Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Our community is facing an ongoing homelessness crisis, triggered by a shortage of affordable housing, poor access to mental health and addiction treatment services, and exacerbated by the COVID pandemic and new forms of more addictive drugs, like meth and fentanyl, that are flooding our streets.
I spent the last month focused on determining what’s working, what’s not, and how to fix the latter. I spent time visiting shelters and talking to residents about their needs. I visited outdoor encampments in east county with the Sheriff’s Homeless Outreach and Programs Engagement (HOPE) team, handing out supplies to our homeless neighbors and learning more about the struggles and barriers to housing for those living outdoors.
I visited the Unity Center for Behavioral Health to discuss the many challenges facing our behavioral health system - from the lack of sobering services, to the backlog in our state hospital, to the strain then placed on our local emergency rooms, to the need for more residential treatment options and transitional housing.
I met with Latinx behavioral health leaders to discuss the necessity of diverse behavioral health options to best serve all of our communities. I spoke with Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Nan Waller, state Representative Rob Nosse and state Senator Kate Lieber about the intersections of our justice and behavioral health systems, and statewide investments and supports. I spoke with Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese about the new forms of drugs flooding our streets, and the harms they pose.
These challenges are real. But I know they can be addressed, because we have a track record of solving problems. And while these problems are thorny and complicated, we’ve taken on challenging work before and found a pathway forward.
Here’s where I derive my hope: In the coming weeks, nearly 700 three and four year olds will start school as the first cohort of Preschool for All students. The problems we face in early learning - a shortage of affordable options for families, a dearth of culturally specific offerings, poor teacher pay, and little support for preschool providers, a mix of state and federal programming - is not dissimilar to what we see in the housing and behavioral health arena. And the ways that I approach both issues are similar: center the voices of those most impacted, look at the economic challenges often at the heart of the issue, bring people together in coalition, build consensus around a focused plan, and then follow through.
These first Preschool for All families will face a new landscape of opportunity. Their kids securely enrolled in free, safe, enriching preschool programs; their pocketbooks free from the burden of paying for expensive care; their teachers appropriately compensated and less likely to change careers for financial reasons.
The same can be true of those currently living on the streets. They can be reconnected to safe, affordable housing; provided with the support they need to get back on their feet - be that health care, behavioral health treatment, or something else; and move forward with their lives in safe and healthy ways.
We have the tools, the urgency, the partnerships and the leadership necessary to tackle these issues. The first young children starting Preschool for All are a testament to that.
Laurelwood Center 3rd Anniversary
Three years ago this month, the Laurelwood Center, a homeless shelter in the Foster-Powell neighborhood, opened its doors. The opening followed months of work by a steering committee that guided the development of the shelter and established a good neighbor agreement between the shelter and surrounding neighbors. That good neighbor agreement now serves as the template for shelters throughout our region.
Since opening, the Laurelwood Center has helped well over 300 people transition into stable housing. It has also worked closely with neighbors like the Mt. Scott Learning Center across the street to forge bonds between the shelter residents and the wider community.
To celebrate the anniversary of the shelter opening, my team and I served dinner to the shelter residents earlier this week. We had a great time preparing a delicious summer meal and talking with shelter residents and staff about their experiences and how we can better serve our communities.
If you’re interested in volunteering at this shelter or organizing a meal, you can find more information here.
In the Community
This month I visited several locally owned businesses and properties. I met with Michael Liu (profiled below), whose family owns and operates the Fubonn Shopping Center, the largest Asian shopping center in Oregon. During our visit we discussed the challenges facing businesses in the Jade District and along 82nd Avenue, and how Multnomah County can work collaboratively with the business community and other regional partners to address our community’s challenges.
I toured City of Roses Disposal and Recycling with CEO Alando Simpson. We discussed his vision to bring new and innovative environmentally-friendly industries to our region, and his desire to work with Multnomah County to provide job opportunities to those exiting the criminal justice system.
I also met with the owner of the Menlo Park Plaza, on NE 122nd and Glisan, to discuss Multnomah County’s library operations center, future investments, and the needs of the area.
Given the increase in gun violence, I met with probation officers and leadership of our Department of Community Justice at their east Portland campus. We discussed the challenges probation officers are facing, the stress they are under, and what they need to help keep their clients away from violence and crime.
Lastly, I visited Columbia Park in North Portland to hand out free lunches with Portland City Commissioner Carmen Rubio. The summer lunch program provides free, healthy meals to kids throughout our region, reducing hunger, and helping them grow. While the program is winding down, you can find out more here.
For this month’s constituent spotlight, we spoke with Michael Liu, a member of the family that owns and operates the Fubonn Shopping Center on 82nd Avenue. Aside from running his family’s business, Michael is a leader in Portland, serving on boards and committees aimed at finding solutions to homelessness or making improvements to 82nd Ave.
During the interview, Michael shared memories from his childhood in Portland and growing up in an Asian American family. For college and graduate school, Michael moved away from Portland to pursue a degree in business. In the early 2000s when Michael’s parents opened Fubonn, he saw an opportunity to both support his family and make an impact in his community.
Fubonn is a special place, serving as a shopping hub, gathering space, and supermarket stocked with culturally-diverse food. Being able to safely access Fubonn and other great spaces along 82nd is a priority for Michael, which is why he is serving on a committee looking at making improvements to one of Portland’s busiest roads. It goes without saying, Michael is passionate about looking out for his community, whether that be in advocating for safety and justice for communities impacted by Anti-Asian hate or securing investments that reenergize our businesses struggling while coming out of COVID.
Thank you, Michael, for speaking with us for this month’s Constituent Spotlight and for stepping up to serve your community.
You can read our full interview here.