, a lack of willpower, or an unwillingness to stop using drugs or alcohol, it is a chronic, relapsing illness accompanied by significant changes in the brain and we need to address it as such. This is a big deal, because language matters, and the language we adopt in policy codifies our values, supports changes in practice, and drives culture change.
I have been involved in addressing the opioid crisis since I started as an emergency physician. And, although many people were aware and tried to sound the alarm, only recently did it become widely recognized how culpable the opioid industry was in creating the devastating crisis of addiction across our nation. Now, thousands of jurisdictions, including Multnomah County, have filed lawsuits against large pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors to hold them accountable for the profoundly destructive impacts of their products.
But we can’t rest, because people continue to suffer and die from substance use disorder. This Recovery Month, I’ve been thinking and talking a lot about a significant policy issue that affects, directly or indirectly, nearly our entire community: alcohol use. In Oregon, for every 1 deaths/day for opioids, there are 5 related to alcohol. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Alcohol use contributes to a range of acute and chronic health consequences, from injuries and deaths resulting from traffic crashes to cancer, dementia, liver disease, heart attacks and more. In the US, the rate of death related to alcohol use has increased tremendously over the past ten years: From 2007-2017, deaths from alcohol were up 35%. Economic costs alone resulting from excessive alcohol consumption exceed $250 billion annually.
In Oregon in particular, beer, liquor, and wine industries are part of our culture. While I acknowledge, appreciate and support this unique part of Oregon’s fabric, the social acceptability of excessive alcohol consumption also underpins one of the largest public health crises in our state. There is an effort to begin to address some of this through strategic planning work with the Oregon Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission, but the elephant in the room is actually funding the services we know we need to prevent and treat substance use disorder.
We do have an obvious source of revenue for treatment and prevention of addiction -- increasing taxes on alcohol! The research is convincing: alcohol taxes influence how much alcohol people purchase and how much people drink; alcohol taxes are consistently related to fewer motor vehicle crashes and fatalities, less alcohol-impaired driving and less mortality from liver cirrhosis; and while increased price can reduce excessive drinking, increased revenue can fund critical prevention and treatment services. Oregon has one of the lowest tax rates on beer and wine in the country. Our tax on beer has not been raised since the 1970s, our tax on wine has not been raised since 1983, and Oregon has one of the highest death rates related to alcohol in the nation. This has been a crisis for too many years and I believe it is time to act!
As a policy-maker, it is so important to me to listen to the voices of constituents and community members. This month especially, I have heard from countless people in recovery about the harms of alcohol misuse and the need for political courage in this conversation about realistically considering its impact on public health. This may not be a popular conversation for many, but I believe that the courage, grit, and resilience of people in recovery demands at least a fraction of the same from policy makers in driving difficult conversations.
So our work is cut out for us. Happy Recovery Month to you, and to anyone you know, love or support in recovery! This month is about hope, solidarity and action, and finding ways to practice each of these in our lives.
On a different topic, I wanted to share information about two events I am convening in October about the risk of fossil fuel infrastructure in the Critical Energy Infrastructure Hub located in NW Portland along Highway 30. The fuel tanks located in the Critical Energy Infrastructure Hub pose a major threat to human health and the environment in the event of an earthquake and in light of global climate change. I believe we should take steps to ensure that fossil fuel companies are required to insure against the full cost of damages caused by fuel tanks and other infrastructure. Join me, along with District 2 Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, to learn more at two events: Monday, October 7, 7 - 8:30 p.m. at the Linnton Community Center (10614 NW St. Helens Road), and Monday, October 14, 6:30 - 8 p.m. at the Water Pollution Control Lab in St. Johns (6543 N. Burlington Road).
In good health,
Commissioner Sharon Meieran Newsletter - August 2019
I hope you’re enjoying summer and keeping cool. Given that it’s summer, I thought I would take this opportunity to offer more of a “potpourri” newsletter, and share some thoughts about a few different topics that have been on my mind.
First, national issues, especially related to immigrants and refugees, have been at the center of my thinking and I’m sure on many of your minds as well. I’ve been outraged about our current federal administration’s abhorrent policies and practices, and several weeks ago I joined thousands of others in downtown Portland to rally against the separation of migrant children from their parents and caregivers. As a doctor and a policymaker, I am disgusted by this state-sanctioned violence and trauma, which we know will cause long term harm to the health and wellbeing of children and families. And further, as a parent, it is devastating to know the pain that so many other parents are enduring right now. I will continue to take every opportunity to speak out against these horrific policies and practices -- including advocating with our local federal legislators who continue to bring this fight to Congress.
