Board of Commissioners unanimously approves groundbreaking plan for tackling chronic homelessness

December 17, 2020

The Board of Commissioners on Thursday, Dec. 17, unanimously approved Multnomah County’s months-in-the-making plan for how to invest the groundbreaking new resources made possible by Metro’s Supportive Housing Services Measure. 

Backed overwhelmingly by Tri-County voters in May, the measure will raise a historic amount of money that local governments must use to reduce both chronic and short-term homelessness across the Tri-County region. 

“I have devoted most of my career in public service to get to a day like today,” Chair Deborah Kafoury said before the vote.

February 2020: Chair Deborah Kafoury speaks with a group during a Here Together community forum in East County. The local implementation details how Multnomah County will use the funds raised by the ballot measure, which was approved in May.
“Had you told me 10 years ago that we would be in this moment, approving a plan to end homelessness across our community with the strategy and resources to meet that need, I would have had a hard time believing it,” she said. “There are too many people to thank who have contributed over the years and in truth, none of them did it for the recognition, they did it because they believe in the fundamental truth that no one in our community should ever be homeless.”

The measure is projected to generate as much as $248 million a year, $100 million of which is expected to come to Multnomah County. 

With this funding, governments across the region will be able to create and sustain strategies that end homelessness — including rent assistance and wraparound behavioral health services — while also investing in emergency options like traditional and alternative shelter programs. The “local implementation plan,” guided by the language of the measure, also requires counties to address growing and significant racial disparities among people experiencing short-term and chronic homelessness.

To craft the County’s plan, the Joint Office of Homeless Services worked with dozens of groups and hundreds of community members, including many from communities of color or who have lived experience with unsheltered homelessness. The plan, which must now be approved by Metro, serves as a high-level document ahead of additional work early next year to produce a more specific list of program investments.  

Chair Kafoury exhibited her “deepest gratitude” to Joint Office of Homeless Services Director Marc Jolin, who presented the plan to the board. 

Joint Office of Homeless Services Director Marc Jolin addresses the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners in January 2020.
“You have given so much of yourself and so much of your life to prove that there is no action that’s too big or too small for you to be a part of,” she said, “whether it’s driving around on the coldest night of the year to make sure homeless people have what they need, negotiating a complicated real-estate deal for a new shelter, or coordinating various efforts to end homelessness across jurisdictions.”

Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, a member of the Regional Oversight Committee convened by Metro to help oversee the measure, said "the regional approach that we are taking is groundbreaking." She also praised the plan for emphasizing investments in data collection and analysis, which will prove essential for measuring whether the plan is achieving its outcomes and determining whether the right services are receiving the right allocations.

"The focus on building infrastructure and capacity for our culturally specific organizations is really important. The focus on investments in data," she said. "People have talked about the fact that it's important we make those investments, and they are called out in this plan. They are absolutely critical."

Commissioner Sharon Meieran expressed her “tremendous appreciation” for the Joint Office team, saying they have done “an excellent job in very difficult circumstances.”

She said she looked forward to the additional planning work to come, and urged a continued emphasis on behavioral health, street hygiene, and street safety for people living without shelter. She also said she wanted next steps in planning for the funding to push for high standards of accountability.

“I would like to see it said that we will see a decrease in chronic homelessness with this measure,” Meieran said. “I will continue to advocate for us to address this in local metrics and I think they need to reflect the outcomes we want to see, not just the outputs.”

Commissioner Lori Stegmann called it “a great day.” 

“My hats off to Metro and Chair Kafoury and all of our County partners,” she said. 

“I think we’ve all known that this is a regional issue. Even before this measure, Multnomah County has recognized the need for mental health interventions and I think that’s pretty historic. I do understand this is more of a large strategic framework and I look forward to seeing more detailed plans as we move forward.”