The Multnomah County board of commissioners passed a $2.8 billion budget Thursday, putting millions toward efforts to help the region’s houseless population, prevent gun violence and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Commissioners say it’s the largest budget in county history thanks to new dollars from the federal American Rescue Plan and three measures recently passed by voters that will fund tuition-free preschool, an overhaul of the county library system and homeless services.
Metro’s homeless services measure is anticipated to bring in $52 million for the county to use over the next year. The county’s budget puts the money toward initiatives to help people on the streets find housing and remain there with onsite job training, addiction treatment, and mental health care. The budget also allocates funding for rent assistance, street outreach, enhanced hygiene services and more shelter capacity.
“Thanks to the supportive housing services measure that passed over a year ago, we finally have the capacity to make unprecedented investments in the solutions we know end peoples’ homelessness,” said Kafoury at the budget vote.
All five commissioners voted in favor of the budget, though Commissioner Sharon Meieran said she was unsatisfied with how the money for homeless services was ultimately distributed.
Meieran said she wanted to see more county money going to support the six outdoor shelter “safe rest villages” that Portland city commissioner Dan Ryan recently announced would be built by the end of 2021. Ryan has said the city plans to use $20 million in federal coronavirus relief money for the shelter and Kafoury pledged her support. The county plans to offer case management services at the six sites through the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services.
But Meieran said she believed the county was not acting as a true partner in the project.
“I feel that rather than do our part to invest any new money and county money in this partnership that we have said is so important … We’ve dedicated essentially no new funding to support of the sites or to the behavioral health or case management that is needed in those sites.”
Both Commissioner Meieran and Jessica Vega Pederson asked for changes to the budget that would provide the board with more oversight over how the county was supporting the homeless villages. Meieran requested the Joint Office appear by the end of September to provide a report on how the city’s villages are being developed. Another note by Meieran and Vega Pederson asked for a larger briefing by the end of the year on whether there is new funding that could be used to support services at the six camps.
Meieran said she believed this additional funding should be going to the camps now - but it was clear it wasn’t going to happen.
“Unfortunately I feel that every other person on this board has been convinced that we should wait for future federal funds to make this happen,” she said.
The American Rescue Plan Act allocated $157 million to Multnomah County, which must be spent by 2024. The county has just under $79 million to use in the next fiscal year.
Approximately $60 million goes directly to mitigating the spread of COVID-19 with tens of millions going toward contact tracing, case investigation, testing and vaccination. Some of the money will also be spent on mitigating some of the cascading effects of the pandemic, including a rise in gun violence and an uptick in evictions.
The proposed budget puts $816,000 toward providing a legal defense for tenants in eviction proceedings. This would fund positions for two attorneys and a paralegal. The budget also puts new money towards slowing the dramatic uptick in gun violence the region has seen in the past year, including expanding the Gun Violence Behavioral Health Response Team, which “will provide mental health consultants and peers to work with gun- and gang-impacted youth and families,” according to budget documents.
“These investments also include efforts that take a public health approach to violence focusing on root cause community strengths and partnerships as well as recognizing the role of systemic racism in who violence impacts the most,” said Kafoury.