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Heated commission meeting yields little progress in how Multnomah County should spend $62M meant for homeless services

The commissioners were scheduled to vote on how to spend $62 million next week. County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson postponed that to allow for more discussion.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Multnomah County boardroom was packed Thursday morning with dozens of people asking commissioners to spend the millions of unspent dollars meant for homeless services on addiction and recovery services.

Testimony was emotional at times as people shared their stories of recovery. After nearly two hours some commissioners took a pause. At one point, Commissioner Sharon Meieran walked a box of tissues up to a mother sharing a story of her son, who suffers from addiction.

“I hear loud and clear what you all are asking for and I think it’s going to be really important when making decisions about these SHS funds, we are acting on what we heard,” Commissioner Susheela Jayapal said, fighting back tears.

SHS, which stands for Supportive Housing Services, is the personal income tax collected by Metro that went into effect in 2021, after voters approved a measure raising money for people experiencing homelessness. In total, Multnomah County has more than $100 million unspent dollars meant for the homeless and addiction crisis. Last week they voted on how to spend $17 million. This week, they’re deciding how to spend $62 million more.

RELATED: Why one Multnomah County commissioner voted against spending $17 million on homeless services

“First off, I just want to thank everyone for continuing to engage in this process,” said County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson.

She’s proposing the following:

  • $21 million for 515 more shelter beds in Portland
  • $12 million for sobering centers and transitional housing
  • $9 million for rent assistance
  • $3 million for day centers
  • $10 million for homelessness prevention projects
  • $2 million for homelessness data collection services

“No one should characterize this as a take it or leave it proposal, this is a collaboration, and I haven’t proposed allocating every last dollar,” said Pederson.

However, there was no collaboration. The meeting quickly reached a standstill.

“I don’t think we’ll have time to have meaningful interaction about that,” said Commissioner Sharon Meieran.

Commissioners proceeded to bicker over procedural issues that seemed to continually hijack discussions— discussions Chair Pederson allocated only 30 minutes for on Thursday.

“We just got your proposal what the night of Tuesday, I didn’t even see it until yesterday morning and then it’s out there, that is not a way to have these conversations,” said Commissioner Meieran.  

“And I just want to echo on the time piece I have some comments and questions and my comments and questions alone would take the remaining half hour, so I think we’re going to need more time for this,” added Commissioner Jayapal.

“Until we as a group figure out what is the process to determine our priorities, I think we’re going to be talking in circles…Right now there’s no guard rails we are just like all over the place,” said Commissioner Lori Stegmann. It’s a frustration Commissioner Meieran has echoed for months.

RELATED: 'No plan' to address homelessness in Multnomah County, commissioner says

This whole debacle left commissioner Julia Brim-Edwards with just six minutes to share her ideas before the chair cut her off saying they ran out of time. Commissioner Jayapal didn’t even get the chance.

Commissioners left Thursday’s meeting with more questions than answers. They were scheduled to vote on this funding next Thursday but Chair Pederson postponed that so they could have more discussion time.

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