Portland, Multnomah County increase homeless spending
Portland and Multnomah County officials have announced plans to spend an additional $38 million to reduce homelessness and clean up garbage generated at homeless encampments.
The announcement was made during a joint news conference that included Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Portland Commissioner Dan Ryan, who also is pursuing plans to open six managed Safe Rest Villages for the homeless in different parts of the city.
"All of us here today see with clear eyes what's been happening over the course of the 40 years that led us here: a fundamental breakdown in how we care for the most vulnerable people in our country," Kafoury said. "This represents a rare opportunity for us to come together, pool our resources and inject an immediate infusion into our system to address homelessness in our community."
According to officials, the additional funds will:
• Add up to 400 new shelter beds, including congregate shelter space, motel rooms and sleeping pods that will bring people out of the elements and offer connections to health and housing services. The Joint Office of Homeless Services and Multnomah County are pursuing the purchase or lease of four new sites.
• Add an additional 20-25 positions to grow the community's roster of service navigation outreach workers. They will be rapidly deployed to high-impact locations citywide, including Old Town Chinatown, and also around existing shelter locations.
• Expand behavioral health services, including additional teams in Old Town Chinatown that can offer service connections and provide deescalation. This package also builds on a successful county behavioral health pilot project. It will add two teams of support specialists that can provide critical stability for people in motel shelters experiencing serious behavioral health challenges, while also leveraging Supportive Housing Services funding that's creating long-term housing options for these individuals.
• Fund a significant expansion of storage and hygiene services for unsheltered neighbors and continued support for the use of portable toilets throughout the community.
• Create a Street Services Coordination Center, with partners including the Joint Office and the city's Office of Management and Finance. The coordination center will align public space management activities with the homelessness response system, including helping to create a shelter referral pathway for navigation workers and first responders including Portland Street Response, park rangers, the Impact Reduction Program and other agencies.
• Expand staffing and resources for cleanup programs like SOLVE, Central City Concern's Clean Start, and the City's Impact Reduction Program, as well as financial support for community-based, volunteer cleanup programs already active in the community.
The money comes from $62 million in surplus Portland funds and $30 million in surplus county funds. The unusually large surpluses were largely generated by unexpectedly high business licenses payments.
The City Council is scheduled to discuss the funding during a work session Thursday, Nov. 4. The council also is expected to discuss using a portion of the city's surplus to hire more police, expand the non-police Portland Street Response program citywide, increase spending on other city bureaus, and preview the next fiscal year budget that takes effect July 1, 2022.
The proposal to increase homeless spending comes as residents, businesses and community leaders are calling on elected officials to do more to end the homeless crisis. Although no current official count is available, thousands of people appear to be living in tents, cars, motor homes and makeshift camps on public property in all parts of town.
In recent weeks, residents, businesses, nonprofit organizations and community leaders have called on elected leaders to do more to end the homeless crisis (see related story, Page A1).
The City Council had been scheduled to tap the surplus to adjust the current budget on Oct. 27. Wheeler pushed the process into November after being asked by county chair Kafoury to coordinate a portion of the additional funds with the county to increase spending on homelessness.
"Without a moment's hesitation, we responded with an enthusiastic 'yes.' Our housing need is urgent, and we know we can do so much more when we work together. This influx of funds poses a unique opportunity to address the most pressing needs around houselessness in Portland," Wheeler said at the time.
Since then, Wheeler's office reportedly has said the mayor also will request about $400,000 to hire back 25 recent Portland police retirees to fill some vacancies in the Portland Police Bureau, plus more than $2 million to buy body-worn cameras for officers. The U.S. Department of Justice has directed the city to equip officers with body cameras and to put a civilian in charge of police training to get back into compliance with a 2014 settlement agreement calling for policing changes to address excessive force complaints.
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty previously has said she opposes increasing police staffing. But now she is willing to consider Wheeler's rehiring request.
"I reached out to (PPB Chief Chuck) Lovell to find out what the plan looks like. I'm very interested in seeing a plan. I'm open. I think if we're going to rehire former officers, we need to have some criteria," KOIN 6 News reported Hardesty as saying Thursday, Oct. 28.
Hardesty has some conditions, however. She wants to make sure "we don't bring back officers … who were part of the 6,000 use-of-force complaints from last year, that we don't bring back officers who retired in lieu of being investigated," Hardesty was reported as saying.
Commissioner Mingus Mapps also said he believes $2 million to $4 million should be spent to increase the bureau's Behavioral Health Response Teams.
The council already has agreed to spend a little more than $1 million to expand the Portland Street Response program championed by Hardesty beyond its current Lents neighborhood pilot project.
Additional new spending requests were not officially released by press time. The final vote has not yet been set.
Under existing city policies, half of the surplus can be spent during the process held every fall and spring. The City Budget Office announced an unexpectedly large $62 million surplus Monday, Oct. 18, after the Fall Budget Adjustment Process already was underway. City bureaus had only requested $5.7 million in addition funds by then. The budget office had recommended just over $14 million in increased spending, including $8.5 million for future liabilities.
Details can be found on the budget office's website at www.portlandoregon.gov/cbo.
The work session begins at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 4 and can be watched here.
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