Wheeler: Multnomah County should delay homeless spending
Mayor Ted Wheeler has asked the Multnomah County Commission to delay its scheduled Dec. 15 vote on allocating $33 million unspent homeless assistance funds.
Wheeler wants the commission to wait until Chair-elect Jessica Vega Pederson takes office and former state legislator Diane Rosenbaum is appointed to replace her next year.
Wheeler told the Portland Business Alliance that the current spending plan does not include any funds for the six large sanctioned homeless encampments that have been approved by the City Council. He said at the organization's Dec. 8 breakfast forum that current Chair Deborah Kafoury opposes the concept while Vega Pederson is open to it.
"If the commission approves the spending without any funds [for the encampments], they are no longer a partner of ours," Wheeler said.
The county did not promptly respond to a request for comment.
The council approved $27 million to jumpstart the plan to ban unsanctioned homeless camping co-sponsored by Wheeler and Commissioner Dan Ryan on Nov. 30. In addition to the six large encampments with services, it calls for the creation of 20,000 more units of affordable housing by 2030, a diversion program for those with mental health and addiction problems being moved off the streets, and a workforce training programs to help the homeless find employment.
"The status quo has failed, it no longer works. It's not at the scale it needs to be, it's not providing the right kinds of interventions or preventions," Wheeler said before the vote.
Wheeler and Ryan both say funding from the county, Metro and the Oregon Legislature to make the plan succeed. Specifically, Wheeler has asked the county to provide $21 million to fund the construction and operation of three of the six sanctioned sites, including
behavioral and mental health resources, data and housing navigation.
The $33 million being considered by the commission are all unspent funds from Metro's voter-approved $250 million-a-year supportive housing services measure.
Some spending proposals were discussed during a Nov. 15 commission briefing by the joint office. They do not include any money for the large encampments approved by the council.
Proposals discussed at the briefing include: $15 million for rent assistance; $2 million to assist newly established nonprofit service providers; $1.1 million to help 300-plus households afford security deposits and other one-time costs of getting into supportive housing; $1 million to bolster winter and severe weather shelter services and supplies; $700,000 to study and evaluate the effectiveness and success of different shelter models; $125,000 to assist the city with placing homeless individuals swept from their camps into shelter; $2 million for additional homeless outreach workers; and $5 million into a homeless services tax reserve fund.
The commission still has another $6 million to spend.
During the PBA breakfast forum, Wheeler said he and the rest of the council have had productive conversations with both Vega Pederson and Oregon Gov.-elect Tina Kotek since they won their general election races. He believes relations between the city, county, Metro and state can be reset, but not if the county does not contribute to the large sanctioned encampments.
In addition to the funding from the county, Wheeler said the city has made the following requests:
• Metro: The city will ask the regional government — which serves the urban portions of the three Portland-area counties — to lead a process in 2023 to revisit how the money is allocating its voter-approved, $250 million-per-year Supportive Housing Services measure.
The funds currently are distributed to Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties based on their total populations. Wheeler said the funds should be distributed based on their homeless populations.
The federally required Point in Time Homelessness counts have repeatedly found Multnomah County has a disproportionally large percent of the region's homeless. The 2022 count found 5,228 homeless people in Multnomah County, 808 in Washington County and 597 in Clackamas County.
• The state of Oregon: Wheeler will ask for a "state of emergency on homelessness" and for assistance in establishing the six sanctioned encampments.
In addition, the council has asked the state to support the Oregon Mayors Association Taskforce on Homelessness' request for a budget package totaling $123 million ongoing annually, during the 2023 Oregon legislative session. The Legislature convenes in January. The mayors' request would provide direct allocations to cities for homelessness response and prevention services.
The Nov. 30 vote was part of the council's Fall Budget Monitoring Process. The $27 million is intended to begin implementing all five resolutions co-sponsored by Wheeler and Commissioner Dan Ryan.
Commissioner Mingus Mapps cast the third vote to approve the funding. Commissioners Jo Ann Hardesty and Carmen Rubio were absent. Hardesty opposes the creation of the sanctioned encampment into which the homeless would be pushed.
According to the mayor's office, each encampment will be 2 to 4 acres in size and located near public transit, but away from residential areas, schools and business districts. The sites will have 24-hour on-site security, including perimeter patrols 16 hours per day, seven days per week.
Finding such sites is likely to be difficult. Ryan has had trouble opening the six small Safe Rest Villages he has championed. They have faced stiff opposition, but Ryan told the PBA that four have now been opened and he plans on opening eight altogether. The most recent one opened last week at TriMet's Menlo Park Park & Ride in East Portland.
The last time the council considered opening a large encampment was in 2016, when it rejected a plan by the Harbor of Hope to create a large shelter at the Port of Portland's former Terminal 1 in Northwest Portland.
A related story can be found here.
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