SALEM, Ore. — Talk on the streets of Old Town Wednesday morning had a hopeful tone as homeless people discussed a new legislative proposal introduced in Salem: monthly payments of $1,000 given out to certain low-income Oregonians, including those living on the streets.
"I actually think it's a very good idea. I really do," said Alana Archer, who is currently living in a tent.
"It would help a lot. I'd be off the streets," added Jacob Irish, who lives in a trailer with no heat.
Senate Bill 603 would establish a People's Housing Assistance Fund Demonstration Program that would be administered by the Oregon's Department of Human Services.
For two years, monthly $1,000 payments would go out to people living on the streets without housing assistance, people at risk of becoming homeless, people who make less than 60% of area median income, or people who spend more than half their monthly household income on rent.
The bill would give the program $25 million to work with, and enrollment would be capped once that money runs out.
It's a glimpse of hope for people like Archer, who currently lives off of $600 a month and said she spends all her income on food, her phone bill and ways to keep warm.
"I'm on disability, and the $600 a month doesn't really cover much of anything," she said. "With rent and prices of food, it's just really hard to survive out here."
According to the bill text, the monthly payments would have to be used for things like rent, food, childcare, emergency expenses or "other goods or services of the participant's choosing."
Portland State University's Homeless Research and Action Collaborative (HRAC) will be doing research on the project and would receive a portion of the $25 million.
When asked if the $1,000 payments would be handed out as cash or vouchers, how it would be tracked, and how someone living on the streets with little resources would gain access to it, program officials sent a statement saying that those details haven't been worked out yet because it's so early in the process.
"HRAC's role will include identifying best practices from other programs around the country, make recommendations for the pilot’s implementation, and evaluate the pilot as it proceeds. The evaluation would examine how people used the money, and changes in their housing status and self-sufficiency metrics. Our final evaluation will include recommendations on how a long-term statewide program could be implemented. PSU will not administer the program. Consistent with guaranteed and basic income programs in the U.S. and Canada, the income provided would not be constrained to rent," the statement read.
Long-time Portlanders who are fed up with the local government's response to the homeless crisis sounded a note of cautious optimism.
"I don't see the need for another levy or tax to impose upon us. I think the money's there, they just got to control how monitor how it's spent and how it's really helping people," said one man who’s lived in Portland since 1979 and said he's gradually lost faith in local government.
"I wish we could elect smart people that really could get things done without bureaucratic messes," he added.
The bill had an initial public hearing in committee last week, but would still need to be passed by both chambers of the Oregon Legislature and signed by the Governor to become law. If passed, it would go into effect Jan. 1, 2024 and last for two years.