Multnomah County commissioners poised to defy Wheeler
The Multnomah County Commission is preparing to defy Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and approve spending $33.6 million in homeless assistance funds without committing to support six large, sanctioned campsites approved by the Portland City Council.
The vote is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 15. The commission agenda posted on Sunday, Dec. 11, includes the spending request that does not allocate any funds for the proposed campsites.
Although the City Council approved $27 million for them on Nov. 30, Wheeler said they will not succeed in ending unsanctioned camping unless the county also commits $21 million.
Wheeler told the Portland Business Alliance last week that he asked the commission to delay the vote until January when Chair Deborah Kafoury will be replaced by Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, who won the seat at the Nov. 3 general election.
"The current chair, and I'm not disparaging her, does not support the plan. She doesn't support it, and the budget she has provided reflects her lack of support," Wheeler said during the association's Thursday, Dec. 8, breakfast forum. He said Vega Pederson has been more supportive, but the Dec. 15 vote is scheduled to take place before she replaces Kafoury.
Wheeler also said if the county does not commit some of its money to the campsites, it is "no longer a partner of ours."
Wheeler's office did not promptly respond to a request for comment.
Asked to comment, Vega Pederson told KOIN 6 News that she met with Wheeler last week and that "the time is now for the city to share detailed plans about their proposal with me and the county board, and they need to reach out to commissioners about this plan, as well."
Vega Pederson said Wheeler did commit to that.
The $33.6 million being considered by the commission is unspent funds from Metro's voter approved, $250 million-per-year supportive housing services measures. The agenda item proposes spending the largest amount — $15 million — for rent assistance to prevent evictions. Other major amounts include: $12.38 million for contingencies; $5 million for reserves; and $1.2 million for supporting and stabilizing permanent housing.
The commission could spend some of the contingency and reserve funds on Portland's proposed encampments after Vega Pederson becomes chair and former state legislator Diane Rosenbaum replaces her, as designated through a county charter process.
At the same time, the council could reallocate Portland funds from the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services to further support the encampments.
Wheeler also told the business association that he had requested a financial review of joint office.
"The Joint Office of Homeless Services, to be blunt, has not been transparent with the city. They have not provided us basic data, financial data that we have requested. It does not feel like a partnership," Wheeler said.
And Wheeler questioned to qualification of self-described "homeless experts" who oppose the large campsite plan.
"I have these so-called experts telling me I'm inhumane because I'm asking people not to occupy our public spaces wall to wall. At some point for me I'll take common sense over expertise," Wheeler said.
"The status quo based on expertise isn't working and I think we can all see with our own eyes what the problem is, and if we truly care about connecting people to services and get off and stay off the streets then they need to be in a location where we have a reasonable shot, we have a fighting chance of connecting them to services," he continued.
The county agenda item can be found here.
A previous Portland Tribune story on the issue can be found here.
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