Affordable housing, shelter beds and wraparound services lauded at first County budget hearing

May 19, 2022

Dozens of people submitted written testimony while others appeared virtually Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at the first of three public hearings on Multnomah County’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget – voicing support for shelters and transitional housing, wraparound services, and other mental health and social services.

Laura Golino de Lovato, executive director of Northwest Pilot Project, says County budget will allow the nonprofit to help more seniors

The Board of County Commissioners will vote to approve the County’s and Library’s budgets during its meeting Thursday, June 16.

Two additional hearings are scheduled, both from 6 to 8 p.m., on Wednesday, May 25, and Wednesday, June 1. Community members can sign up to appear virtually or submit written testimony. Learn more by visiting www.multco.us/budget-feedback.

“Hearing from community members about your priorities and ideas and opinions regarding where and how Multnomah County invests our resources is an essential part of our budgeting process,” Chair Deborah Kafoury said as she welcomed people to the meeting. “Your feedback will inform our decision-making as we continue working toward a County budget that reflects the community’s values and priorities.”

Much of the public testimony focused on the need for more services – both shelter and housing – for people experiencing homelessness. Kafoury’s proposed budget for the Joint Office of Homeless Services – including County funds, Supportive Housing Services Measure funds, City of Portland funds and federal funds – would invest a record $255.5 million to expand shelter programs, housing placements and launch new partnerships with the County’s Behavioral Health Division.

More than half, $130 million, is marked for shelter, helping continue an ongoing expansion in capacity that added hundreds of beds during the COVID-19 pandemic. That significant increase in shelter investments includes funds from the Supportive Housing Services Measure, along with County, federal and City funds. Overall, Kafoury’s budget would allow the Joint Office to support nearly 2,700 shelter beds, double the number before the pandemic.

An additional $100 million would go toward housing placements, rent assistance and support services that permanently end people’s homelessness. Investments in case management and rent assistance would help an additional 1,450 people move into and retain housing, and support more than 1,700 units of supportive housing for adults and families escaping chronic homelessness. 

Through the first nine months of the current fiscal year, Joint Office funds helped more than 2,700 people move into housing and out of homelessness, including 500 people helped by the Supportive Housing Services Measure. An additional 400 people served by the measure funds are enrolled in programs and actively seeking housing. 

Many testified in support of the County’s ongoing work to devote more money to shelter beds and get people off the street immediately. But others also noted the need for the budget’s increased funding for housing placement services, noting shelters alone won’t solve homelessness.

In fact, as the budget recognizes — with specialized investments that will help people move out of shelter beds into homes of their own — increased housing placements can offer another path to increasing shelter capacity.  

“We are all impatient for solutions. We want to see a region where no one has to sleep outside,” testified 

Brad Twiss, owner of Neighbors Realty. “Shelters alone are not a solution and will not have a meaningful impact… The 2023 budget is in line with short- and long-term solutions to end homelessness.” 

Cole Merkel, from Here Together, a coalition of service providers, business leaders, elected officials, and community leaders, agreed.

“Housing is key to ending homelessness, and this budget provides many pathways to get there,” he said. “You’ve increased funding for prevention, shelters, wraparound services and supportive housing. All of this is making a difference in our community right now. Thousands will get help because of your proposed budget.”

Laura Golino de Lovato, executive director of Northwest Pilot Project, a nonprofit housing assistance provider working with the Joint Office, applauded the proposed budget. She said people 65 and older are becoming homeless faster than any other age group, and the County’s allocation of Supportive Housing Services funds have allowed Northwest Pilot Project to scale up and hire more caseworkers to help seniors find permanent housing.  

“Your budget addresses key resources we need to help older adults,” she said.

Other testimony focused on social and mental health programs for refugees and immigrants and for youth.

Pierre Morin, regional clinical director for the refugee resettlement agency and social service provider Lutheran Community Services Northwest, asked the County to consider increasing its contracts with the nonprofit to close growing service gaps created by inflation and staff shortages.

“As you know we are facing a behavioral health workforce shortage and crisis,” he wrote. In order to stay competitive, the agency offered providers a 10% salary increase in December and is planning to increase salaries again soon.

Oregon State and the Oregon Health Authority are implementing a 30% rate increase for behavioral health services, he wrote, asking counties to do the same.

“We need the counties to match this ‘rate increase’ through their general funds contracts for us to sustain the same level of services,” he wrote.

Sean Suib, executive director of New Avenues for Youth, submitted written testimony in support of New Day, a partnership of New Avenues for Youth, Raphael House, Call to Safety, SEI, VOA, Multnomah County and the City of Portland, that serves youth impacted by trafficking. The City of Portland notified the program that it won’t be renewing their portion — $310,000 — of the combined contract in the next fiscal year. New Avenues is requesting Multnomah County close the gap.

Traciee Thomas asked the Board to make sure the District Attorney's Office can invest in crime victims advocates to support people like her sister, whose son was shot and killed on his way home from his favorite breakfast spot. He was the oldest of her sister’s three children and left behind a large family. 

“We had no one to turn to for answers,” she said. “No community advocate to turn to. It’s important that our District Attorney's Office is well resourced for them to have a community liaison to help families in these difficult times.”