The Multnomah County Board of Commissioner voted 4-1 Tuesday to approve their portion of the $38 million city-county package for homeless services, which will earmark millions for new shelter beds, outreach workers, portable toilets and handwashing stations.
County Commissioner Sharon Meieran voted against the package, arguing the investments were too piecemeal to effectively address the city’s deepening homeless crisis.
“We should be able to see with this tremendous investment a visible and huge impact on the humanitarian crisis of unsheltered homeless that we’re seeing on the street,” she said. “I feel like the slate as it’s been presented will dissipate as we spend on an array of services that sound good — and they are good — but they don’t fit together in a meaningful whole.”
After weeks of negotiating, city and county leaders held a celebratory press conference last week announcing each jurisdiction would pool some of their unexpected surpluses from local business taxes toward a wide array of homeless services. The city pledged $18.8 million, while county officials pledged to devote $19.2 million.
Combined, the city and county say they plan to spend $18 million to increase the number of available shelter beds by up to 400. Joint Office of Homeless Services director Marc Jolin previously said that, in total, the county expects to have 1,750 beds, motel rooms and sleeping pods available this winter. The package also puts money toward hiring new outreach workers to connect people living on the street with services, and providing storage and hygiene units for up to 300 unsanctioned homeless encampments.
Meieran said she had concerns that the increase in shelter beds — by far the largest component of the package — would not lead to a sizable decrease in the county’s homeless population. The most recent point-in-time count conducted in 2019 found the county had an estimated 4,000 people experiencing homelessness in Multnomah County. The number has likely risen since then.
“I also worry there will not be a significant change in how many people are actually living on the street,” she said. “We will see a few hundred beds when we have thousands and thousands living outside.”
Meieran has announced her intent to run for county chair, as have two of her colleagues, Commissioners Lori Stegmann and Jessica Vega Pederson. Term limits bar Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury from running for another term.
Kafoury called the investments “intentional, coordinated and strategic.”
“We are not starting from scratch but rather building on the tremendous work that has come before,” she said.
Jolin told the commissioner that he had a “high level of confidence” that some of the new shelter beds will become available in the next few months.
In a separate vote, Multnomah County leaders also approved a smaller segment of the city-county agreement to put over $2 million from the jurisdictions’ pooled surplus toward behavioral health services. That includes $1.25 million for behavioral health teams in Old Town and an additional $1.25 million for a motel shelter program for people with behavioral health issues. The commission approved this smaller allocation unanimously.
Other investments approved Tuesday include $321,000 to fund a detective position focused on gun violence investigations and two Deputy Sheriff positions as well as $500,000 to fund projects for alternative shelter.
City leaders will vote on their portion of the agreement Wednesday.