On a different note, some highlights from the last few weeks include:
Traveling with Portland Street Medicine, an organization comprised of medical providers and social workers that seeks to provide quality medical care to Portlanders who are facing unstable housing or who are sleeping on the streets. I joined one of the organization’s teams comprised of social worker extraordinaire Drew Grabham, nurse Lacey McCarley, and emergency physicians Bill Toepper and Dan Bissell, in their medical service van and visited sites throughout the county where people who are houseless were camping. People were open and welcoming, and expressed deep appreciation for the Street Medicine team. I appreciated the opportunity to engage as a medical provider, to connect and support people by providing medical care, and simply meet people where they were at. The team provided wound care, made appointments, referred someone for eyeglasses, and even referred someone to an ER and waited with them for transportation to arrive. If medical care wasn’t needed, we were able to at least offer water and strawberries on a hot day, and someone to talk to. It was a truly extraordinary experience.
I visited a community garden in East Portland through the nonprofit organization Outgrowing Hunger. The garden includes plots tended by many families, particularly many refugee families new to this country. With all of the trauma people have experienced in their native countries, and the transition and upheaval they have endured getting to the US, the garden is a connection to their culture and community. It is not only a source of food, but offers a place for feeling at peace, as well as a sense of wellbeing and belonging. I was struck by the diversity of foods grown and farming methods, and was so appreciative of the kindness and openness of the families with whom I visited.
The Board adopted an ordinance I introduced banning traveling displays of wild and exotic animals. Multnomah County already prohibits owning exotic animals, and I introduced this proposal after hearing from community members concerned about a gap in our law allowing traveling displays of wild and exotic animals for carnivals, fairs, and circuses. This kind of travel causes suffering for animals as they are housed in cages and exposed to recurrent transitions, particularly when such travel occurs during the summer in the kind of heat we’re experiencing right now. To learn more, including what animals are included in the travel ban, you can read the ordinance here.
I attended a statewide conference endorsed by Stepping Up, a national initiative to reduce the number of people experiencing mental illness in jails. Conference sessions focused on a range of important policy issues including harm reduction, challenges regarding involuntary commitment, laws to reduce gun-related violence (including the Extreme Risk Protection Order law passed by the Oregon Legislature last year), risks related to violence and psychosis, and many other fascinating and timely topics. I enjoyed connecting with so many mental health providers and others from counties across Oregon who are focused on improving our systems to help make sure people get the support they need. It’s inspiring to be reminded of how many smart, insightful and compassionate people are working on this issue throughout the state, and it was great to connect with old friends and establish new relationships with people doing this work.
We have closed the feedback form for corrections to the draft mental health report released last month. When HSRI finalizes the report, the final version will be available here. In addition, we have posted video and other materials from the community presentation about the draft report held the evening of June 28. If you wanted to attend but were not able, you can find the video here.
I met with the Goose Hollow Foothills League at one of their regular community meetings, where I heard about important issues facing their neighborhood and also shared my priorities as a County Commissioner. It is extremely important to me to hear directly from people living in Multnomah County, and I am working on meeting with all the neighborhood associations in District 1. If you are involved with a neighborhood association or another community group located in District 1 and would like to connect with me about a particular issue or just in general, I would welcome that opportunity. You can reach out to my office at District1@multco.us. I also plan to start knocking on doors to meet as many people as I can who live in District 1 so I can hear directly about my constituents’ questions, concerns and ideas. If you live in District 1, you may see me on your doorstep starting in August!!
This is just a sampling of some of what I’ve been working on, learning, and thinking about. I always enjoy hearing from you. Please get in touch with my by email at District1@multco.us or by phone at (503) 988-5220. And look for my next newsletter in September!
In good health,
I hope you have been enjoying summer! This month, I attended an event hosted by Peace in Schools focused on supporting the emotional, physical and mental health of teenagers through mindfulness education in schools. This event highlighted connections among so many of the challenges we are facing as a local and national community and I wanted to share some of my reflections on the concept of mindfulness.
I am drawn to this approach because we are facing a crisis with regard to youth mental health. I’ve heard this in conversations with teens who take calls at the YouthLine, and from young people who serve on the Multnomah Youth Commission. The data back it up too: suicide is the second leading cause of death among Oregonians ages 10-24. Conducted every other year, the Oregon Healthy Teens Survey asks youth the question “During the past 12 months, did you ever feel so sad or hopeless every day for two weeks or more in a row that you stopped doing some usual activities?” In 2017, 37% of 8th grade girls and 19% of 8th grade boys, and 39% of 11th grade girls and 22% of 11th grade boys answered yes. That is tough to absorb. As the mom of two school-age kids, and as someone who is immersed in these issues and policy discussions at work, I’m not necessarily surprised to know that so many kids self-identify as feeling sad and hopeless, but the data really drive home how deep this issue runs among so many youth.
