December 16, 2020

In a board briefing Tuesday, Dec. 8, officials from the Joint Office of Homeless Services outlined a community-driven plan for investing Multnomah County’s share of Metro’s Supportive Housing Services Measure — a game-changing opportunity for tackling both chronic and short-term homelessness across the region.

The measure, approved overwhelmingly by Tri-County voters in May, adds a regional income tax on high-earning households and a regional profit tax on businesses grossing more than $5 million. The Measure was projected to generate as much as $248 million a year — with approximately $100 million a year expected to come to Multnomah County. 

With that new funding, governments across the Tri-County region will be able to grow and sustain strategies that end homelessness — including rent assistance and wraparound behavioral health services — while also investing in emergency options like traditional and alternative shelter programs. Those strategies will also help address growing and significant racial disparities among people experiencing homelessness.

Joint Office Director Marc Jolin, with Joint Office Equity Manager Joshua Bates and Management Analyst Nui Bezaire, shared the latest draft of a Metro-required “local implementation plan” that sets out how funding from the measure should be spent in Multnomah County. 

Priority is chronic homelessness

Jolin said someone is considered chronically homelessness when they are “extremely low-income with significant disabling conditions, and have been homeless for either multiple episodes over a three-year period or for a year or more, continuously.”

According to the plan, three-quarters of Multnomah County’s funding from the measure must be spent serving households who are either experiencing or at imminent risk of chronic homelessness. People who are chronically homeless make up the largest share of people living without shelter in Multnomah County.

In addition, the measure will fund not only short- and long-term rent assistance for community members in Multnomah County, but also wraparound support services.

“These are the supports that folks need as they gain access to housing, as they’re served, before they get housing, and then also while they’re in housing,” Bezaire said.

Jolin said these support services are designed to help community members gain housing, and then keep it. The plan calls for close coordination between the Joint Office and the County’s Behavioral Health Division to start deploying those services quickly in the coming year.

“They include anything from outreach to engaging people in emergency services, to connecting them with the housing they’re going to be living in and then, very crucially providing wrap-around services in their housing that will allow them to sustain that housing over a long period of time,” Jolin said.

The remaining 25 percent of the County’s funding must be spent on services for very low-income households who are either experiencing or are at substantial risk of experiencing episodic homelessness.

Addressing racial disparities to address chronic homelessness

And across both types of homelessness, funding from the measure must prioritize communities of color, specifically Black, Native American, and Pacific Islander populations. People of color are disproportionately represented among people experiencing homelessness overall, and especially among those experiencing unsheltered, chronic homelessness. Those disparities are growing year by year.

When designing the plan, the Joint Office sought feedback from more than 70 stakeholders, including hundreds of people from communities of color as well as hundreds of people currently experiencing unsheltered homelessness. 

“Through that, we were really able to get a wide range of perspectives from stakeholders to articulate their ideas into our local implementation plan,” Bates says.

Bates said the plan was shaped in particular by A Home for Everyone’s Coordinating Board, which includes “folks with lived experience to non-profit and academic leadership to governments.” It also includes voices like the Portland Business Alliance and the Old Town/Chinatown Community Association.

“We went back and forth with them throughout every aspect of the community engagement and the generation of this local implementation plan. They approved and oversaw the community engagement strategy, they reviewed various drafts,” Bates said. “A testament to how closely we worked alongside them was that they unanimously recommended” the plan on Dec. 2. 

A Home for Everyone’s executive committee will consider the plan Monday, Dec. 14. The Board of Commissioners is also scheduled to vote on the plan, on Thursday, Dec. 17. A Metro oversight committee also must approve each county’s plan.

The first year of the plan calls for building capacity among service providers so they can effectively use the new funding to provide services. It  also includes an emphasis on supportive housing, behavioral health services, and COVID-19. 

“We see a huge need potentially for sheltering and also housing for folks who are at risk for COVID-19,” Bezaire said. “So we anticipate using the funds from this program to make sure that we’re supporting high-risk motels and other efforts that are already under way to support this population. But we also might need to, for example, expand shelters for this population.”

Praise from commissioners for planning work so far

Commissioners were unanimous in praising the Joint Office’s work on the plan. 

“I really appreciate the depth and the breadth of the community engagement,” Commissioner Susheela Jayapal said. “We cannot solve this problem without that focus on racial equity. And as we address racial equity, the barriers that we will take down will support the rest of the community as well. It’s not a zero-sum game.”

Commissioner Sharon Meieran, who serves on A Home for Everyone’s executive committee alongside Chair Deborah Kafoury, said she appreciated the many opportunities she had to give feedback on the plan, “much of which has been incorporated.”

She said she wanted to keep focusing in particular on how the plan will invest in behavioral health resources as well as interventions that provide immediate safety for people on the streets. 

“Thank you for this incredible presentation,” she said, “and for leading this incredible process.”

Chair Deborah Kafoury thanked the Joint Office for its work on the plan and for its hard work responding to a pandemic at the same time.

“I know it’s been tough,” she said. “You guys have put in countless hours on top of the great work you already do.”