Supportive housing project opens amid homeless debate
As Portland and Multnomah County leaders debate approaches to ending homelessness, a new project to house and serve the most vulnerable people living on the streets is poised to open.
Cedar Commons at 11450 S.E. Division Street 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. 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 refer to 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 $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.
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 commission opposes affordable housing project, including those with permanently supportive unit. But some members of the council believe additional emergency shelters, including managed camps and rest areas, for homeless people living on the streets 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. The council approved a Shelter to Housing Continuum project that eased zoning restrictions against shelters throughout the city. Ryan has requested that $20 million in unspent federal American Rescue Plan Act funds be used to create six Safe Rest Villages by this winter.
"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 not the solution for homelessness. In public statements and a 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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