Listening to young people at the Peace in Schools event talk about the mindfulness course they took in high school emphasized how valuable and necessary this kind of course is. They spoke about depression, anxiety, stress, a sense of not belonging, and the despair they felt, and how the skills and connection they experienced through a mindfulness course changed -- and in some cases literally saved -- their lives. This is also an issue that is very personal to me because of my own struggles with depression. I discussed this experience publicly for the first time during an interview on Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Two events I attended this past month really illustrate the positive impact of working mindfully to create opportunities for people in an empathic and holistic way.
I attended the opening of the Blackburn Center, a six-story building in East Portland that provides more than 175 units of housing, along with primary care, a pharmacy, substance use recovery and mental health services all under one roof. I believe that housing is health, and programs like this are the only way we can truly end homelessness for many people. But investments like this do take time to materialize, so to see a program like this actually open its doors was very powerful. And it isn’t just a building -- it is a beautiful space with light and art and intention that will truly support healing. During the grand opening ceremony, Central City Concern President and CEO Dr. Rachel Solotaroff said something that really stuck with me: "This beautiful space is a testament to the dignity and potential each person we serve holds, with an elegant and elevating environment to prove it."
I also attended a graduation for the Success through Accountability, Restitution and Treatment (START) Court program, an intensive treatment court program for people who have been incarcerated and suffer from substance use disorder. The people in the program are supported by a multidisciplinary team and wraparound services to support their recovery, their housing needs, finding employment and making restitution to the victim of their crime. Graduation is an opportunity for family, friends, service providers and court officials to celebrate the hard work of participants. Treatment courts take what is often a rigid, inflexible criminal justice system and reimagine how justice can be served. At the graduation ceremony, justice looked like joy and hope, decreased recidivism and restitution for victims of crimes, responsibility, empowerment and connection.
Please be on the lookout for more information about my events coming up in the fall. In the meantime, I always enjoy hearing from you, and learning from your insight. You can reach me by email at email@example.com or by phone at 503.988.5220. Enjoy the remainder of your summer!
In good health,
As summer begins, the 2019 Legislature is working to balance the State budget and conclude their session. I have been deeply concerned about how some of the reductions proposed by the Legislature will affect us locally. I have been talking with legislators and the media about this and want to share my perspective with you directly. I also want to highlight some other important policy bills that I have been tracking.
Before getting to those issues, though, I have to acknowledge the current situation in the Legislature. When I first envisioned this newsletter, I wanted it to be a discussion of the issues under consideration by the Legislature at the end of session. However, the decision by the Senate Republicans to abdicate responsibility and walk out has changed the dynamic and may impact remaining decisions. It is incredibly troubling to me that the Senate Republicans have opted to hide rather than vote on a bill addressing the climate crisis. Despite this overshadowing change, I still want to share my thoughts on important budget and policy issues still under consideration.
Proposed Budget Reductions
A robust spectrum of community-based mental health services is foundational to providing people with optimal treatment, achieve the best outcomes, and save money. Unfortunately, our counties have been starved of resources for too long, and the results are apparent everywhere we turn - in our homes, in our jails, in our schools and on our streets. Given this, I have been surprised and troubled by a proposal from the Legislature to reduce funding for the Community Mental Health Program by $18 million. This funding supports local investments in mental health services, including crisis mental health and addiction services, case management for people experiencing mental illness who are insured by Medicaid, intensive services for people who would otherwise go to the Oregon State Hospital, and supportive housing programs that keep people experiencing serious mental illness stably housed.
This critical State funding complements the County’s larger systems improvement efforts, including our plans for a new mental health resource center downtown and my efforts to align and transform our system of mental health care, including addressing the intersection of our mental health and criminal justice systems for people who are most affected. Further, the Legislature is simultaneously implementing measures that, although well-intentioned, will substantially increase the population needing mental health services in our local communities. Given the scope of the need and the increase in the population being affected, the Legislature should be increasing this funding, not cutting it. A budget bill passed out of committee yesterday partially restores the reduction by adding $6 million. We will be advocating again during the short Legislative session in February 2020 to make sure this important program is fully restored.
