MY VIEW: Metro's homeless services measure holds promise to improve lives
As community leaders in East Portland and Gresham, we stand in strong support of Metro's Homeless Services Measure. The tents we see on our streets and the waiting lists for shelter and affordable housing are stark reminders that our region's homelessness crisis continues to deepen. It is past time to address this crisis at a scale designed to end it.
Human Solutions is but one of many local organizations that develops affordable housing and that provides the range of companion services that form the backbone of successful strategies to end homelessness. We're proud that more than 6,000 people in East Portland and East Multnomah communities slept inside last night — and not on the streets — because they were able to access our housing, shelters and supportive services. More than half of those we partner with to transition out of homelessness are children. Sadly, more than 21,000 school-age children in our region alone experience homelessness annually, contributing to Oregon's shameful position atop the national ranking for homeless kids.
Measure 26-210 presents a real opportunity to change the future for the next generation, and that is one of the many reasons we are both so supportive of its passage. With a new source of revenue — a 1% income tax on the highest income earners and a 1% tax on the profits of the largest businesses in our region — organizations across the region will be able to expand effective programs that are right now successfully supporting thousands out of homelessness. Our local plans and services are working, but they remain woefully underfunded and reach only a fraction of the Oregonians who need them. Measure 26-210 changes that and provides a solid path to ending our crisis.
While some are saying COVID-19 means we need to rethink this measure or pause to debate the details, we emphatically disagree. It is now more urgent than ever to come together to support our most vulnerable neighbors and ensure that our entire region emerges from this crisis as the supportive community we all envision, one where everyone — especially every child — has a place to call home. It is worth reminding those pointing to the pandemic as cause for delay that 90% of households in our region will be exempt from this tax, and 94% of our local businesses won't pay anything; only those who have the means will pay their share.
This measure, and its detailed framework for implementation, were thoughtfully constructed with input from people with lived experience with homelessness, service providers, business leaders, and community stakeholders. It is intentionally designed to generate revenue only from those who can afford to pay and to target services for those living chronically on the streets and to communities of color who unfairly experience homelessness at disproportionately higher rates.
By growing our existing capacity to deliver proven strategies like supportive housing — housing coupled with services is shown to permanently end the homelessness of families and individuals long struggling with maladies like addiction and mental illness — Measure 26-210 builds on existing successes and best practices.
Some critics have suggested we pause to create more detailed plans. A pause is unnecessary and further risks the lives of people on the streets right now. The plans and services are already in place, and now is the time to invest in making them work for all. This measure calls for annual local implementation plans that can respond directly to what we know to be the changing face of homelessness; annual accountability reports will be publicly available.
The measure balances well between the urgency of the problem and the required flexibility for solving it through evolving best practices. Just as our local businesses need help now to recover from COVID-19 without delay, so too do our neighbors experiencing homelessness. Measure 26-210 will ensure that we emerge from this crisis as a stronger community where everyone is valued and has a pace to call home.
Eddy Morales is a gresham city councilor, small business owner, community organizer and founder of East County Rising.
Andy Miller is executive director of Human Solutions, a nonprofit organization that counters the forces creating poverty and homelessness in East Portland, Gresham and across East Multnomah County.
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