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Oregon's most populous county had more money to spend, and greater challenges to face, than ever before.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - A sign showing Multnomah County's logo is attached to the wall of the County's Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard building.For Multnomah County — as for the world — 2021 was the year when everything was supposed to go back to normal.

But it didn't.

For the state's most populous county, that meant renewing the battle against the novel coronavirus as the area's local public health agency. But the county also brought to bear unprecedented resources to face the unabated challenges of chronic homelessness, gun violence and a deadly heat wave.

Here's a look at the highs, and lows, from 2021 for Multnomah County.

January: The county rang in the new year by opening a long-awaited student health center at Reynolds High in Troutdale. Health Department workers discovered a persistent Legionnaire's Disease infection at an affordable housing complex, and began battling COVID-19 infections at Inverness Jail.

February: Construction began on Las Adelitas, the largest affordable housing project ever built in the Cully neighborhood, and the county board hired a new director as part of the ramp-up of its Preschool For All program.

March: Commissioners approved a new plan that would task the county sheriff with overseeing TriMet's Transit Police force in the coming years.

April: Multnomah County declared racism a public health crisis, while Chair Deborah Kafoury released a $2.82 billion budget swelled by federal American Rescue Plan dollars.

May: Commissioners finalized plans for a new Behavioral Health Center in downtown Portland, and celebrated the opening of a new managed homeless community dubbed St. Johns Village.

June: A deadly triple-digit heat wave descended upon the Portland area in late June; despite distributing 56,000 bottles of water and opening numerous cooling centers, the scorching heat was later linked to at least 64 fatalities countywide.

July: Commissioners voted to extend eviction protections to 90 days for tenants who had applied for rental assistance but were awaiting backlogged state aid. Officials also purchased a Stark Street Motel 6 for use as a homeless shelter.

August: The Medical Examiner began investigating two deaths linked to a less-severe August heat wave. Commissioners also successfully pressured Portland leaders to reject permits required by a controversial oil shipping terminal, and a judge finally declared constitutional campaign finance limits approved by voters five years ago.

September: Facing a dramatic spike in shootings, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt hired several deputies to prosecute gun crimes. A rabid bat was discovered in Northeast Portland, something not seen here in seven years.

October: With a state mandate in effect, the county announced that 92% of its workforce was now inoculated against the COVID-19 virus, while the remainder granted a religious or medical exemption. The mandate did not apply to law enforcement due to a loophole in state law.

November: The county opened its new Arbor Lodge shelter ahead of winter weather, and approved plans to renovate the building into North Portland's first full-service homeless shelter in the years ahead. Budget planners predicted a $18.4 million surplus in fiscal year 2023.


Zane Sparling
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