Chair Jessica Vega Pederson's State of the County: "Moving forward, making progress"

April 29, 2024

Chair Jessica Vega Pederson during her second State of the County

Chair Jessica Vega Pederson delivered her second State of the County address Monday, April 29, highlighting how Multnomah County helps people on their hardest days and how she is channeling those efforts toward a better future for all County residents.

As part of a multimedia presentation co-produced with City Club of Portland, she told a packed house at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry all about the persistent challenges that urban centers like ours are struggling to overcome.

The COVID-19 pandemic made every problem worse, Chair Vega Pederson said, adding anxiety and instability in our lives —˜and amplifying the fallout from decades of federal disinvestment in affordable housing, the fentanyl emergency, “a shameful lack” of sobering and treatment beds, and escalating costs for basic needs like healthcare and childcare,. 

“AND,” she added, “our County is moving forward, making progress in our achievement, and being accountable to the public every day.’’

A County in Action

The Chair detailed how people turn to the County on their worst days and after greater systems fail them, seeking hope for something better:

“To a broken and unaffordable childcare system, we are providing free quality, joyful preschool for more than 2,000 kids this year in Preschool for All,” she said, “and every day, we’re adding more.”

To the historic lack of treatment and services for people who struggle with addiction, mental illness, and substance use —the Chair said the County has marshaled peer support and connections, treatment and stabilization options, and recovery housing and supportive housing services.

“For people entangled in the justice system, the County provides intervention, restoration and victims services. For our seniors, our veterans, our families: critical connections to benefits and support…

“For people in food deserts and transit deserts and service deserts,” the Chair said, “we’re extending County resources to as many neighborhoods as we can, so everyone has equal access to nutrition, transportation and the ballot box.”

“To the readers among us — libraries!!!  And every day we are building more!”

The Chair said the County is most successful when it takes a human-centered approach that includes people and partners with lived experience — a value that guides the County’s work in the tri-government 90-Day Fentanyl Emergency and at the County’s downtown Portland Behavioral Health Resource Center.  

Partnerships also forged the County’s new Homelessness Response Action Plan, developed in close consultation with Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. This plan creates a shared roadmap for everyone who touches homelessness — healthcare providers, the justice system, housing providers, service providers, crisis responders, government partners at all levels — to achieve a series of deliberately designed goals:

  • House and shelter 2,700 more people 
  • Add 1,000 shelter beds and hundreds more behavioral health beds
  • Increase the number of adults leaving shelter for permanent housing by at least 15%
  • Make sure 75% of people moved into permanent supportive housing are still there 24 months after placement
  • Reduce homelessness among specific priority populations, including people of color and people identifying as LGBTQIA2S+.

“Meeting these goals will make life better for everyone in our community,’’ Chair Vega Pederson said.

The Chair said she is heartened by success stories already marking the way to healthier outcomes, like the story of a woman experiencing homelessness who, because of connections made through the Behavioral Health Resource Center, was finally ready to receive support. With that help, the woman, named Vicky, successfully moved to the Clinton Triangle Temporary Alternative Shelter Site.

Beyond funding the Resource Center, Multnomah County, under Chair Vega Pederson’s leadership, has invested millions of dollars of Supportive Housing Services funds into supporting and expanding shelter options like Clinton Triangle, strengthening the County’s partnership with the City of Portland. 

Partnership also spurred a successful pilot between the Mental Health and Addiction Association of Oregon, the Portland Police Bureau’s bike team and Measure 110 providers including Health Justice Recovery Alliance, Recovery Works NW, The Miracles Club, and NW Instituto Latino to increase peer-based approaches to behavioral health interventions. This street-level support is changing people’s lives — people like Vicky who are finally able to move toward health and stability. 

Chair Vega Pederson also detailed how her Executive Budget, released April 25, combines investments from the State of Oregon, the City of Portland and Multnomah County into a $29 million package for deflection, sobering and recovery services that will help make meaningful strides in battling substance use and launch a 24/7, dropoff sobering and deflection center. 

