The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Feb. 2 announced an $8.3 million grant that will expand the Joint Office of Homeless Services’ work addressing unsheltered homelessness.
The grant will fund permanent supportive housing for 81 households over three years — matching rent assistance with wraparound supports and enhanced behavioral health services. It will also provide peer outreach to people experiencing unsheltered homelessness.
The award follows a funding application the Joint Office submitted last year in partnership with the Native American Rehabilitation Association Northwest, or NARA.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled with this HUD investment, both because of the ways it validates our work at Multnomah County and because of my strong commitment to addressing homelessness as our new County chair,” Chair Jessica Vega Pederson said. “This investment comes at the end of my first month in office and contributes resources to my number-one priority for Multnomah County: getting people off our streets and into housing.”
The award was announced as part of a larger federal package aiming to help solve rural and unsheltered homelessness nationwide, with a total of about $315 million in grants to 46 communities.
Federal housing officials presented Multnomah County and the City of Portland with the funding at an event Feb. 2 where they also awarded $1.2 million to providers elsewhere in the state who make up the Rural Oregon Continuum of Care.
The event was held at the recently opened Starlight Apartments, an affordable housing development with 100 homes operated by Central City Concern, with services also provided by NARA.
Thanks to funding from the Joint Office, through the Supportive Housing Services Measure, 70 of those apartments provide permanent supportive housing. The building was constructed with funds from the Portland Housing Bond as well as proceeds from the County’s sale of the former Wapato jail site.
Federal officials said the Starlight, with its partnerships and focus on supportive housing, is an example of what they want local communities to replicate in our region and around the country to address chronic and unsheltered homelessness.
“We know how to solve homelessness: by quickly helping individuals and families who are currently homeless obtaining the stability of a home, while preventing other neighbors from falling into homelessness to begin with,” said Margaret Salazar, HUD’s northwest regional administrator. “Through this funding, the White House, other federal agencies, states, cities and counties, are all pulling in the same direction.”
Salazar said local communities have deeply felt the lack of federal investment in solving homelessness.
“Across the state, we all feel it. It doesn’t have to be like this. In the greatest nation on earth, no person should ever have to sleep night after night on the streets, in their car, in an encampment,” Salazar said.
Vega Pederson and Salazar both mentioned “housing first” as a “north star” best practice for federal funding and for communities nationwide.
“At Multnomah County, we utilize a housing first approach, bolstered by supportive services and HUD guidance, to ensure housing accessibility. Because we know this is the most effective way to see immediate and long-term reductions on our streets,” Vega Pederson said. “But in our County, housing first never means ‘housing only.’ It means housing now – with services now, too.’”
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who also spoke at the event, said the new investment is “desperately needed and greatly appreciated.”
“This is a critical issue for Portland and for, indeed, the entire state of Oregon. We have some of the highest rates of unsheltered homelessness anywhere in the United States,” Wheeler said. “Projects like this, where we connect individuals to housing, and connect individuals to critical services, are a huge step in the right direction.”
Gov. Tina Kotek also spoke at the event, saying that government agencies at all levels must work together to solve homelessness. Her office recently announced a series of budget plans and directives that would help create more housing, rent assistance and shelter beds, while encouraging regional partners to work together.
“It’s unacceptable that anyone is living on the streets,” she said. “We must take a stronger stance, and a more coordinated stance, with the resources we have and more resources to come, to make sure people are off the streets and into housing, and have the help that they need.”