Urgent shelter, outreach and health services: Multnomah County and Portland leaders unveil new $38 million homelessness plan

November 1, 2021

Chair Deborah Kafoury speaks at a media event on a $38 million Portland/Multnomah County homelessness package on Nov. 1, 2021.
PORTLAND Sharing a deep sense of urgency around the need to compassionately reduce the number of people outside sent surging by COVID-19, leaders from Multnomah County and the City of Portland announced a new $38 million funding package that will make immediate investments in shelter beds, health and outreach workers, community cleanup programs, and more.

County Chair Deborah Kafoury, Mayor Ted Wheeler and Portland Commissioner Dan Ryan detailed the combined spending package crafted after a series of high-level discussions about shared priorities and immediate opportunities at a media event Monday, Nov. 1. 

The package was made possible by better-than-expected revenues from business taxes collected by the City and the County. City and County Commissioners will both need to formally approve the necessary spending for their respective parts of the plan later this month.

“All of us here today see with clear eyes what’s been happening over the course of the 40 years that led us here: a fundamental breakdown in how we care for the most vulnerable people in our country,” Chair Kafoury said. “This represents a rare opportunity for us to come together, pool our resources and inject an immediate infusion into our system to address homelessness in our community.”

To download images from Monday's press event, click here | To watch a full recording of Monday's press event, click here

In all, the spending package includes more than $30 million for priorities such as more shelter sites and beds, more behavioral health and public health services focused on high-impact areas like Old Town Chinatown, and more street-based service navigation outreach. 

“This investment expands our ability to deliver critical behavioral health supports to our houseless neighbors,” said Health Department Director Ebony Clarke. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to provide behavioral services at key locations across Portland, including Old Town.”

The spending package also includes more than $7 million to help fund expanded trash pickup and campsite cleanup programs, to help manage the community impacts of high-needs unsanctioned campsites.

Other highlights include:

  • Up to 400 new shelter beds, including congregate shelter space, motel rooms and sleeping pods, that will bring people out of the elements and offer connections to health and housing services. The Joint Office of Homeless Services and Multnomah County are currently pursuing the purchase or lease of four new sites.
  • An additional 20-25 positions to grow the community’s roster of service navigation outreach workers. They will be rapidly deployed to high-impact locations citywide, including Old Town Chinatown, and also around existing shelter locations.
  • Expanded behavioral health services, including additional teams in Old Town Chinatown who can offer service connections and provide de-escalation. This package also builds on a successful County behavioral health pilot project. It will add two teams of support specialists who can provide critical stability for people in motel shelters experiencing serious behavioral health challenges, while also leveraging Supportive Housing Services funding that’s creating long-term housing options for these individuals.
  • A significant expansion of storage and hygiene services for unsheltered neighbors, and continued support for the use of portable toilets throughout the community. 
  • The creation of a Street Services Coordination Center, with partners including the Joint Office and the City’s Office of Management and Finance. The coordination center will align public space management activities with the homelessness response system, including helping to create a shelter referral pathway for navigation workers and first responders including Portland Street Response, Park Rangers, the Impact Reduction Program and other agencies.
  • Expanded staffing and resources for cleanup programs like SOLVE, Central City Concern’s Clean Start, and the City’s Impact Reduction Program, as well as financial support for community-based, volunteer cleanup programs already active in the community.

County Commissioners Jessica Vega Pederson, who represents District 3, and Lori Stegmann, who represents District 4, also attended the announcement in a show of support, standing alongside Chair Kafoury, Mayor Wheeler and Commissioner Ryan. The Board of Commissioners was set to discuss homelessness spending, as well as several other initiatives made possible by the County's roughly $30 million fall surplus, at a briefing Tuesday, Nov. 2.

"These are unprecedented times, and they need to be met with unprecedented action. The county rarely allocates funds mid-year, but the situation on our streets requires it," said Commissioner Vega Pederson. "We are working urgently with our partners to address our homelessness crisis. We are investing in our mental health system, in hygiene and storage needs for our houseless neighbors, and in the cleanup of unsafe encampments. While these investments, like all investments, will need time to show results, we have focused on investments where we expect to have impacts in weeks, not years. I know people are frustrated, but the situation on our streets is not unique among West Coast cities. What we are doing now is prioritizing our tools, resources and commitment to help those most in need as quickly as we can."

