We must continue to make smart housing investments
Earlier this month, I walked into the Multnomah County building to attend a briefing from A Home For Everyone, our region's collaborative of local governments, nonprofits and businesses working together to end the homelessness crisis.
Looking around, I saw city councilors and county commissioners. Business owners and leaders from affordable housing nonprofits. Mental health service providers and housing advocates. Advocates for communities of color and faith partners. All contributing their expertise, time and financial resources to improve the lives of people who have found themselves without a safe place to sleep at night.
On this day, the group was gathered to learn about the huge strides our community has made over the last year in providing housing and services to our neighbors experiencing homelessness — even as its members took pains to acknowledge the scale of the challenge still ahead of us. From July 2017 through June 2018, the combined efforts of A Home for Everyone helped nearly 6,000 people move from homelessness back into housing. This represents significant progress, with twice as many people helped compared to four years ago, when the initiative was created.
As our community has rallied to take on this crisis, it's become clear that the solution isn't simply getting people off the streets. We have to continue our community's smart investments in housing, the only strategy that actually ends someone's homelessness once and for all. And to do that, the answer in many cases is safe, supportive housing.
Supportive housing is subsidized housing that incorporates access to services like counseling and addiction and mental health treatment. It's also one of the most effective, evidence-backed tools we have for helping to pull people from homelessness and keep them in stable housing. And with fewer people visiting the ER, fewer social services needed over time, and lower public safety costs, it creates real cost savings. Last October, Portland and Multnomah County leaders committed to creating 2,000 units of supportive housing by 2028. Less than a year later, 517 new units have already opened or are in development, marking significant progress toward that goal.
As we help our neighbors facing homelessness, it's important to recognize that the forces feeding this crisis are complex and far-reaching. As a state and a nation, we do not offer nearly enough support or resources for people facing addiction and mental health challenges. We woefully underfund our public education system. We've created an economy that has offered anemic wage growth for most Americans, despite a rapid climb in the cost of necessities like housing, transportation and medical care. And we've failed to invest in affordable housing as families have been priced out of their neighborhoods. Each of these policy decisions has contributed to the growth in homelessness and housing insecurity in Portland and other cities.
For communities of color, the crisis is compounded. A deep and longstanding history of racial discrimination has resulted in communities of color representing a disproportionate share of the homeless population. Although people of color make up 28 percent of the total population of Multnomah County, they represent 36 percent of the homeless population, according to the county's most recent point in time count. In just one example, African Americans made up 16 percent of people counted as homeless, according to the county's most recent point in time count, despite making up just 7 percent of the population overall and 14 percent of residents below the poverty line.
To make lasting progress, we must push for local, state, and federal government to invest in our communities, uproot inequitable systems and address the root causes of homelessness. On this front, Business for a Better Portland supports Measure 102 and Measure 26-199, affordable housing measures on the November ballot that will create more affordable housing for low-income families, seniors, veterans and people with disabilities in the Portland region.
Despite the substantial progress being made through the hard work of government staff and service providers who make up A Home for Everyone, homelessness remains a very visible and tragic crisis in our city. As the business community joins with government to pursue an end to this very visible and tragic crisis, our path forward is clear: We must build on the results we're seeing and continue helping one person at a time.