Dozens of people gave passionate public testimony Wednesday, May 10, at the first of three public hearings this month on Multnomah County's proposed FY 2024 budget.
Twenty-five people signed up to speak in front of the Board of Commissioners, giving virtual testimony on a number of issues including senior citizen peer support programs, nonprofits for victims of sex trafficking and SUN Community Schools. More than 40 people also provided written testimony.
The Board, which is also holding several public worksessions with County departments and offices, is scheduled to adopt a final budget June 8.
Investment in peer support senior programs
Several people asked the County to invest in a senior peer support program through Metropolitan Family Services Older Adult and Intergenerational Programming.
Program Manager Laura Heller said the Zooming Seniors Program supports and engages older adults in virtual co-created communities with their peers. Heller said participants are all older adults managing mobility issues, social isolation and other conditions.
“We wanted to create a space for them to gather, provide peer support and hear about valuable important resources,” Heller said. “Our goal then and now is to promote social inclusion and connection and also share important resources that help them remain independent and also combat that social isolation.”
Heller talked about the U.S. Surgeon General’s recent advisory on loneliness and isolation, calling it an epidemic and a major public health concern.
“Social connection can help to address social isolation and predict better physical and mental health outcomes ease stress for individuals and communities,” Heller said. “We all have a role to play in supporting social connection to create sustainable changes, on the individual level, community level, agency level, government level and on and on.”
Heller said the program currently has five cohorts of older adults, many who come from low-income backgrounds, are members of communities of color and live in under-resourced, underserved parts of the County.
Program participant Julian Kaufman said he was successful in business and in his personal relationships before a life-changing diagnosis of macular degeneration affected his social contacts and freedom of mobility. The pandemic made the social isolation worse.
“I cannot begin to tell you how wonderful it has been,” Kaufman said. “It just connected me with people once again.”
Reallocating funds for sex trafficking victims
Several speakers requested an amendment to the FY 2024 budget to reallocate $310,000 toward the New Day Collaborative program, which supports the safety, needs and rights of people 12 to 25 years old who are experiencing sex trafficking or exploitation, trading sex or are at risk.
In FY 2022, the Portland Police Bureau had invested $310,000 in the New Day Collaborative. In FY 2023, the County’s budget expected this funding would continue, but the police bureau didn’t allocate the funds, which were backfilled with the County’s share of one-time-only American Rescue Plan funds..
Kat Salas, sex trafficking survivor and director of the New Day program, asked the Board to continue funding the program.
“We are talking about either ending or reinvesting in real, tangible services that are currently being utilized by survivors who are members of our community,” Salas said. “I'm talking specifically about the 103 new people New Day connected with this year and the disproportionate harm of losing money that will happen to Black and Latina youth, youth in east county and youth actively fleeing someone trafficking them.”
Alice Johnson, New Day’s housing navigator, spoke about her deep connection to the work and said resources have been crucial for survivors.
“The work I do is deeply personal, not just because I care about young people in our county, but because I have been there before,” Johnson said. “I moved to Portland in 2015 with my former abuser. I had to navigate breaking leases, losing security deposits, negative landlord references and property damage all while doing my best to prioritize my own safety. It was scary and I navigated everything on my own – a lot of survivors often do. survivors deserve better than this.”
Brandie Dieterle Raddadi, who runs the Human Trafficking Survivor Services Against Exploitation program at Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), also spoke in support of reallocating funds to New Day.
Continuing to work with SUN providers
Others asked the County to continue funding the SUN Community Schools Family Resource Navigators program. The proposed FY 2024 budget recommends removing funding for the program, which is designed to support the needs of families, prioritizing families of color.
“This additional capacity has been very meaningful for families to meet immediate needs and plan for ongoing support,” said Mercedes Elizalde, Latino Network’s director of advocacy.
Before introducing family resource navigators, she said, SUN school providers could triage emergencies one at a time, as time and resources allowed.
But now with the navigators, providers like Latino Network “are able to do much more than simple triage and instead can create supportive plans and help families thrive and maximize the utilization of resources and benefits that exist in the community, avoiding hunger and homelessness and preventable illness,” she said.
Lydia McLeod, the family resource navigator for Southwest Portland’s Robert Gray Middle School, described her impact on more families providing more than 550 services this school year.
These resources are absolutely essential for keeping kids in school and reducing the impact of trauma that poverty can inflict,” McLeod said. “This budget cut would be devastating and at times life-threatening.
Other testimony included requests to invest in innovative measures to end homelessness and funding for nonprofit partners to pay employees fair wages. Another person suggested the County fund a position that educates the community on the gas leaf blower ban.
Upcoming budget public hearingsThe next two public hearings are Wednesday, May 17, and Wednesday, May 31. A calendar of the Budget Worksessions is available on the Budget Office website.