"I am proud of the partnership between the City of Portland and Multnomah County. This unexpected windfall to address the humanitarian crisis on our streets is significant, and we must direct it to key areas of response," said Commissioner Stegmann. We are scaling up what we know works. Strategies like Portland Street Response, the addition of up to 400 additional units of shelter, an increase in navigation outreach teams in Old Town, and the provision of storage and hygiene services are all critical."

Mayor Ted Wheeler speaks at a media event on a $38 million Portland/Multnomah County homelessness package on Nov. 1, 2021.
The last time the City and County added this much funding to homelessness services mid-year was September 2015, when they declared a housing emergency and began an initial expansion of shelter and housing assistance. That work set the stage for creating the Joint Office of Homeless Services in July 2016.

“Houselessness has been a top priority of my administration since Day One,’’ said Mayor Wheeler. “The problem has worsened and we can’t take it on alone. I’m looking forward to partnering with Multnomah County to address this issue to ensure all Portlanders have a safe and healthy place to call home.”

This year’s surplus investments come in response to another emergency — the enduring COVID-19 pandemic. To manage the pandemic, the Joint Office and its partners maintained shelter capacity by opening more than a dozen new shelters and expanding street outreach supplies. To date, Multnomah County has not seen a significant outbreak among people experiencing homelessness.

But this new package of investments also builds on years of ongoing work to address homelessness, as well as other new work launched this year.

The County is concurrently investing an additional $52 million from the Metro Supportive Housing Services Measure to pay to permanently house more than 1,000 additional households, add hundreds more motel, traditional and village-style shelter beds, and add outreach teams.

Commissioner Dan Ryan speaks at a media event on a $38 million Portland/Multnomah County homelessness package on Nov. 1, 2021.
And the City of Portland is building a network of at least six Safe Rest Villages that will shelter up to 360 more people a night.

“With federal rescue funds we’ve been able to keep more people from falling into homelessness. With Supportive Housing Services funds, we're investing in shelter and outreach, but we've also been heavily focused on moving people from the streets and our shelters into permanent housing,” said Marc Jolin, director of the Joint Office of Homeless Services. “We all agree that these surplus funds need to be spent on immediate outreach, mobile behavioral health, and shelter programs that complement these other investments.”

Because of the Joint Office’s work throughout the pandemic to not just maintain, but add, shelter, Multnomah County actually will have room for more people inside this winter than ever before.

With more than 1,700 shelter spots available right now, including hundreds of motel rooms and other spots serving couples or families, some 2,000 people could be in shelter on any given night, not including the extra shelter beds that open on nights when severe weather hits.

“I have more hope than I’ve experienced in my first 13 months in office due to this alignment of resources and this multijurisdictional willingness to streamline services,” said Commissioner Ryan. “We are playing to our strengths with greater role clarity — we must continue to innovate and work smarter, and I am confident that this is a step in the right direction.”

By the numbers: Shelter, health and outreach investments

Total: $38,130,000

City: $18,862,500 

County: $19,267,500 

  1. Investment in direct engagement with high-need unsanctioned encampments.
    Total: $1,375,000
    City: $687,500
    County: $687,500
  2. Increased funding for vector control  
    Total: $405,000
    City: $0
    County: $405,000
  3. Expansion of capacity for Impact Reduction Program
    Total: $6,500,000
    City: $6,500,000
    County: $0 
  4. Funding cleanup of trash left in locations with dangerous terrain
    Total: $500,000
    City: $500,000
    County: $0
  5. Additional storage/hygiene solutions for 250 to 300 unsanctioned camps in need
    Total: $4,850,000
    City: $3,850,000
    County: $1,000,000
  6. Create Street Services Coordination Center and establish alignment with Joint Office of Homeless Services
    Total: $350,000
    City: $175,000
    County: $175,000
  7. Service provider hiring and retention incentives
    Total: $2,000,000
    City: $500,000
    County: $1,500,000
  8. Enhanced mental and behavioral health supports
    Total: $2,500,000
    City: $0
    County: $2,500,000
  9. Expand the Behavioral Health Unit
    Total: $650,000
    City: $650,000
    County: $0
  10. Create shelter permit fee waiver reimbursement fund
    Total: $1,000,000
    City: $1,000,000
    County: $0
  11. Increase number of available shelter beds citywide
    Total: $18,000,000
    City: $5,000,000
    County: $13,000,000