I am also very concerned about legislative proposals to cut funding for supports for individuals with developmental disabilities, seniors, and community corrections. The aging programs include programs aimed at healthy aging, fall prevention, and diabetes management. While I understand that the Legislature faces difficult choices, I am concerned that they are considering reductions that will hurt some of the most vulnerable people in our community and undermine important work happening at the local level to work upstream and prevent the expensive consequences and crises that we all pay for downstream.
I have been closely tracking many policy issues this legislative session. Several have drawn my attention as the session draws to a close:
We have to take action to stop climate change for our kids and for the most vulnerable people in our communities. House Bill 2020 would take action by capping greenhouse gas emissions at 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The Senate Republicans have walked away from their jobs because they oppose this bill. This is unacceptable. We need rational climate policy and policymakers who are willing to debate a challenging issue and stay at the table to develop policy rather than simply walking away.
House Bill 2007 would finally require clean diesel technology for trucks and construction equipment. Diesel engine exhaust includes particles that can get into our lungs, causing cancer, asthma, and other health problems. Oregon has established an exposure limit on diesel exhaust of .1 micrograms per cubic meter - this standard is 30 times higher (weaker) than the standard established by California, but still the Portland region would need to reduce diesel emissions by 90 percent to reach the Oregon standard. Diesel pollution affects all of us, but is even worse for children and elders, and for communities of color who are more likely to live near areas with the most diesel pollution. Technology exists to filter the vast majority of the particles out of the diesel pollution, and I am very hopeful that the Legislature will adopt HB 2007 to require this technology on diesel trucks. This seems like the very least we could do to address one of the leading drivers of illness and climate change in our state.
Oregon is one of only five states with no limits on political contributions due to interpretation of the Oregon Constitution, and I believe that having no limits on campaign contributions has a corrupting effect on our democracy. Senate Joint Resolution 18 would refer a measure to voters that would make campaign contribution limits and disclosure requirements for largest sources of funding constitutional under Oregon’s state constitution. In 2016, nearly 90% of voters in Multnomah County supported a ballot measure limiting campaign contributions, but the County has been unable to fully implement the measure because of concerns about constitutionality. Senate Joint Resolution 18 would allow voters statewide to weigh in on this important issue and potentially resolve the questions of constitutionality.
The current Legislative session will end very soon. The Senate Republicans’ walk-out has made it difficult to predict how the session will end. Despite this, you can still contact your legislators and make your voice heard regarding the issues I’ve mentioned, or any others that are important to you. And as always, I appreciate hearing your questions, thoughts, concerns, and ideas. Please contact my office at District1@multco.us or call 503.988.5220.
In good health,
Yesterday the Board of County Commissioners unanimously adopted the fiscal year 2020 budget for Multnomah County. I want to dedicate this Newsletter to the budget, and outline some of my priorities that made it into the final budget.
In my April Newsletter I outlined the basics of Multnomah County’s budget process and financial landscape, and I shared some of the values I apply in approaching budget decisions. The Board has been working over the past month to finalize the budget based on feedback from the community, information and research, and our own priorities. Fortunately, our values as individual Commissioners are very much aligned, and we unanimously adopted the budget.
Mental health resource center: I have long advocated for a peer-driven mental health resource center that can meet the needs of individuals before they fall into crisis. I have been working with the Chair on a very exciting project to make this idea a reality. I am thrilled that the budget includes $11 million for a new mental health resource center downtown at the Bushong Building, which the County purchased in April. This project addresses a long-standing, critical gap in our community for centrally located, low barrier, peer-driven mental health recovery services. I will continue to champion this work as it develops.
Peer-run employment and recovery services: Multnomah County’s Mental Health and Addiction Services Division currently funds a peer-driven program which provides a place for people to go when they are not in a mental health crisis, but are in need of community, skills training, employment resources, and a place where they “are not their diagnosis”. Research shows that these types of services improve health and recovery outcomes, and I was able to secure an additional $100,000 to help build capacity in this program to reach more people in our community.
A Multnomah County leadership position held by a person with lived experience using publicly funded mental health services: This position will elevate the perspective of people with lived experience by expanding capacity in the Mental Health and Addiction Services Division’s (MHASD) Office of Consumer Engagement. Establishing a lived experience leadership position in MHASD was one of the top priority recommendations stemming from the Mental Health System Analysis my office spearheaded last year and I am proud to see us act on this recommendation. It was incorporated in the Chair’s proposed budget and adopted in our final version.
