Funding for River Patrol, youth services and homeless services receive community support at final County budget hearing

June 5, 2023

Community members filled the boardroom of the Multnomah Building and joined online on Wednesday, May 31, for the third and final public hearing on Multnomah County’s proposed FY 2024 budget

Twenty-one people testified in person, 14 spoke virtually and nearly 90 people submitted written testimony to the Board of County Commissioners, advocating for priorities such as living wages for frontline workers and funding for youth services and SUN Schools.

Other testimony touched on topics like funding for Multnomah County’s Sheriff’s Office River Patrol, addressing the homelessness crisis and the phasing out of gas-powered leaf blowers countywide. 

The Board is scheduled to adopt a final budget on Thursday, June 8. 

Funding for youth social services

Among those advocating for investments in social services were community members who requested $310,000 in funding for the New Avenues for Youth’s New Day program. 

New Day helps young people ages 12 to 25 who are experiencing or at risk of sex trafficking or exploitation by providing access to shelter, mentoring and other resources. While Multnomah County backfilled funding for New Day with one-time-only American Rescue Plan funds in the FY 2023 budget, this request follows a potential shortfall in funding for FY 2024, as the County has fewer remaining federal pandemic funds to allocate. 

Perla Estrada (right) shares about the critical help that New Day provides the community and it's partnership with UNICA.

Organizations, including Call to Safety, Volunteers of America Oregon’s Home Free program and El Programa Hispano Católico’s UNICA program, advocated for an amendment to ensure the full amount was budgeted for New Day. 

Brianna Ellingson of Call to Safety, which provides services to people who have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, sex trafficking, and/or stalking and partners with New Day, spoke about the potential loss of two culturally specific advocates for Black or Spanish-speaking young people if the funding is not granted. 

“Call to Safety receives 30,000 calls a year from people,” said Ellingson “and a good amount of these calls come from people who are at risk of or are experiencing sex trafficking.” 

“It’s crucial to being able to provide meaningful and most important culturally-responsive services to these callers, who are often members of marginalized communities.” 

Perla Estrada is the director of the UNICA program, El Programa Hispano Católico’s domestic and sexual violence department, which provides support and advocacy for the Latino community in English and Spanish. She spoke about the impact the budget cut will have on safety and services. 

“Resources for Latiné youth who are at risk of or currently experiencing sexual trafficking within our very own community here in Multnomah County will have little to no linguistically and/or culturally specific resources available to them at a time when they are in most need,” said Estrada. 

Community member Sahaan McKelvey advocated to reinstate funding in the County budget for the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) Family Resource Navigators program. 

“Assistance with resources has always been an unmet need, and during the pandemic we were able to begin to put a dent in this need,” said McKelvey. “Taking this resource away now when the need for it is greater than it has ever been would be devastating to our communities.”

Addressing the region’s homelessness crisis

The County received nearly 25 submissions of written testimony from members of the public urging the Board to use unspent money from the Metro Supportive Housing Services fund.

The proposed budget directs $280.2 million to the Joint Office of Homeless Services, with $136.7 million coming from the Metro Supportive Housing Services Measure. Since the Joint Office first began receiving funds from the measure in July 2021, it’s used those dollars to place 1,841 people into housing and prevent 10,094 evictions. Overall, across all funding streams, the Joint Office helped 7,660 people overall move out of homelessness and into a home in that span.

But because of startup issues with the new fund, procurement changes, and hiring and retention issues among providers, the Joint Office did not meet its spending goals for the Supportive Housing Services Measure funds in both FY 2022 and so far in FY 2023.

Chair Jessica Vega Pederson and new Joint Office director Dan Field have launched an immediate and long-term work plan to identify and address barriers, determine quick funding opportunities, and engage a national consultant with expertise in system performance, effective distribution of funds, and process improvement.

The Community Alliance of Tenants, a nonprofit tenant-rights organization, organized people to submit testimony with requests for the Board to increase shelter capacity for unhoused people and to prioritize emergency rental assistance funding.

“Multnomah County must do better at dispersing rental assistance. We must use unspent funding to ensure a healthy thriving community-based workforce—that combined with more efficient processes to release rent assistance into communities—will result in more people moving out of homelessness and preventing many more from falling into homelessness,” wrote a community member named Emily. 

“We urge our county and city leaders to continue to invest in solutions that are long-term, sustainable, and offer the dignity and safety of house keys as the primary goal.”

Nine attendees also spoke during the hearing about increasing the budget’s funding of wages for frontline workers. 

Beth Hershey with Outside In, an organization that offers healthcare and social services for young people and other marginalized people experiencing homelessness, shared how low wages are affecting those serving the community. 

“I have co-workers who have been late on the rent or nearly evicted from their apartments. We had a co-worker at one point who lived in their car,” she said. 

“How can Portland’s community-based organizations be expected to address Portland’s housing and mental health crisis when our frontline staff cannot afford therapy, they cannot afford their rent, they must move bills around to make ends meet at the end of the month?” 

Preserving full staffing for the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office’s River Patrol

Nearly 50 written submissions asked the Board to preserve existing staffing levels for the River Patrol. The proposed budget reduces staffing levels from eight patrol deputies to six in order to help meet Multnomah County’s general fund constraint. 

The Human Access Project, a nonprofit organization that advocates for Portland’s waterways, mobilized floating home residents, outdoor enthusiasts and water-related business owners to advocate to keep staffing where it is.

“As a frequent user of the Willamette River, I am seriously concerned about the 25% budget cut to River Patrol deputies,” one written submission read. “As the population grows in Portland, and the temperatures rise, I believe that stabilizing or increasing the River Patrol, especially in summer months, will be important. I understand that decisions must be made around budgeting but it seems a shame to cut in an area that has the potential to lower the quality of life for so many Portlanders.”

Prohibiting gas-powered leaf blowers

In December 2021, the Board voted to phase out gas-powered leaf blowers, preparing Multnomah County to move away from the devices through a community-wide transition to electric and battery-powered alternatives. 

The County received 10 written submissions applauding that decision and urging the Board to take further steps. 

“Resolution 2021-094 which would ban gas leaf blowers in the county is a strong step towards improving public health and decrease the environmental pollution caused by gas

Blowers,” said Ola Fincke. “But without funding to insure compliance the resolution would be ineffective.”

Next steps on the budget

The Board will vote to adopt the FY 2024 budget on Thursday, June 8 at 10 a.m. at the regular meeting of the Board of County Commissioners. The public is welcome to attend, either in-person or virtually.

Members of the public can continue to submit written comments through the Budget Feedback form

A calendar of the remaining Budget Worksessions is available on the Budget Office website.