Multnomah County, City of Portland approve joint office to combat homelessness

June 23, 2016

From left: Shannon Callahan, policy director for city Commissioner Saltzman; Multnomah County Chief Operating Officer Marissa Madrigal and Joint Office of Homeless Services Interim Director Marc Jolin

A more nimble and streamlined service delivery system will debut next week to assist people experiencing homelessness in Multnomah County.

The Multnomah County Board of County Commissioners on Thursday approved an Intergovernmental Agreement between the county and the City of Portland establishing the Joint

Office of Homeless Services, a central office to oversee the delivery of services to people in need.  

The office, which opens July 1, represents a historic step forward in the effort to solve the homelessness crisis in Multnomah County and Portland.

“This is the final step in establishing a formal recognition of the unprecedented collaboration over the last two years between the city of Portland and Multnomah County to improve the way we serve families and individuals experiencing homelessness,” Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said.

Historically, the city has provided services for homeless individuals, while the county has provided services for families, children and survivors of domestic violence.

“This division really makes no sense,” Kafoury said. “A homeless single mom doesn’t care which layer of government is responsible for helping her. She just wants to find a warm, dry place for her and her child to sleep at night.”

The Joint Office of Homeless Services brings all of these services together under one roof.

Although the office will be hosted by the county, the city and county each have agreed to provide at least $15 million for its operation each year. The jurisdictions also will share in the office’s governance, as outlined in the intergovernmental agreement adopted by the county on Thursday and the Portland City Council on Wednesday.

“We, at the city, truly view this as a joint office,” said Shannon Callahan, policy director for Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who oversees the Portland Housing Bureau. “And we’ll work hard to ensure the alignment of the office’s goals with the work we do with our other city bureaus and departments that touch people experiencing homelessness, including our public safety arm and especially our Housing Bureau as it works to create and develop and preserve more affordable housing.”

The Joint Office of Homeless Services will expand the impact of the A Home for Everyone initiative, a partnership that has brought the city, county, businesses, faith leaders and community organizations together to form a unified plan to address the housing crisis.

Marc Jolin, who has spearheaded the multi-jurisdictional A Home for Everyone initiative since 2015, will serve as the Joint Office’s interim director.

“Just as we know that how our providers deliver services is as important to achieving successful outcomes as the resources that they have available, how we organize the work we do at the governmental level profoundly affects our ability to achieve the best possible outcomes with the resources we have,” Jolin said. “The joint office will change how we organize our work in ways that will have significant impact on the effectiveness of our efforts to assist people experiencing homelessness.”

About 4,000 people sleep on the streets, in cars, in shelters or in temporary housing each night because they cannot afford a permanent place to live in Multnomah County.

Once fully implemented, Jolin said, the Joint Office of Homeless Services will help at least 4,300 people move off the street, out of shelters and back into permanent housing each year. It will also assist 5,600 people in avoiding homelessness altogether, he said.

Housing advocates, social service providers and representatives from local governments say the new office will lead to better working relationships with area nonprofit organizations, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, business and faith communities, and most importantly, people living on the street and in shelters.

As part of the transition, three county employees, currently working for the Department of County Human Services and four city employees, currently working for the Portland Housing Bureau, will move to the joint office. The office will house a total of nine full time employees.

Among other things, the office will administer contracts for services, homeless street counts and one-night shelter counts, manage systems of care, oversee system reporting and evaluation, and write proposals to and monitor funds issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Continuum of Care program.

The Department of County Human Services will continue to be responsible for providing a variety of related services including housing stability, income and benefits acquisition and domestic violence prevention. Likewise the city’s Housing Bureau will continue to oversee housing development and preservation; tenant protections policy, planning and implementation and data management.