Securing the funding to maintain all Harm Reduction services: “Harm reduction” is a collection of strategies to reduce the negative impact of certain drug-use related behaviors, and it can be life-saving work. The strategies include needle exchange, naloxone distribution, provision of supplies for treating infection, and more. Through these activities, we prevent the spread of HIV, hepatitis and other infections; prevent overdose deaths; ensure the proper collection and disposal of syringes, which keeps our entire community safe; and, importantly, provide a critical entry point into recovery for people who otherwise would not feel safe accessing treatment. Because of budget constraints, the Health Department had proposed a significant decrease in funding for harm reduction. I was able to secure funding to prevent these cuts and sustain these life-saving services..
Beginning to meaningfully address the dangers of the fuel infrastructure hub in Linnton: Many of us have seen the giant fuel tanks sitting between the railway and the river along Highway 30. I learned that 90% of the state’s fuel supply and 100% of the state’s jet fuel supply is stored in or passes through these tanks. Many of the tanks are very old, and they are on soils that will become unstable during a major earthquake. And during an earthquake, the tanks could catch on fire and create a major disaster for the environment, human health, and our economy. I want to explore whether the County can require fossil fuel companies to carry bonds or insurance that cover the potential cost of damages caused by those companies’ fuel, equipment and infrastructure. My amendment allocates funding for an assessment of our fossil fuel infrastructure as well as the legal viability of this concept. This is a first step toward holding fossil fuel companies accountable.
Workforce equity: The budget makes groundbreaking investments to support the County’s Workforce Equity Strategic Plan (WESP), which the Board adopted in late January. To meet the needs of those we serve, we must first look inward and meaningfully work toward dismantling racism within County government. The budget funds a number of programs and services designed to support and educate employees as we embark upon a cultural shift in our institution. These include a new independent unit that will investigate complaints from County employees; training and support for Human Resources during our transition; and new funding for the Office of Diversity and Equity to support accommodations for employees with disabilities, along with other aspects of the WESP. The process will not be easy, but it is essential, and the time is now.
Despite the challenges we faced this year, budget season continues to fill me with awe. It is incredibly powerful to hear people’s stories and witness the resilience of Multnomah County residents. I am filled with a profound respect for the dedication of so many people who work for and partner with the County. This is the heart of what I signed up for when I ran for County Commission, and I have been honored to represent my constituents during this process.
June Town Hall
I hope you’ll consider joining me on Thursday, June 13, from 5:30 - 7 p.m. in the Benson High School Library (546 NE 12th Avenue). I am hosting this town hall along with my colleague Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, who represents District 2 (North and Northeast Portland). We will speak about priorities and outcomes from our 2020 budget process, and there will be plenty of time to ask questions. I hope to see you there!
In good health,
Last week the Board of County Commissioners kicked off our annual budget process when the Chair released her proposed budget. While county commissioners play many important roles, approving a balanced budget that reflects our values and supports a range of essential functions is truly at the core of what we do. As I have for the past two years, I want to dedicate most of this month’s newsletter to describing what happens during the budget process, what I will be considering, and how you can be involved.
County Budget Basics
The County’s budget supports vital services in the areas of housing and homelessness, health care, families and children, public safety, and infrastructure like roads and bridges. As a Board, we are responsible for developing and approving a balanced budget each year. The County’s total budget is about $2 billion. The General Fund, which comes primarily from local tax revenue, is the most flexible part of the budget and the Board has discretion to allocate the General Fund budget among the services the County provides. A large portion of the County’s total budget includes federal and state funds that the county receives in exchange for providing specific programs or services. Only about one-third of the total budget (around $668 million for the 2020 fiscal year) comprises the County’s General Fund budget.
Multnomah County faces a challenging budget forecast, facing cuts this year which will be increasing over the next five years. I often hear questions about this, because it seems counter-intuitive - Portland is experiencing tremendous economic growth, and yet our revenues are not sufficient to meet our needs. This paradox exists because there is an underlying structural deficit, causing the cost of providing services to rise faster than our revenue. As a result, we must consider options for reducing the existing services we provide; for reallocating funding; and/or for increasing revenue.
The budget process begins with each County department proposing a budget, including proposed reductions. Chair Deborah Kafoury considers departmental proposals as she develops her recommended budget, which was released last week. Now, my colleagues and I will consider the Chair’s recommended budget. We will hold budget work sessions and public budget hearings throughout the month of May, and we are scheduled to adopt a final budget on May 30.
