Following weeks of intense negotiating, city and county leaders have agreed to spend $38 million to expand the Portland region’s homeless shelter capacity and increase the number of campsite cleanups and removals.
City and county officials discovered last month that the two jurisdictions would receive roughly $90 million more than expected due to an unanticipated surge in business tax revenue. On Monday, County Chair Deborah Kafoury, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Portland City Commissioner Dan Ryan said that they planned to use roughly half of that surplus for homeless services, earmarking millions for outreach teams, trash pickup and new shelter beds.
“This joint package of investments demonstrates our shared sense of urgency,” Kafoury said during a Monday press conference.
Mid-October, Kafoury approached the city about pooling resources to increase investments in homeless services. City budget officials had reported a $62 million surplus from the local business license tax as big companies enjoyed an unexpected profit during the pandemic. The county, meanwhile, had its own $30 surplus from its business income tax.
On Monday, county officials pledged to devote $19.2 million of their surplus to the homeless package. The city, meanwhile, will earmark $18.8 million. (City rules dictate half of the $62 million budget surplus must be set aside for maintenance needs.) The county, which houses the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services, had already earmarked nearly $150 million toward homeless services for the current fiscal year.
It’s a notable partnership of two jurisdictions and elected leaders who often disagree on the best way to address homelessness. The city has favored quicker, short-term approaches to get people into shelter. The county tends to prioritize slower, longer term proposals to keep people off the street for good, such as investments in placing people in permanent housing. Both have been harshly criticized by fed up businesses and constituents for not moving fast enough to tackle the region’s homeless crisis.
The two government arms presented a united front Monday. Kafoury said their partnership was “stronger than it’s ever been,” enabling the county to provide an additional 400 shelter beds. Joint Office of Homeless Services director Marc Jolin said that, in total, the county expects to have 1,750 beds, motel rooms and sleeping pods available this winter.
The largest investment in the package will go toward these new beds. Combined, the city and county say they plan to spend $18 million to increase the number of available shelter beds, including opening four new shelters sites. Kafoury said the county has already identified locations for these beds, but was not ready to publicly disclose the locations
Other notable investments announced Monday include: hiring 20-25 new outreach workers to connect people living on the street with services, providing storage and hygiene units for up to 300 homeless encampments, adding behavioral health teams in Old Town Chinatown and scaling up the city’s Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction program — known as HUCIRP.
That team, responsible for overseeing the cleanup and dismantling of unsanctioned homeless camps, has been criticized by homeless advocates for displacing people without providing them an alternative place to go. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said Monday the expansion was necessary as the campsites have grown during the pandemic and become costlier to clean. He said he expects the $6.5 million investment in HUCIRP will increase camp cleanups in the city fivefold.
The mayor made repeated calls during Monday’s press conference for the federal government to provide more funding for homeless and housing services in Portland. He said the city-county package, while containing “a lot of good things,” would fail to curb the region’s homeless crisis unless it was supplemented by a federally funded plan. He called on Congress to “provide a federal right to basic housing” for poor, senior and disabled Americans that would be funded, in part, through federal vouchers.
“American cities can not solve homelessness without help,” he said.
Both the city and county will need to vote on their portion of the package. Both groups will discuss the plan at meetings this week.