More than two-dozen community members joined a virtual hearing on Wednesday, May 25 to help refine the County’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget – the second of three meetings before the Board votes to adopt a final budget June 16.
The 26 people who testified repeatedly advocated for priorities such as living wages for shelter employees, funding for youth services, support for the Joint Office of Homeless Services’ overall budget, and funding for women in reentry and recovery.
Chair Deborah Kafoury said the proposed budget reflects the lessons of two full years of COVID-19 and arrives “at a time when our community stands at the edge of a transition of a new phase of the pandemic.”
“My proposed budget intentionally and strategically broadens the County’s work,” she said, “so we can take meaningful steps toward our vision of community transformation. What that looks like is ongoing support for the safety net services that are crucial for the wellbeing of the people we serve as we continue to deal with the fallout from the pandemic.”
The Coalition of Communities of Color (CCC) co-hosted the forum, which is one of the ways the County collects feedback from the community before the Board of Commissioners formally adopts the budget Thursday, June 16.
CCC Executive Director Marcus Mundy stressed the importance of the partnership with Multnomah County.
“We know that when we support our children and families, we build community and invest in trusted partners like our members,” he said. “Multnomah County becomes a stronger, better place to live.”
New Day helps people ages 12-25 who are experiencing or at risk of sex trafficking or exploitation by providing access to shelter, mentoring, and other resources. The request follows a shortfall in funding from the City of Portland, and would allow New Day to continue providing its current services.
Olivia Pace, a youth mentor at New Day, shared the story of a mentee, Sam,
“Sam was able to come to me from time to time for advice on the job search process,” said Pace. “I urge you to make up this deficit so the hundreds of youth we work with can continue to access these resources and live the lives they deserve.”
Lindsey Prutch, a program manager with Transition Projects, called for continued funding for programs that help community members move from sidewalks and shelters to housing. She also joined other speakers in calling for a living wage for workers who support those community members.
“Oftentimes I see them struggling to make ends meet,” said Prutch about the staff at her shelter location. “Our shelter staff deserve not just a living wage, but a wage that reflects the importance of the work they do every day.”
Doll Crain asked the Board to support the current budget proposed for the Joint Office of Homeless Services.
Crain shared from first-hand experience the community transformation – and their own personal transformation – made possible thanks to the services and resources provided by the County. After 10 years of homelessness, Crain said, they have full-time work and are preparing to move into housing.
“I have seen a huge difference in myself and my community of homeless and housed people,” said Crain. “And I believe that if you allow the budget to continue for another year, the changes that I have experienced and seen, it will be so huge and amazing.”
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.
Others advocated for continued funding for the WomanFirst Transitional and Referral Center. This organization offers programs and services that primarily focus on African American women, justice-involved women and women in recovery. Those services and programs include peer mentorship and reintegration, job search, women empowerment groups and others.
Shannon Olive, founder and president of WomanFirst Transitional and Referral Center, requested additional funding to help assist with operations for the drop-in center and to support a wage increase for employees. Services at the drop-in center include showers and laundry.
“With your financial support and services, we’re not only continuing to make impacts, we are reducing recidivism rates, preventing homelessness, stabilizing mental health, helping women to become self-sufficient long term and strengthening and reuniting families,” said Olive.
Additionally, a few community members advocated for one-time funding to support Integrated Clinical Services (ICS), a division of the Health Department. Dr. Emily Wineland said the funding would allow ICS’ dental program to continue with the same number of dentists. Dr. Wineland said those dental clinics remained open early in the COVID-19 pandemic to meet the demand for dental care, regardless of the great risk of exposure for dentists.
Now, as the community transitions to a new phase of COVID-19, more patients will be returning for their preventive dental visits – but they could face a backlog without funding to keep dentists on board. Funding reductions could eliminate 300 dental appointments a week at ICS clinics, Dr. Wineland said.
“A reduction this large will create a burden on remaining staff and increase the wait time of our assigned patients,” said Dr. Wineland.
The Health Department’s proposed budget would eliminate six full-time dentist positions and one full-time employee hygienist, including vacant positions.
The third and final budget hearing is Wednesday, June 1, from 6 to 8 p.m. Community members can sign up to testify virtually or send in a written statement at www.multco.us/budget-feedback.