As Portland and Multnomah County leaders debate approaches to ending homelessness, a new project to house and help the most vulnerable people living on the streets is poised to open.
Cedar Commons, at 11450 S.E. Division St., will offer 60 affordable apartments, including 40 single-room occupancy units and 20 studio apartments. Ten have been reserved for people living with severe mental health struggles. Rents range from $500 to $714 a month.
Central City Concern, a nonprofit social service agency, will provide intensive on-site wraparound services for the residents, including crisis prevention, mental health services and employment support and training.
The units are what homeless experts call permanently-supportive housing. They are designed for the chronically homeless or the recently homeless. The services are intended to ensure the residents stay in their apartments by helping them deal with the kind of setbacks and crises that contributed to them becoming homeless in the first place.
The project was co-developed by Related NW, the local branch of a national affordable and other housing development company.
"There's a homeless crisis along the entire West Coast that will require a continuum of housing to solve," said Development Vice President Stefanie Kondor.
The $15.9 million project was primary funded by the Portland Housing Bureau, with additional support from several partners. The ongoing services will be funded by the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services. It is not a Portland affordable housing bond project, however. The city's $8.475 million share came from a construction excise tax approved by the City Council several years ago to help fund additional affordable housing projects.
A recent local study confirmed the effectiveness of permanently supportive housing. Of 1,138 chronically homeless people studied, 276 who were housed for at least a year were arrested or visted emergecny rooms far less than the 862 who were unhoused, the study found. It was conducted by the Corporation for Supportive Housing, Health Share of Oregon, the Joint Office of Homeless Services, and the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council.
There are currently around 4,000 permanently supportive units in Multnomah County with 2,235 more palnned over the next 10 years. Approximately 1,800 chronically homeless people were identified as living without permanent housing in 2019, the most recent year for which such figures are available.
The upcoming opening is happening as a long-simmering dispute between city and county leaders is spilling into the open. No one on the council or Multnomah County Commission opposes affordable housing projects, including those with permanently supportive units.
But some members of the council believe additional emergency shelters, including managed camps and rest areas, for homeless people living on the streets are needed now. It took two years to build Cedar Commons, which was relatively fast for an affordable housing project.
Commissioner Dan Ryan, who oversees the housing bureau and is the council's liaison to the joint office, is leading a city effort to build more shelters. He championed the Street to Stability Continuum project approved by the council that eased zoning restrictions against shelters throughout the city. He has also requested that $20 million in unspent federal American Rescue Plan Act funds be dedicated to such shelters.
"I am thrilled to move forward on building outdoor shelter villages with baseline services, including hygiene and case management," Ryan said.
Although County Chair Deborah Kafoury said she supports Ryan's efforts, she has repeatedly criticized shelters as the wrong solution for homelessness. In public statements and an opinion piece in The Oregonian, Kafoury said a "housing first" policy teamed with services is the only way to end homelessness.
"This is the approach that drives the ways in which Multnomah County serves people experiencing homelessness, transforming the lives of thousands of people who can now go to sleep in homes of their own with the assurance that they have the support they need to stay in it," Kafoury said in statement that accompanied the release of the supportive housing study.
The commission is scheduled to adopt its budget for the next fiscal year on Thursday, June 3. The council is expected to decide how to spend its remaining rescue plan funds in July or August.
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