Metro is reporting progress in reducing and preventing homelessness with the 10-year regional supportive housing services ballot measure approved by voters May 2020.
The elected regional government said it paid to house more than 1,600 people in the first year of the program. That is equal to 24.7% of the number of people identified as homeless in the region in the January 2022 Point in Time count, although not everyone who was housed was someone identified in the count, Metro said on Wednesday, Aug. 31.
In addition, the fund helped more than 9,200 people receive eviction protection services to preventing them from losing their homes. The fund also supported the creation of 514 new year-round shelter beds, and helped 159 people find jobs through new employment programs.
"Back in January, I promised the region that we would see tangible progress on homelessness within six months," said Metro Council President Lynn Peterson. "We've made huge strides. In the first year of a 10-year effort, we're well on our way to our goal. This is what happens when we collaborate as a region."
Some of that is below Metro's original goals, however. As first reported by the Portland Mercury, the program promised to house more than 2,400 households and create 700 new shelter beds by June of this year. It only promised to prevent 1,000 households from being evicted, however.
And many people may not be seeing any progress. Polls consistently show homelessness is still the number one issue in Portland and the region. And weekly reports of homeless camps to the city have skyrocketed since the Metro measure was approved. The Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction program identified 160 active campsites in the city during the week the measure passed. It identified 331 active campsites during the last week of August.
But it is impossible to know how many people are living on the streets at any given time. There is no real-time homeless count. And the Point in Time counts are not considered accurate.
Report showing increasing spending
The fund is overseen by Metro, the elected regional government, and implemented by housing and homeless services programs in the three counties. It's funded through incremental taxes on high-income earners and large businesses in greater Portland. The measure raised nearly $250 million in its first year, although only $56 million was spent and the rest rolled forward to the next fiscal year.
The data released Wednesday comes from the fourth quarter progress reports from the counties. They will submit comprehensive 2021-22 annual reports to the fund's oversight committee later this fall. Counties are scheduled to release their annual fund reports Oct. 31 and present them to the Supportive Housing Services Oversight Committee in December.
According to Metro, almost as many people were housed in this fund's fourth quarter as in the first three combined. This shows that the counties' work building internal capacity and expanding their service provider networks in the first nine months is paying off, Metro said.
Multnomah County's Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a guiding strategy and first-year budget for the Joint Office of Homeless Services that prioritized housing placements and behavioral health connections, along with work to expand shelter and street outreach options.
"Multnomah County set ambitious goals with these new resources — cutting through the noise and keeping our focus on the reality that we need a yes/and approach to ending homelessness," Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said. "That means helping more people find homes of their own, investing in behavioral health services, putting more outreach workers on the ground to reach people where they are and creating more space in our shelters. We accomplished all of those things — housing 1,129 people and adding more than 300 shelter beds. And the fact is, we are only getting started."
Washington County supportive housing services director Jes Larson said her team has been laying a foundation for the duration of the program.
"As community infrastructure and capacity continues to increase over the next several years, so will our housing outcomes," Larson said. "We're proud of housing 340 people in Washington County in this first year, and we're eager to continue our work of functionally ending chronic homelessness."
During the fourth quarter, the supportive housing services program in Clackamas County conducted six procurements, with a total value of more than $6 million, to significantly expand services in the next fiscal year. These upcoming services will mark the largest one-time investment in housing and homeless services in the history of Clackamas County.
"We now have an extensive outreach program, infrastructure and staff that we've never had before," said Clackamas County Chair Tootie Smith. "This will allow Clackamas County to move the needle on addressing chronic homelessness."
In addition to paying for rent and professional services, the program also funds outreach and engagement services to assist with updating waitlists, finding and connecting with individuals as they come to the top of housing program waitlists, and assists with navigation into permanent housing. Additional services will include providing supplies to help people experiencing homelessness meet their basic needs, facilitating connections to safety-off-the-streets services, mental health outreach and culturally specific outreach.
"In the first year alone, over 1,600 people accessed permanent housing and over 9,000 more were able to avoid homelessness altogether thanks to taxpayers and the work of our county partners," said Patricia Rojas, Metro's director of housing services. "This funding is making a real difference in people's lives. Public trust in this decade-long effort is going to come from the progress that people see with their eyes, and Metro demonstrating a commitment to oversight, accountability and transparency. We are holding ourselves to all of these standards."
The supportive housing services fund is one of several comprehensive regional programs to address housing and related challenges across greater Portland. The Metro affordable housing bond program, approved by voters in 2018, has funded nearly 1,400 fixed-rent apartments under construction across the region right now, with another 1,600 in permitting and design and 265 more already opened.
The first-year figures are posted on Metro's website, oregonmetro.gov..
The first-year figures are posted on Metro's online website here.
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