To me, the budget process is the most fundamental of my duties as a County Commissioner. The budget shapes what we do, who we serve, how we employ people, and how we impact our community for years to come. Given the challenging economic circumstances we face in the future, this year’s budget will include some very difficult decisions. Over the next 5 weeks I will work with the Chair and my colleagues on the Board to make budget decisions, focusing on using our resources efficiently, effectively and equitably. When approaching these decisions, I often consider these factors:
(1) Alignment with Multnomah County’s mission: how closely the program or service is aligned with the County’s mission to serve people who are the most vulnerable in our community.
(2) Efficiency: whether the program or service, or something similar, is provided elsewhere.
(3) Wise investment: the balance of cost and benefit from the program or service, including the scale of the program’s impact. I focus on the potential for upstream investment that has measurable impact on downstream costs and outcomes. In particular, I consider potential intended and unintended consequences of our decisions on traditionally marginalized communities.
My perspective on budget and policy issues is informed by many sources. I strive to proactively seek out feedback and input from the community, and balance this with research, analysis, guidance from county staff and others, as well as my own values.
Hearing from members of the public is extremely important in informing my perspective, and I would very much like to hear from you about your priorities during this year’s budget process. You can make your voice heard in several ways:
District 1 survey: You can take this survey to share your County service and program priorities with me.
Public Hearings: You can share your thoughts about the budget by testifying at one of three remaining public budget hearings we have scheduled in May (our first hearing was held last night at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization):
Wednesday, May 8, 6:00 - 8:00 pm at the Multnomah Building, 501 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland
Tuesday, May 14, 6:00 - 8:00 pm at Multnomah County East, 600 NE 8th St, Gresham
Wednesday, May 22, 6:00 - 8:00 pm at Roosevelt High School, 6941 N Central St, Portland
Tune in to work sessions: You can watch our budget work sessions starting this week by either joining in-person in the Boardroom at the Multnomah County Building (501 SE Hawthorne Blvd), or streaming live online. During budget work sessions, leaders from County departments present an overview about the services they provide, how effective those services have been, and their major opportunities and challenges. You can find the full budget calendar here: https://multco.us/budget/calendar.
Contact me directly: And of course, you can always contact my office directly to share your feedback, ideas, thoughts, concerns and questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at (503) 988-5220, or by mail at 501 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Suite 600, Portland OR 97214.
This season brings a challenging budget, but I look forward to the process and working with my colleagues to approve a budget that supports our community’s needs. Thank you in advance for informing me throughout this process!
In good health,
March is women’s history month! This month I’ve had many opportunities to honor and celebrate women in some unique ways, and I would like to share some of those experiences and reflections.
Women’s History Month Bike Wrap: I started the month at City Hall, where BIKETOWN unveiled new bike wrap designs celebrating the creativity, innovation, and community spirit of the women of Portland. BIKETOWN offers shared bikes that can be locked at any public bike rack throughout Portland, making it easy and convenient to bike where you need to go. One of the highlights of the event was hearing from Commissioner Eudaly about how bikes have contributed to women’s liberation through history: “Bikes enabled independent transportation, helped women shed restrictive clothing, and were a flagship symbol of the suffragette movement.”
Portland Womxn’s March: On the first Sunday in March I joined thousands of people at the 2019 Womxn’s March & Rally for Action. This event lifted up an intersectional, feminist, womxn-led movement while protesting President Trump’s actions. My colleague Commissioner Susheela Jayapal delivered an incredible rallying speech about ending oppression by centering those who are the most marginalized. I was especially inspired to see so many young people at this march, and their presence gives me hope for the future.
Women’s History Month Proclamation: Our Board proclaimed March as Women’s History Month in Multnomah County. We heard from an amazing panel of local advocates from Sisters in the Brotherhood, WomenFirst, Family Forward, and NARAL ProChoice Oregon, who shared their own personal stories and also their work improving the quality of life for women. As our proclamation states, “Multnomah County recognizes during this month of celebrating women and the glass ceilings they continue to shatter in Oregon, that there is still work to be done. Multnomah County is dedicated to lifting women of every race, ethnicity, class, gender identity, abilities, and sexual orientation up to ensure that the pursuit of equity between genders does not falter until it is achieved and sustained.”
Women’s HERstory Month Panel: I was honored to speak about women in health care alongside Janet Campbell from Cambia Health Solutions and Meredith Roberts Tomasi from HealthInsight Oregon at a forum sponsored by the Portland Business Alliance. We talked about health care, data analytics, and improving health outcomes - as well as what motivated each of us to get into our respective fields. I left feeling inspired by my two co-panelists and hopeful about the role of women in the future of health care.
