PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland and Multnomah County will invest a combined $38 million in a set of new programs to address the region’s homeless crisis. The package will make immediate investments in shelter beds, health and outreach workers and community cleanup programs, according to a press release from the county.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, Housing Commissioner Dan Ryan and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury held a press conference on Monday to discuss the investments.
The funding comes from fall budget surpluses due to better-than-expected revenues from city and county business taxes. The $38 million overall cost will be split roughly evenly between the two governments, although the balance of funding will vary for individual components of the plan.
The biggest single component of the plan is an $18 million investment to increase the number of available shelter beds citywide, with the goal of adding up to 400 new shelter beds including congregate shelter spaces, motel rooms and sleeping pods. The county currently has about 1,750 beds, according to officials.
The county is currently looking for properties to lease or purchase for new shelter beds. Kafoury said she couldn't name the specific properties yet, but that the county did already have specific properties in mind, and would be looking to adapt existing facilities rather than building new shelters from scratch.
Other components of the plan include:
- An additional 20-25 positions on the roster of service navigation outreach workers, who would be deployed to high-impact locations such as Old Town Chinatown.
- Expanded behavioral health services, including additional teams in Old Town Chinatown.
- Expansion of storage and hygiene services for unsheltered residents, and continued support for portable toilets.
- Creation of a Street Services Coordination Center, which will “align public space management activities with the homelessness response system,” according to the county, including by creating a shelter referral pathway for navigation workers and first responders.
- Expanded staffing and resources for cleanup programs including SOLVE, the Clean Start program from Central City Concern and the city’s Impact Reduction Program.
City and county commissioners will both need to formally approve the spending for their parts of the plan later this month.
The investments were chosen with the intention of closely coordinating efforts between the city and county, Kafoury said, and to complement existing programs already funded by both governments.
Several of the investments will put a particularly strong focus on Portland's Old Town neighborhood, which as been at the center of the homeless crisis.
Monday afternoon, KGW News spoke with Scott Kerman, Executive Director of Blanchet House, about his thoughts on the spending plan.
"It strikes me as fairly comprehensive. I think we all appreciate that the end game for a lot of people is going to be permanent, supported housing. But I think that there is recognition that there are a lot of people who need help right now," he said.
Leaders of the Japanese American Museum of Oregon, Lan Su Chinese Garden, the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education and the Portland Chinatown Museum sent an open letter to city and county commissioners last month requesting a personal meeting to discuss how to improve the situation in Old Town.
In a series of follow-up letters to commissioners on Monday, the leaders described current city proposals as not fast or immediate enough, and urged elected officials to develop 30-, 60- and 90-day plans for quicker solutions.
Wheeler said Portland residents could expect to start seeing results from the new investments relatively quickly, although he cautioned that some of the plans involve hiring new positions and creating new programs, so it could take "weeks to months" to get them set up.
Wheeler sought to cast the homeless crisis as a nationwide problem, and made repeated calls for congressional action to enact a federal right to basic housing for seniors and poor and disabled individuals.
“To Congress, I call on you to embrace houselessness as the national humanitarian disaster that it is," he said. "America’s cities cannot solve houselessness without your help.”
Ryan discussed the importance of hygiene services and outdoor storage options. He also briefly mentioned his office's efforts to open six Safe Rest Villages – organized and sanctioned campsites with access to services – for homeless Portland residents by the end of the year, although he didn't announce any updates to the search.
Only three village sites have been announced so far, and the city later backtracked on one of them due to flooding risks.