The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners on Sept. 28 allocated $62.5 million in one-time-only funding for added shelter capacity, more recovery housing, new sobriety and stabilization services, expanded day services for people without shelter, and rent assistance to prevent people from ever having to experience homelessness.
Funding for this infusion of resources comes from available federal American Rescue Plan dollars ($11.7 million) and from the County’s share of unanticipated Supportive Housing Services revenue collected by Metro ($50.5 million).
The 4-1 vote followed a series of public meetings and work sessions (July 20, Aug. 10, Aug. 29, Sept. 14 and Sept. 21) where Board members could discuss their priorities for the funds, ask each other questions, and receive detailed information from departments such as the Joint Office of Homeless Services. The resulting package incorporated many of the Board’s priorities and proposals, drawn directly from those discussions.
The Board has now made a series of significant investments in homelessness this month.
On Sept. 7, the Board voted 4-1 to approve $17.6 million in one-time funding to complete a Corrective Action Plan with Metro addressing a separate tranche of Supportive Housing Services dollars: funding left unspent from the previous fiscal year. That vote also followed hours of public briefings and work sessions.
The Board this month also voted unanimously to allocate $1.5 million from contingency funds, allowing the operator of the Bybee Lakes Hope Center shelter to continue operations through Dec. 31, 2023.
“There is no bigger, tougher problem than turning the tides on the dual crises of homelessness and substance use disorders in our communities. Today’s investments open more shelter beds, add substance-use services and expand daytime centers with $62.5 million in one-time-funding. A key investment in behavioral health is $7 million towards a 24/7 Stabilization Center – which we want to see include a drop-off center with at least eight sobering beds,” said Chair Vega Pederson.
“And I will be exercising my authority to push funding into the community so our day centers are up and running, we can expand shelter options, and we quickly fund recovery-oriented housing. We must take bold action and following today’s vote, we will.”
What the package includes
The full package approved today is available here. Highlights include:
- $16 million to fund operations for 200 beds at the City of Portland’s next two planned Temporary Alternative Shelter Sites
- $6.85 million to support the creation of a 24/7 stabilization center that would include emergency sobering beds and detox services
- $1.2 million for additional stabilization housing operated by provider Bridges to Change. This allocation, as well as the one prior, support the top recommendations made by the Behavioral Health Emergency Coordination Network Executive Committee
- $150,000 to support design and project planning work for a 24/7 sobering dropoff center
- $7 million for recovery-focused transitional and permanent supportive housing, including housing placement and treatment for people experiencing mental health and substance use disorders
- $3.3 million for expanded daytime support services, for providers such as Blanchet House and Rose Haven, as well as space in North Portland
- $9.3 million for housing navigation and client assistance to house more people currently in temporary shelter, freeing up shelter capacity to allow more people on the streets to access beds
- $8 million for rent assistance to prevent evictions and reduce inflow into homelessness
- $2.1 million for legal defense services and other assistance for families facing eviction
- $1.25 million to sustain 175 beds at Bybee Lakes Hope Center beyond Jan. 1, 2024
- $489,000 to support neighborhood-based micro-village-style shelters
- $133,000 for a dedicated homelessness services liaison for east Multnomah County
Other investments approved Thursday include funding to support public safety partners and neighborhoods. More than $230,000 will provide new lighting under County-owned bridges in the Central Eastside area. And $200,000 will fund an expansion downtown for the Clean and Safe cleanup and employment program.
What the Board of Commissioners said Thursday
Commissioner Jayapal praised the package’s investments in recovery and stabilization services, rent assistance and eviction defense, in particular — even as she raised questions about the timing of the City’s shelter investments and whether community organizations, especially those that represent communities of color, were sufficiently engaged.
“If we don’t want our crisis to get even worse, we have to invest in rent assistance,” she said.. “There is no solving homelessness without rent assistance. Not doing so will lead to more evictions and more people living on our streets. The whole process can be avoided if we keep people housed in the first place.
“Without compromise, nothing gets done, and our community can’t afford that. The thousands of people sleeping on our streets can’t afford that. Given what I believe this package can accomplish, it’s a compromise I will support.“
Commissioner Stegmann, who’s been helping to lead closer relationships between the Joint Office and the east County communities she represents, highlighted the creation of a dedicated east County liaison at the department. She also emphasized how the package will lead to a closer relationship with the City of Portland.
“We’ve heard from our community that they expect us to be in partnership with the city of Portland and I value that relationship and will continue to support it,” she said. \
“I really think our board is incredibly aligned. We didn’t all get everything we wanted, but it’s a good package, and we compromised and worked hard. And it will ultimately to the most good for the most people.”
Commissioner Brim-Edwards also echoed her support for the package’s demonstration of partnership with the City of Portland around shelter expansion. And though she noted that not all of her proposals were funded at the level she would have preferred, the package nonetheless invested in the priorities she heard most strongly from her constituents, including shelter expansion, recovery housing and expanded daytime services.
“I’m supportive of this package because it is going back to priorities I outlined at the very beginning of the process. I view it as an initial investment,” she said.
“It marks a fundamental shift in our work and our partnership with the city. We’ve got to be working together with the city, otherwise we’re not going to have an effective system to support those in need on the streets or our neighborhoods who are heavily impacted by what’s happening. I appreciate the process and the give and take. And the unprecedented investments we’re making in shelter and getting people halfway to housing.”
Commissioner Meieran, in voting no, said that while she supported the aims of many of the allocations, she said she could not vote for the package as a whole. The package lacked specifics and cohesion, she said, and did not fit within a larger plan for addressing homelessness and behavioral health challenges. She said it represented the “status quo.”
”It is a poster child for investing massive amounts of money with little or anything to show for it,” she said.
“Can some of these things achieve good outcomes? Absolutely,” she also said. “But it will not change our systems and it will not move our dial.”
What other partners and leaders said Thursday
Leaders from the County’s partners in addressing homelessness — including Portland Mayor Mayor Ted Wheeler; Monta Knudson of Bridges to Change; Andy Mendenhall of Central City Concern; Scott Kerman of Blanchet House; Katie O’Brien of Rose Haven and Jon Isaacs of the Portland Metro Chamber — spoke in support of various pieces of the package.
Mayor Wheeler said: “We see our Temporary Alternative Shelter Sites as a critical component in the shelter continuum that will help serve the subpopulation of people who are frequently the most challenging to bring into shelter,” Mayor Wheeler said. “With your support, we will be able to show that together we have delivered on our commitment. It’s what the public expects us to do: work together to solve the problem.”
Monta Knudson said: “We need to expand our system of care and make sure we have services available to people at all levels. Stabilization programs serve people who have high acuity and struggle to access housing. Funding recovery housing is pivotal for guiding community members through our continuum.”
Andy Mendenhall said: “What’s been missing has been flow. Flow through a system of care that needs to be more robust. This will unequivocally create that flow and it will reduce the number of folks returning to our streets. Supporting today’s investments is a vote of action.”