After more than a year of interim leadership, Portland and Multnomah County’s shared homeless services agency has a permanent director.
On Wednesday, county leaders announced that former Kaiser Permanente executive Dan Field will head the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services, pending a vote from the county board of commissioners.
“Dan is a leader with a track record of collaboration, partnership, and accomplishment, and that’s exactly what’s needed for this moment,” said Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson, who oversaw the hiring process.
Field comes from overseeing government relations and community philanthropy work at Kaiser, where he helped establish Health Share of Oregon, an organization that coordinates Medicaid coverage for low-income residents across Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties. Field also helped open Portland’s mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Oregon Convention Center in 2021.
Field said the way he was able to coordinate across jurisdictions to get a mass clinic operational in a matter of weeks is a skill he’ll bring to the Joint Office of Homeless Services.
“I think that’s the sense of urgency and practical approach that we need to bring to this work,” said Field, who calls himself an “unconventional candidate” for this role because of his background in the health care industry. “I do bring a bit of a new perspective, having not worked directly in this space. I think the style that I bring is extremely collaborative and extremely facilitative.”
Prior to entering the health care industry, Field worked for former Gov. John Kitzhaber when Kitzhaber was in the Oregon Senate, and for former Portland Mayor Vera Katz, when she was speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives.
Field enters the office amid a renewed state and local focus on addressing the regional homelessness and housing crises. That includes the county mandate called Housing Multnomah Now, intent on moving hundreds of unhoused Portlanders into housing within the year, the state’s $200 million housing package promising homeless service funds to Oregon communities, and a federal Medicaid waiver allowing Oregon to spend Medicaid dollars on housing support. Field said he’s eager to make sure his office takes advantage of the numerous opportunities to support homeless residents.
“I think our community and our state are at an inflection point, a really positive inflection point,” Field said. “And I’m excited to be part of that to lend my effort to the efforts of many others who’ve been working at this.”
He said his primary focus in office will be ensuring the county meets the housing goals set out in the Housing Multnomah Now plan, especially since its initial promise to house 300 people by May has hit delays. He also wants to make sure the county is effectively and efficiently using its allocation of funding through Metro’s supportive housing services measure – a pot of tax dollars from Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties meant to fund services that help previously unhoused people to remain in permanent housing. Recent county data found that Multnomah County spent less than half its budgeted funding from that measure in the first half of the last fiscal year.
The Joint Office of Homeless Services was established in 2016, shortly after the city of Portland declared a housing state of emergency. It was created to streamline the regional approach to homelessness and remove any redundancy across jurisdictions. The agency’s $255 million budget is composed of both city and county funds, and the department’s work is overseen by elected officials in both jurisdictions. This shared responsibility has become a problem when the two jurisdictions disagree on homelessness solutions.
Notably, Portland city commissioners have long criticized the county for encouraging the joint agency to focus more on creating permanent housing than establishing temporary housing solutions, like shelters or outdoor encampments. Field said he’s confident that sparring will come to an end with his leadership.
“I have the opportunity to leave behind some of the debates and disagreements that I think have slowed our progress over the past few years,” Field said. “We spent some time as a community arguing, and I’d like to reduce that and increase the time we spend collaborating. Healthy debate is important. But at some point, we have to agree on the direction and start moving.”
He is confident that the region’s current leadership is in agreement. Mayor Ted Wheeler echoed this sentiment at a morning press conference.
“I can tell you that the relationship between the city and the county around homeless services is better than it has ever been,” Wheeler said. “That gives me a lot of optimism about what we can accomplish through the office in the coming months, years ahead.”
Wheeler was directly involved in Field’s hiring process.
“During the interview process, [Field] demonstrated a strong commitment to helping us solve the homelessness crisis in the greater Portland area,” the mayor said. “He has extensive experience that I believe will serve him well in this position.”
Wheeler has recently put pressure on the county to help support a city plan to establish six government-sanctioned homeless encampments and ban street camping in the next year. Yet Multnomah County leadership has not publicly supported the proposal or agreed to funding assistance. When asked by OPB, Field didn’t say whether or not he supports the city’s camping policy. He noted that his job is to carry out whatever decisions elected officials make.
“I’m gonna let them stay in the lead on that for now,” Field said. “That’s really something that our top elected officials need to negotiate and finalize.”
Field was selected from a pool of 48 candidates. He will be the second permanent leader of the Joint Office of Homeless Services since it was established in 2016. The agency’s first head, Marc Jolin, stepped down in March 2022. Jolin was succeeded by two interim directors, Shannon Singleton and Joshua Bates. Bates, the most recent leader, will serve in a deputy director role under Field.
Field will oversee 95 employees.
The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners must vote to approve Field’s appointment before he officially enters the role. Field is scheduled to start work on April 28, pending that approval.