Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Together, we can solve big problems. And this is particularly true when it comes to local governments, who often have deeply interwoven issues and overlapping responsibilities.
I only have to look out my front window to see such problems firsthand: six RVs are parked across my street serving as shelter for people without homes. The services needed by these neighbors cross jurisdictional lines. But frankly, no one cares who is responsible for what. The problems entailed just need to be solved.
That’s how I view local government too. We are all in this together, and finger pointing won’t help. It only makes us all look bad, and worse, prevents us from coming together to solve problems.
There is no issue more vital for us to work on together than homelessness. That’s why I want to work on immediate solutions, and I know my colleagues at the City of Portland feel the same way after Mayor Wheeler’s announcement last week about opening new shelters and prohibiting unsanctioned camping.
On Wednesday, I testified in front of City Council about steps we can take immediately to help address this crisis. Top of the list: boosting the salaries of those who work in our shelter system. Currently, fast food jobs often pay more. And that is impacting not only our ability to retain staff , but it also inhibits our ability to open new shelter spaces for those living on our streets. The county approved an increase in pay for our outreach workers, but the city has yet to do so, and it needs to ASAP.
Other immediate steps we could take include:
fast tracking the opening of the RV safe park sites;
cracking down on blatantly illegal activities, like chop-shops and open drug markets, at certain encampments;
optimizing our shelter spaces to make sure all of our shelter beds are in use;
And making better use of any empty rental units during this emergency, as we’re doing through Move in Multnomah.
You can watch my full testimony here.
These measures - which entail both city and county action - would have an immediate, positive impact on the situation on our streets.
Other steps we must take include adding shelters, expanding mental health and addiction treatment services, addressing trash collection, and building affordable housing.
Yet I also want to highlight what we have done in partnership with the city. In the past year alone, the County and the Joint Office of Homeless Services have:
added the Rodeway Motel Shelter;
added a congregate shelter at 120 SE Market;
opened WeShine’s Parkrose Village;
opened Beacon Village PDX;
funded an expansion and year-round services at a new family shelter in Rockwood;
preserved critical shelter operations in Old Town; and
opened a new behavioral health motel shelter in east Portland.
Due to these investments and others, 4,560 people moved out of homelessness and into housing over the last year. While the wait time to get into housing can be long for certain programs, we found that the average wait time for people enrolled in a housing program – meaning case management, rent assistance, help with housing barriers, etc. - to move into housing was only a couple months.
What’s more, the Joint Office is working to obtain two more safe park or alternative shelters; two more motel sites; one more congregate shelter site; and a combined space in East County that will hold a congregate shelter, a day center, and an alternative shelter.
More must be done because the crisis on our streets deserves our full attention. And more can be done, if we do it together.
It is election season in Multnomah County! Ballots have been mailed to registered voters, and must be returned or postmarked by 8 pm on Tuesday, November 8th. You can drop off your ballot in the mail (no postage required), at one of Multnomah County Elections’ drop boxes (list available here), or in-person at the Multnomah County Elections office or the Gresham Voting Center Express.
Voters who have not received their ballot in the mail yet should contact Multnomah County Elections at: 503-988-VOTE.
In the Community
In the last month, I was fortunate to participate in important conversations about Preschool for All, attend celebrations recognizing organizational milestones, and witness the County’s services and programs making an impact in the lives of our residents. Oh, and I also got to meet President Biden!
On a sunny Friday afternoon, I attended the final Reclaiming Black Joy celebration at Dawson Park, a landmark in the historically Black neighborhoods of north and northeast Portland. Hosted by organizations including Multnomah County’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) and our Behavioral Health Division, these events brought connection after COVID isolation, distributed health and safety resources, and gave us all a reason to gather and celebrate.
I climbed aboard the County’s new Mobile Library, which is going to bring books and online access to under-served communities. This will be particularly important when local branches are closed for renovation.