Honoring Women Veterans: I serve as the Board liaison to Multnomah County’s Veterans Task Force, a group of community organizations, state and federal partners, and representatives from Multnomah County departments. In honor of Women’s History Month, Elizabeth Estabrooks, women veterans coordinator with the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs, did a presentation about the history of women in the military. Some of the information she presented was truly shocking. Women have served in the military since the American Revolution, but their service has often gone unrecognized. Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) serving during WWII were not given Veterans status until President Obama’s term in office. Until recently, wives of military Veterans could be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, but women Veterans could not be. Because of a history that excluded them, many women who served in the military are less likely to identify as Veterans and less likely to seek the benefits they earned. Even when they do receive benefits, the benefits are less, as are salaries and promotions. Elizabeth’s program at the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs seeks to advocate for and reach out to women who have served in the military and advance the level of care women Veterans receive in Oregon.
All of these Women’s History Month events have helped me slow down and think about our moment in history and the story we are leaving for the next generation of girls and women, including my teenage daughter Ella. I am incredibly grateful to serve on a Board of County Commissioners that is all women and a majority women of color. As women, we have unique perspectives in understanding the challenges faced by people in our community, and I believe these perspectives influence and improve how we govern. I will work on carrying this sentiment forward throughout the year.
Look out for a constituent coffee invitation in early May. This will be a great opportunity to share your ideas and thoughts about the County, identify your priorities, and hear about my priorities as we balance the County’s fiscal year 2020 budget. And there will be other opportunities to be involved during the budget-making process as well. So stay tuned!
In good health,
The topic of this newsletter is collaboration and connectedness. It feels as if this topic has presented itself to me seemingly at every turn throughout the past month, so I wanted to share some of what has been happening.
First, I traveled with a delegation of Portlanders to Los Angeles to learn more about how that region has been able to engage multiple stakeholders across multiple sectors to support two measures to increase resources for reducing and preventing homelessness. So far, the 2016 Los Angeles City bond has funded nearly 2,800 housing units, including 2,088 supportive housing units paired with services. A complementary 2017 Los Angeles County measure has funded services and strategies to permanently house a total of 11,616 individuals and family members. In a county of over 10 million people and 88 cities, collaboration has been essential to coalescing around a plan to fund affordable housing, as well as the supportive services proven to keep those who are most vulnerable stable and housed. Here in the Portland region, voters passed a historic bond last fall that is building affordable housing, and we are working to implement our supportive housing plan to ensure there are services like mental health and addictions treatment to help people maintain stable housing. In LA, it was inspiring to see how housing advocates, the business community, philanthropy, the faith community, health care, community organizations and individuals were able to work together toward turning a plan to end homelessness into reality.
On the heels of my trip to Los Angeles, I also attended the biennial Justice Reinvestment Summit in Salem, where people from public safety, behavioral health, the court system, and other disciplines came together to tackle issues related to reducing our reliance on costly incarceration and improving public safety through alternatives. I learned about some innovative processes and projects underway in Multnomah County and elsewhere in Oregon, especially around the intersection of the criminal justice system and behavioral health. And I was inspired by keynote speaker, Miami-Dade County Judge Steve Leifman, who was able to lead a transformation the criminal justice system that had the highest prevalence of mental illness in the country. The Miami-Dade County system is a model that demonstrates the power of collaboration within in a criminal justice system that is tightly connected with the system of behavioral health care. I am interested in exploring how aspects of the Miami-Dade model could help here in Multnomah County.
And finally, I attended a meeting of the County’s Age-Friendly Health Services, Equity and Prevention committee, which seeks to move forward the health- and equity-related work included in Multnomah County’s Age-Friendly Action Plan. “Age-friendly” refers to inclusivity and accessibility of older people with varying needs, as well as emphasizing enablement rather than disablement. Age-friendly designs, policies, and programs are increasingly important as we shift to an older society, but these age-friendly efforts work for everyone regardless of age. The meeting included a range of participants from the Oregon Health Equity Alliance (OHEA), dementia research and support, The Intertwine Alliance; Portland Parks & Recreation, Multnomah County Library, Portland State University’s Institute on Aging, Oregon Health & Science University, and others. We heard from OHEA and Health Department staff about our Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), which focuses on addressing institutional racism. I was struck by the common links that were identified between issues, including racial equity, digital equity, housing and houselessness, mental health and substance use disorder, dementia, and climate change, among others.
