Housing Affordability and Houselessness

Homelessness is a long-term problem across Multnomah County, made enormously worse by the pandemic. It requires immediate action to address the humanitarian crisis happening all around us.

As your County Chair, I pledge to tackle our homelessness crisis head on and establish short-, medium-, and long-term goals that we can hold ourselves accountable to. 

In short term I will: 

  • Expand our existing shelter system. While we have been steadily expanding our shelter capacity, we are not meeting the need and need to provide safer living conditions for those living on our streets. 
  • Deploy alternative shelter models, such as alternative “pod”-based shelters, safe rest villages and safe RV camping sites. 
  • Access empty apartment units as part of the 3000 Challenge PDX. Using rent support, landlord coordination, and wraparound services, we can secure rental units with our non-profit partners and place people into better living conditions in short order.
  • Acquire motels and other properties, as is done through Project Turnkey, that can quickly be converted to shelter spaces. 
  • Support community-based solutions, like the Kenton Women’s Village and Beacon Village, that can provide safe spaces throughout our communities. 
  • Ensure robust community engagement, outreach, and responsiveness in areas with shelters and alternative camping sites. I led such an effort when we built the Laurelwood Shelter in the Foster-Powell Neighborhood, and doing so was key to obtaining community support. If we are going to site more shelters, we need more neighborhoods supportive of the effort. 
  • Clean up the debris and garbage associated with unregulated homelessness camps, which fuel frustration with our homeless neighbors. 
  • Enhance our eviction prevention efforts, to keep people from becoming homeless in the first place. 
  • Bring online new data systems that can track our successes, make better use of our shelter system, and identify areas for improvement. 
  • Increase accountability by holding monthly meetings to track our progress, hold ourselves and our partners accountable, and share our progress with the public. 
  • Maintain our focus on racial equity, understanding that many communities are more likely to become homeless and struggle to obtain needed services. Focusing on those communities is key to solving homelessness. 

I will work opportunistically and doggedly to increase options available for people living on our streets. And with my track record of working with partners and getting big things done, I am confident we can make progress on this most important issue. 

In the medium term, I will: 

  • Improve and expand our mental health and addiction treatment services to better treat those who are or may become homeless. 
  • Acquire vacant or partially occupied properties - either through purchase, lease or use of other tools - to address the homelessness crisis.
  • Expand critical wrap-around services for those struggling with mental health and addiction issues, so that they can find stability and stay housed. We have the resources to do this because of the voter approved Supportive Housing Services measure, and I will ensure that we are using these funds efficiently and effectively. 
  • Work with partners to bring online more affordable housing, which is key to ending our homelessness crisis.
  • Optimize the use of long-term rental housing vouchers, making sure both federal and regional long-term rental assistance is put to work quickly in our county.

In the long term, we must dramatically ramp up our supply of affordable housing, which is at the root of our region’s woes. We simply have not built enough housing at all price points, and this is escalating the price of housing, driving people out of our region, skewing our economy, and causing tremendous hardship and homelessness, particularly for communities of color, those with low incomes, and seniors. 

Every action we take on this critical issue will be evaluated in real time – those policies that are working will continue, and those efforts that aren’t delivering as we’d hoped will be discontinued. At the end of the day, we have to remember that there are real people in this crisis who are struggling. Our number one priority must be to get every Multnomah County resident into safe, stable living situations. That is my north star. 

In my time as County Commissioner, I have:

  • fought to expand a program connecting housing assistance and workforce supports, and that now provides roughly 400 individuals with employment services and 100 households with rent assistance and eviction protection assistance;
  • led the effort to obtain community buy-in and support for the Laurelwood Center, which provides 120 shelter beds a night and has worked to place over 300 people into permanent housing. 
  • supported the significant expansion of our shelter system, adding 800 new beds to our 2,150 bed shelter system that helps more than 5,000 people per year leave houselessness for permanent housing;
  • backed funding for rental assistance and other supports that enable 1,300 additional households to transition out of houselessness;
  • extended renter eviction protections during COVID, as well as a 90 day eviction moratorium for those applying for rental assistance; and
  • supported adding 28 new outreach workers and five culturally specific peer support outreach workers, who build relationships with our houseless neighbors and connect them with services and shelter/housing opportunities.

These investments and others that we have made are bearing fruit. In the last six months of 2021, we helped 1,780 people leave the streets or shelters for homes of their own. We’ve also purchased a 43-room motel to provide people with stable shelter, and expanded our mental health services to those we’re motelling, to help keep them housed. In this same time period, our clean up programs have collected 76,000 pounds of garbage. 

But as long as there are people living on our streets, this is not enough. We can and must do better. And we will.