Recently we shared an update about the lack of local action to combat rampant drug use and access to behavioral health services in Portland. Well, the news is even worse than we reported, since we now know that Multnomah County has more than $100 MILLION of unspent money from the Metro Supportive Housing Services (SHS) measure.
During what is, unquestionably, a public health and safety crisis, the Joint Office of Homelessness Services (JOHS) has underspent its budget by $58.4 million dollars. This isn't new news...it was reported in March of 2023 and yet the situation got worse, not better. We now add another $50.3 M is coming in from further tax collections. The SHS measure, you may recall, is meant to address chronic homelessness in the tri-county area, and was approved by voters in 2020. Metro is the agency that collects the tax and distributes the funds to the counties and they are responsible for oversight of how the money is spent and how effectively it is used to resolve homelessness.
The Multnomah County Commission has been informed that the situation is so dire that Metro has put the County under a Corrective Action Plan in order to monitor public funds for appropriate use. And Willamette Week has revealed that the County has resisted Metro's efforts to monitor and clarify the situation. The figure below shows how much their budget has increased since 2019. Metro is so concerned about this fiscal lack of urgency, that they are now making the JOHS Office report monthly on their SHS spending. Commissioners are showing concern and asking questions. Commissioner Julia Brim-Edwards has asked some tough questions but also productively encouraged greater coordination with the City of Portland toward solutions. Given that all this money is available, why aren't we seeing greater progress on our streets? How has it been spent? What programs or projects been effective or ineffective? We don't have clear answers on any of these questions. And...now we have to ask how will this $100 million be spent? In the coming weeks, the Commission will be debating what to do with these one-time funds aiming toward a vote on August 24th. RPC has long advocated that we need a SAVE Portland plan: S - Shelter beds, safe rest villages, and additional beds at the Oregon State Hospital in sufficient numbers to meet the needs of the entire homeless population; A - Addiction treatment, mental health counseling, vocational training and all other services necessary to help the homeless; V - Verification and tracking of individuals' progress using data-driven, "by name" list methodologies; and E - Enforcement of applicable statutes and local codes as humanely as possible, using systems such as diversion programs and drug courts, with criminal prosecution as the last resort. We believe all efforts should be laser-focused on reducing homelessness with a continuum of shelter and services. Yet, while we face an addiction crisis and a mental health crisis…we find ourselves in a government crisis over if we can do it.
Instead of giving out tents, we should not be satisfied until no one lives in inhumane conditions on our streets. To quote the Oregonian: “without leadership, a sound strategy and commitment to outcomes, we will be stuck in the same housing emergency” for years to come. We will keep you informed as this story develops.
You may also testify at their weekly meetings - Thursdays at 9:30 a.m....either in writing, in person or virtually. You can sign up or send written comments to the Board here:
NOTE: To testify virtually or to submit written testimony, you must fill out this form BEFORE 3:00PM the day before the meeting. If you testify in person, you must sign in at the First Floor entry desk 10 minutes before the meeting, which starts at 9:30, so we suggest arriving by 9:00 a.m. There is paid secure parking in the garage across Hawthorne from the Building. If possible, we suggest you also give 6 hard copies of your written testimony to the Clerk.