In east county, I joined Commissioner Lori Stegmann and interested residents to learn more about the redesign of SW 257th, a busy freight route in Troutdale with skinny sidewalks and few safe crossings. When roads are repaved, we have the opportunity to reimagine how a street can better serve its community, including Reynolds High School students who use the street to get to and from school. Learn more about this project here and take part in a survey about the area that closes on Oct. 31st, 2022
I spent time celebrating two organizations - Street Roots and 4D Recovery - for another year of crucial reporting and lifesaving support services throughout our community. Street Roots hosted their annual family breakfast to showcase their news coverage of issues impacting homelessness and highlight the vendors who sell the Street Roots newspaper. 4D Recovery celebrated the peer mentors and recovery specialists who carry out this life saving work.
I had many opportunities to speak with early childhood champions, as well as visit some of our Preschool for All classrooms. At Portland State University, I sat on a panel with Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici; Andrea Paluso, the director of the Child Care for Every Family Network, and PSU College of Urban Planning Professor Connie Ozawa. We covered a range of topics - from federal support for universal preschool to how we can anticipate climate change to impact our children. It was a deeply motivating and informative conversation. I also joined Chair Deborah Kafoury to visit two of the 48 Preschool for All sites and met with teachers and kiddos. It was so fun to see the kids learning and playing, all while understanding the deeper impact that this program is going to have on the lives of these children and our community’s well being.
Lastly, I had the privilege of meeting President Biden when he visited the East Portland Community Center. Holding a rally, President Biden spoke about legislation enacted that will help address inflation and rising prescription drug costs. He celebrated Multnomah County’s universal preschool program and gave me a big hug when I mentioned my role in bringing Preschool for All to our community. I hope to welcome the President back to the Pacific Northwest soon!
For this month’s constituent spotlight, I spoke with Alex Chiu and Rodolfo Redstone Serna, two of the muralists who designed and painted the mural, titled Restoration, on the side of the Department of Community Justice east campus. If you haven’t seen this mural, in person, I recommend a visit to the Mill Park neighborhood to see the larger-than-life painting. We discussed the elements of design in the mural and the impact that public art has in our community’s healing process. I appreciate Alex and Rodolfo for taking time to explain the process of creating this mural and promote Portland’s public art scene. You can read the complete interview here.
Proposed Ban on Flavored Tobacco
Multnomah County is considering a ban on the sale of flavored nicotine and tobacco products. Under the proposed policy, the sale of all flavored products, including flavored e-cigarettes, cigarettes, cigars, and other forms of tobacco products, would be prohibited in Multnomah County. The ban would be enforced through the County’s existing Tobacco Retail License program, and would not involve law enforcement.
You can submit feedback on this policy proposal here, and a hybrid public hearing will be held on Monday, November 28th where members of the public can submit verbal testimony on the proposal. You can also share your thoughts directly with me by emailing email@example.com.
Affordable Housing Briefing
Last week I convened a board briefing on housing affordability. Presenters from EcoNorthwest, Metro and the Portland Housing Bureau, as well as City Commissioner Dan Ryan, shared information and data with the County Board of Commissioners about: the state of housing production at the statewide, regional and local level; the impact that various factors like inflation are having on housing prices; and the progress we’ve made through our two regional affordable housing bonds.
It is clear that there is more work to be done to make housing more affordable. We need to examine barriers to housing around building codes and zoning. We need to ramp up public investments in housing at the lower ends of the income spectrum, and we need to work to preserve existing affordable housing. But fundamentally, what we need to do is build more housing, faster.
You can view the entire presentation to the Board here.
Apply to Serve on Joint Office of Homeless Services Committees
The Joint Office of Homeless Services is currently recruiting for two new advisory bodies:
- The Equity Advisory Committee
- The Lived Experience Advisory Committee
You can apply for either one or both of these Advisory Committees. Each will meet approximately once a month, and meetings will be hybrid (where you can attend in-person or via video conference). Stipends are available for eligible participants.
For more information and the application form, please visit our website. Applications will be due on Friday, November 4th, 2022.