Preschool for All 

The Chair also highlighted the County’s Preschool for All program and its steady advancement toward its goal of providing universal access for  all 3- and 4-year-olds. The County is issuing grants to childcare centers, family childcare providers, and school districts to improve and upgrade their buildings and infrastructure. Twenty percent of Preschool for All providers who participated last year were able to expand into new locations for their second year in the program.

Familycares Daycare has been able to double its capacity to serve kids, and having stable pay for employees has helped them hire enough educators to staff classrooms where children need more support. 

The Chair also said she is convening a Technical Advisory Group to study the impacts and needs and provide recommendations on how best to ensure the program remains successful and on-track.

From left, Commissioners Jessie Beason, Lori Stegman, DA Mike Schmidt and Commissioner Julia Brim Edwards .

Strengthening County employees

Chair Vega Pederson thanked County employees for their “incredible work” upholding County values and providing services.

“They are always looking to improve on our excellent services and be a leader in our region,” she said. “I want Multnomah County to continue to be an employer of choice and for our employees to feel supported in their work.

And she restated her commitment to the Workforce Equity Strategic Plan, which she is committed to putting into action.

“While many other counties and states are running away from racial justice and diversity and equity work, I am doubling down,” she said. “Our county is addressing disparities in our services head on, and we are focused on ensuring every member of our community has a chance to live, rise and thrive. This is hard work. It is uncomfortable. It is critical. And we are digging in.”

The County is investing in innovation to support its equity work, including new funding for research and evaluation in the Office of Diversity and Equity. 

“We are using the data we gather to inform what happens next,” she said. “We are sharing information. We are collecting feedback. We are reporting back.”

Separately, the Chair is supporting improved data collection and a more public-friendly dashboard for the Joint Office of Homeless Services, as well as an overhaul of the region’s database where service providers track their efforts providing street outreach, shelter and housing placement services.

“All of this helps us be accountable to voters, our community, and make significant progress,” she said.

Commissioner Sharon Meieran stands as her work is acknowledged.

Gratitude for Board members

Chair Vega Pederson thanked District 1 Commissioner Sharon Meieran “for the acumen you bring around behavioral health and substance use disorder issues, for convening system experts to think big, and for your personal commitment to practicing street-level outreach and medical interventions that connects our policy work to best practices.”

She thanked District 2 Commissioner Jesse Beason “for you and for your office’s continued commitment to standing with asylum-seekers and helping our region and our state develop a stronger, more stable safety net.”

She thanked District 3 Commissioner Julia Brim-Edwards “for your proactive and thoughtful approach to developing the sobering center our County has long needed and that will be such a critical piece of our substance use disorder continuum of care. Although you have been on the Board for less than a year, your impact is already being felt so strongly.”

And finally she thanked District 4 Commissioner Lori Stegmann “for your consistent advocacy in East County, especially around economic development and infrastructure. It has resulted in nearly $1 million dollars in my budget for the City of Gresham’s Homeless Services Team and to expand outreach and rental assistance programs in Fairview, Wood Village and Troutdale. I know in your time left on the board, you are working hard to move forward Cook Plaza and Vance Vision.” 

Moderator Cynthia Gomez, left, and Chair Vega Pederson, at the State of the County 2024.

Chair Vega Pederson concluded with a call to action to connect, engage with the County and join the work. She then sat with moderator Cynthia Gomez, director of community and civic impact at Portland State University to answer audience questions.

“The problems we’re solving aren’t easy,'' she said, as she concluded her speech. "As Commissioner Beason shared so well in a Board meeting last week, we have an earthquake-ready Burnside Bridge project that will take 14 years from start to finish,” she said. “Many of the structural challenges we’re solving for right now have been with us for decades. Why should we expect these to take less time to change than it takes to build a bridge that will serve us for the next 100 years? 

“We have to do both: We have to build the bridge and fix our structures so they can support people better. And we have to do this work with urgency. 

“We need to do this work together.’’

Read:  Chair Jessica Vega Pederson's 2024 State of the County Speech. (441.67 KB)