The bottom line is that there is so much multi-sector work that can help us identify innovative solutions to the most difficult problems we face as a community. As an ER doctor, I see how failure to acknowledge and account for these connections leads to siloing and people falling through the cracks in our systems and ending up in crisis. By working “upstream” to prevent problems, we can stop a cascade of effects that are all connected. Often, this requires us to reach out to people who are in totally different jobs or settings to get help to a person. I also believe that we need to develop policy and funding frameworks that are flexible enough to support multi-system efforts while also assuring accountability and transparency.
Thank you for reading, and as always please reach out to me via email, phone, or snail mail. I always love to hear your responses, questions and ideas.
In good health,
Sharon Meieran Multnomah County District 1 Commissioner
I hope you had a great holiday season and I wish you a very Happy New Year (though the new year already feels so long ago…)! The Board celebrated the New Year with the swearing in of Chair Kafoury and Sheriff Reese for second terms, welcoming Jennifer McGuirk as our new County Auditor, and hearing moving words from new District 2 Commissioner Susheela Jayapal. Reflecting on how wonderful it was to engage with friends and family over the holiday season and new year, and with the positive energy at Multnomah County, I wanted to start the year with a focus on community engagement.
As a County Commissioner, I have always been impressed with the level of passion, awareness, interest and involvement that members of our community show in regard to the issues facing our region. I strongly believe that public engagement with a broad and diverse array of people is essential to the work we do at the County.
True, meaningful community involvement in government requires us to develop structures that institutionalize the importance of community engagement, input, and guidance. For example, we have community advisory committees informing our policies on an array of topics including sustainability, public health, libraries, mental health, aging services, and many, many other programs and issue areas. Volunteers also contribute time and energy to help guide the Board as we make decisions about the budget through Community Budget Advisory Committees (CBACs). CBACs are groups of community members that review departmental budgets and operations and make recommendations to the Board of Commissioners about how Multnomah County can best use its resources to serve the community.
Commissioners are assigned to connect with and participate on a number of advisory groups. In addition to several other assignments I have held over the past two years, I am very excited to be the new appointed Board liaison to the Aging Services Advisory Council (ASAC) and Disability Services Advisory Council (DSAC). The ASAC advises Multnomah County’s Aging, Disability, & Veterans Services Division (ADVSD) to ensure that all older adults, people with disabilities, and Veterans thrive in diverse and supportive communities. Advisory council members advocate for system level changes, provide advice to ADVSD regarding policies and programs, and connect with the broader community to understand the issues and priorities of ADVSD target populations. The DSAC advises ADVSD on how best to serve people with disabilities in a respectful and conscientious manner, advocates for issues that are pertinent to the life and welfare of people with disabilities in Multnomah County, and works to educate the general public of the issues and concerns facing all people with disabilities living and working in Multnomah County.
If you’re interested in getting involved you can always start with the County’s general volunteer interest form, which can help match your experience and interests to available volunteer opportunities on County advisory boards and commissions. Right now, there is one opportunity I want to highlight in particular. Multnomah County is currently accepting applications for the County’s Community Involvement Committee (CIC). The CIC is foundational in bringing community voice into County decision-making. CIC members will engage in an ongoing review of the County's community involvement policies and programs, bring community concerns and ideas to County leadership, and assist in facilitating communication between the County and the community. In 2018, the CIC was on hiatus while the Office of Community Involvement conducted a review of the County’s community involvement process and the role of the CIC. With the review compete, we are currently recruiting fifteen CIC members, including at least one member from each District. Applications are due Monday, January 28th, by 5pm.
Finally, on the theme of community engagement, I have recently started knocking on doors in District 1 in an effort to hear directly from constituents. As a candidate for office I walked door-to-door to meet people and hear what was important to them, but I didn’t want to stop engaging with my constituents in this way once I was elected to office. I am working to visit every neighborhood association in my district, and holding organized opportunities for constituents to talk with me at events like constituent coffees. I truly want to hear from as many people as possible. You can always speak to me and to my fellow Commissioners directly at any of our regularly scheduled Board meetings by signing up to give public testimony. If you’re active in a neighborhood association in District 1 and would like to have me speak at one of your meetings, please contact my office. If you have ideas for events that I could organize or participate in, I want to hear from you. And if you live in the district, don’t be surprised if you find me knocking on your door!
This is going to be an exciting year, and I look forward to sharing experiences and hearing from you about issues, questions, ideas, concerns, or whatever may be on your mind. Happy 2019!
In good health,
Sharon Meieran Multnomah County District 1 Commissioner