Washington County gives update on program to help homeless
County and regional officials are dreaming big on a Metro bond measure they say will begin paying dividends by midsummer.
Metro voters last year approved a supportive housing services measure to address homelessness and housing instability. The measure gave the region the largest per capita investment to address homelessness in the nation, according to Washington County officials.
At a Beaverton City Council meeting on April 13, county officials said they have been preparing for program implementation to begin as soon as revenue becomes available this summer.
"The resources are expected to be available as soon as July 2021, and all hands are on deck to make sure that our internal county infrastructure and our partners are all ready to invest these new resources into local service-based programs to help people start securing housing," said Jes Larson, Washington County's supportive housing services program manager.
The goal, according to Larson, is nothing less than to achieve functionally zero chronic homelessness, across a region that has become infamous for its highly visible homeless population.
The supportive housing program is funded by a 1% tax on taxable income of more than $125,000 for individuals and $200,000 for couples filing jointly.
Businesses with gross receipts of more than $5 million are also taxed 1% on profits.
Voters approved those taxes as part of the May 2020 Metro measure.
According to Washington County, these taxes are estimated to generate more than $200 million per year. Washington County will receive about one-third of the total program revenue.
County officials anticipate $38 million in year one of the program with an estimated $75 million annually by the third year.
Where does the money go?
In the first year, Washington County officials plan to spend the money towards shelter and transitional housing; outreach and navigation services; housing barrier costs and short-term rent assistance; regional long-term rent assistance; supportive and wrap around services; and system-of-care capacity building.
The goals are "ambitious," admitted Leslie Gong, a housing program analyst for the county — but they are what the county has set.
Gong said in the first year alone, county officials intend to place at least 500 people in supportive housing, stabilize the housing situation of 500 more households currently considered housing-insecure, and set up 100 additional shelter beds available year-round.
Beaverton City Councilor Allison Tivnon asked county officials about the importance of accurately counting the homeless population in the area.
Currently, the point-in-time count is the only source of nationwide data on sheltered and unsheltered homelessness. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requres it to be conducted periodically by every jurisdiction that receives federal dollars to provide housing and services for individuals and families experiencing homelessness.
The count data helps to inform communities' local strategic planning, capacity building, and advocacy campaigns to prevent and end homelessness.
County officials say there is no perfect source of data to represent the rate of homeless in the region, but the last point-in-time count in 2019 showed 5,711 people experiencing homelessness in Washington County.
As for more current numbers, the coronavirus pandemic has posed a barrier in collecting data. Washington County did conduct a point-in-time count this past winter, Larson said, but neighboring Clackamas and Multnomah counties asked for a waiver, which HUD granted.
"It was still a robust effort and in fact did show a slight incline, but it's hard to know exactly because of the nature of what's happening this year," Larson said.
Outside of the pandemic, county officials plan to work with the other counties to use different data, such as demographic data and reporting methodologies to get apples-to-apples comparisons across the region.
In the county's presentation, officials also cited student homelessness, chronic or prolonged homeless individuals, people at-risk of prolonged homelessness, and those that are severely rent-burdened.
The measure is also designed to lead by race.
"We will be leading with serving in meeting the needs of Black, Indigenous (and) people of color who are disproportionately impacted by housing instability and homelessness," Larson said.
Black and Indigenous people make up 5% of the total regional population but comprise over 20% of the regional homeless population, according to Washington County.
As for implementing the program at a city level, Beaverton Mayor Lacey Beaty said city leadership could be helpful in serving the local homeless population.
"The county definitely has the 50,000-foot view, but our elected officials know where our homeless camps are," noted Beaty. "We know about our homeless student issues. We don't have the resources to address them ourselves."
Larson echoed Beaty's sentiment.
"We do need political leadership to be successful in the implementation of this program both in our transparency and accountability and our ability to communicate our outcomes out to voters and our community," she said. "But also, in the behind the scenes work it takes to cite affordable housing to cite affordable housing that serve high needs populations, besides shelters."
The final draft of the local implementation plan was submitted to the Washington County Board of Commissioners for consideration of approval on April 6. Once it's approved, the plan will then be submitted to the regional oversight committee for consideration.
The fully approved plan will be included in the intergovernmental agreement between Metro and Washington County that will establish the county's commitments for implementing the regional program.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.