Multnomah County Launches Homeless Initiative

Turning urgency into action to tackle unsheltered homelessness, Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson today declared a new focus in strategy for the Joint Office of Homeless Services — unveiling an immediate plan to increase transparency and collaboration among government partners, and move hundreds of people, neighborhood by neighborhood, directly from tents to apartments.

Called Housing Multnomah Now, the $14 million, 12-month plan will unify local and state efforts by forming a multi-agency coordinating (MAC) group initially focused on eliminating unsheltered homelessness in Portland’s central city over the next 4 months.

That new group, which will include the Joint Office, the City of Portland, behavioral health providers, shelter providers and culturally specific organizations, will mirror a pilot program and housing-first strategy already producing preliminary results in Seattle and King County. After the group initiates work in the central city, it will expand to a secondary location in East County. 

Chair Vega Pederson will support the multi-agency coordinating group’s work by directing the Joint Office to accelerate the process of connecting people sleeping unsheltered in each designated zone directly to available housing throughout the region.

“This strategy will provide outreach, support, and a path back to housing,” Chair Vega Pederson said. “The goal of this model is to connect people directly to housing and stop the shuffle of moving people from one location to another as they’re living outside.”

Outreach and housing placement workers will collaborate with community partners in providing dedicated, coordinated by-name services, with the goal of housing for every single person they engage.

To find these homes, Housing Multnomah Now will build from the County’s successful Move-in Multnomah pilot program and the efforts of Commissioner Susheela Jayapal to urgently identify available units, offering landlord incentives, guaranteed rent assistance, and wraparound services to identify apartments on the market right now.

“We need landlords to respond urgently to provide those living on our streets with a safe place to stay,” Chair Vega Pederson said. “We hope landlords will step up as they have in the past and continue to help us address this crisis.”   

This intensive work will add to the Joint Office’s success helping thousands of people access shelter and housing. Chair Vega Pederson expects the multi-agency coordinating group to house 300 people.

To help pay for this expansion, Chair Vega Pederson will ask the Board of Commissioners to invest unallocated carryover funding from the Supportive Housing Services Measure. The work will link to Commissioner Lori Stegmann’s efforts to bring more housing and services to East County and build on Commissioner Diane Rosenbaum’s years of work to reduce poverty.

Chair Vega Pederson also is calling on the Oregon Legislature to fund Gov. Tina Kotek’s proposed $130 million infusion in emergency funding to address homelessness — funding that would kickstart and expand the work the County is undertaking. 

Accelerated housing placement will also move people out of shelters faster and open more beds in the region’s current system.

Housing Multnomah Now will incorporate the City of Portland’s temporary alternative shelter sites pilot program, the Safe Rest Villages and the Joint Office’s expanding shelter system. 

While housing is the goal for everyone served by this new plan, those shelter and designated campground programs will be available for anyone who’s waiting for an apartment. Once available, state Medicaid waivers will also provide housing to people who have particular health needs.

“The funding we devote to this will help limit the length of stay in all of our shelters — eliminating bottlenecks and increasing our ability to provide safe sleep options when people need them most,” Chair Vega Pederson said.

The shift comes on the heels of a plan the Chair announced Jan. 31 to improve transparency and accountability within our homelessness and housing services system, by creating new Key Performance Indicators to help track, report and measure our progress and that of our providers. 

A task force will develop these new indicators and include representatives from the County and the City of Portland, including Chair Vega Pederson, Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Sharon Meieran, who advocated for the review in a Fiscal Year 2023 budget note.

The goal is that the new performance indicators for the Joint Office be presented in an easy-to-use data dashboard in a major redesign of the Joint Office’s website, expected to go live as soon as April 2023.

“These are long overdue steps that will give the public new, accessible, consistent information, as well as new expectations around how we’re serving those living on our streets and how we’re spending vital taxpayer funds,” Chair Vega Pederson said. “They also feature the dedication and commitment of each of my colleagues on the Multnomah County Commission, who support me and Multnomah County with their engagement, strategy and coordination on these issues.”  

“Transparency, accountability and urgency — those have been my top objectives during my first month as the chair of Multnomah County and will continue to drive these new investments.”

Source: Multnomah County

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