Leaders from across Oregon are responding to Gov. Tina Kotek’s initial efforts to respond to the state’s homelessness challenges.
“I just would not underscore how big of an issue this is facing my community,” Beaverton Mayor Lacey Beaty said Tuesday on OPB’s “Think Out Loud.” “I don’t think one day goes by where I don’t get a call and email, a tweet, or a Facebook post about a homeless issue in Beaverton.”
Homelessness took center stage politically earlier this month when Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek announced on her first day in office a series of executive orders intended to address the issue, as well as affordable housing. Those orders included emergency declarations in the most populous parts of the state, and a statewide effort to build more homes.
Mayors across the state have also asked the legislature to create an ongoing funding package for cities to address homelessness in the best way for their local areas.
“We’re the ones with the boots on the ground in our communities addressing these resources” said Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann. “These are eating up larger and larger dollar amounts out of our general fund dollars that don’t allow us to do other services.”
One of the governor’s executive orders declared a state of emergency in communities that have seen a 50 percent or greater increase in homelessness since 2017. That’s based on data from the federally mandated point-in-time count of unsheltered people, done in cities and counties typically over one night in late January.
Lincoln County Commissioner Claire Hall says that leaves out much of the more rural areas of the state, where it can be harder to count people experiencing homelessness.
“Even the best point-in-time counts probably only capture about 30% of the actual population experiencing homelessness in one form or another,” said Hall. “This is why we’re disappointed that the governor chose the point-in-time count as the only criteria for her executive order.”
Hall points out that the most recent data available from the school district shows 917 students experiencing homelessness in Lincoln County. Those numbers were not captured in the last point-in-time count.
Hall and her fellow commissioners wrote a letter to the governor about this issue earlier this month, but she says they haven’t yet heard back. Still, she is pleased with the governor’s executive order calling for the state to increase production of housing.
“Emergency sheltering saves lives,” said Hall. “But unless we get people into permanently affordable housing, then unfortunately, the cycle continues again and again and again.”