Dear friends and neighbors,
Amid all the political noise overwhelming our newsfeeds and social media alerts, it can be easy to confuse the politics for policy-making and game-playing for governing. And when we do, we pay the price. We lose sight of government’s profound promise.
But if you peel away the layers of punditry and politicking, a simple but timeless value emerges: the shared responsibility to care for our community.
I have dedicated my life to this vision of government, one where we all have a stake in each other’s success.
As Multnomah County Chair, this value shapes both my policy priorities as well as my stewardship of County government, understanding that my highest duty is to leave this place a little better than when I took office.
I can confidently say that we are on track to achieving that goal.
Today marks the beginning of my second and last term as your County Chair, and I am filled with hope for the next four years. We have made great strides, and although our community faces many significant challenges, they are not insurmountable.
In my first term, we were confronted by a national housing crisis and in response, created the Joint Office of Homeless Services with the City of Portland and we doubled our investments. Through the Joint Office, we have prevented thousands from falling into homelessness and moved thousands from the streets and into housing. Just last year alone, we served 30,000 individuals.
But we know we need to do even more.
We will continue to build on this foundation and work diligently with our partners to ensure that nobody in our community will be homeless simply because of their income, health or circumstance.
Responding to the housing crisis will require continued focus, energy and time, but we know that government should never be solely focused on responding to crisis. This means being flexible and responsive, but never distracted, so that the work of improving our existing community assets can continue unabated.
And we have done just that.
These community assets include large-scale physical structures like the Sellwood Bridge, the new County Courthouse and the new Health Department Headquarters. But they also include smaller improvements to roads and infrastructure across the County. All are projects that will ensure future generations can count on our community assets to withstand the ravages of time and sudden natural disasters.
But our most valuable community asset is our human infrastructure, the people who live and work in Multnomah County every day. And just like bridges and roads, a resilient and compassionate community also requires investment. This is why I firmly believe in our collective responsibility to support each and every person or child who needs it.
In the past four years, we expanded the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) program within the Parkrose, Gresham and Reynolds school districts, bringing the total number of SUN schools in Multnomah County to 90 across six school districts. And we did so while improving our model so that the increasingly diverse youth in our community have access to the culturally responsive and culturally specific services they deserve. SUN gives each student access to the full range of services that every child needs to reach their potential. I am proud of our continuing investment in the families, and the future generations, of our community.
But whether our work is focused on improving roads, responding to crisis, or investing in families, none of it can be called community-driven if we do not confront institutional racism head on.
The task is daunting, at times uncomfortable, but always necessary. Too many people have waited too long for us to acknowledge and address the long history of overt and insidious racism that has permeated our public institutions including County government.
To do so, we need to look at ourselves individually as well as collectively. We need to listen with authenticity and do the hard work of recognizing how our own biases play out every day. And then we must take action.
Here at the County, I am privileged to work with people who have dedicated their lives to advancing this work, and I am fully committed to the transformation of this organization. That means eliminating inequitable experiences for our employees and our clients. It means making sure that high quality service, compassion, justice and inclusion are at the heart of our programs and policies.
We have a lot of work ahead but we are making headway. The County’s Workforce Equity Strategic Plan is currently underway and we committed to making the structural and practice changes necessary to live up to our values.
I believe in government because I believe in our collective power to care for each other, and to move our community forward so that future generations can thrive. That is how I see my job as County Chair and I am excited to continue working on making that a reality for our entire community.
Multnomah County inaugurates new Auditor and first Indian-American Commissioner while County Chair and Sheriff launch new terms
In a historic ceremony, Multnomah County on Thursday swore in the Board of Commissioners’ first Indian-American member while inaugurating a new Auditor and launching new terms for the County Chair and Sheriff.
Chair Deborah Kafoury, Sheriff Mike Reese, Auditor Jennifer McGuirk and Commissioner Susheela Jayapal took turns raising their right hand while reciting an oath administered by Multnomah County Judge Nan Waller.
Gov. Kate Brown, Chair Deborah Kafoury call for continued state investment in housing, shelter: ‘It’s the right thing to do. It’s as simple as that’
The women at the Gresham Women’s Shelter were ready for Gov. Kate Brown.
Jessica McQueen presented her Chihuahua, Twix, for a few ear-scratches and head pats. Jamie Finney chatted and shook hands. And then there was Sean Williams, decked in gold shoes and ready to show off the dance moves she’s trained for months to perfect.
After talking with Brown and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, Williams leapt three feet into the air, fell to her knees as she landed, bent backward until her head all but touched the floor — and then sprang back to her feet, all in one fluid set of motions.
Healthy Birth Initiatives celebrates parenting, leadership, community at annual holiday bash
For nearly a decade, Multnomah County’s Healthy Birth Initiative has hosted a winter party to celebrate the families that grow through the program. Based out of the Northeast Health Center, Healthy Birth Initiatives, funded with federal grant dollars, provides about 200 African American families culturally-specific wrap-around services including case management, health education, community engagement, and service coordination.
A hand up to hope: Winter after winter, night after night, outreach teams hit the streets with lifesaving gear, housing connection
The car stopped on a hushed street in downtown Portland. Perlia Bell stepped into the rain and opened the trunk.
Across the road, a man named Josh, framed in bright light, sat close to the glass doors of a closed business. Josh had been re-packing his bags while waiting for a friend, the stuff of survival scattered all around him. An ample awning overhead kept him dry.
Bell grabbed a tarp and a sleeping bag from a pile of supplies and walked over. She introduced herself — she’s a street outreach worker for JOIN; she just wants to say hello — and laid the gear near Josh’s feet.
“Is one tarp enough?” she asked. “Or do you need one more?”
Lighting the way for compassion: Vigil of Remembrance honors those who live, and died, experiencing homelessness
The longest night of the year was frigid. As holiday traffic roared past, nearly 80 people walked silently across southeast Portland from a church on Powell Boulevard to a shelter on Foster Road.
They walked for the Street Roots vendor who died in a doorway. For the people whose identification, medication, and family photos were lost in camps sweeps. For the indignities endured by those surviving on the streets.
“I can’t even count the number of times I couldn’t keep myself and my things clean trying to pee safely and out of the hard, judging public eye,’’ a woman named Becca shared. “So oftentimes, I ended up dirty. I got rashes from wet, dirty clothes and sleeping gear. All I could think about was getting clean.’’
“The truth is: my lack of housing and struggles to just care for my body and my clothing often wrongly made people feel justified in discriminating, rejecting and judging me in ways that made it almost humanly impossible to carry on.’’
New Oregon Historical Society Exhibit
Feb. 14, 2019 is the 160th anniversary of Oregon statehood, and to mark the occasion, the Oregon Historical Society will open their new permanent exhibit, “Experience Oregon” this Feb. 14.
This exhibit features diverse voices representing Oregon’s many cultures and was developed through extensive research and in partnership with Oregon tribes, educators, content specialists and historians.
And remember, because of a levy passed by voters in 2010 and renewed in 2016, all Multnomah County residents receive free admission to the Oregon Historical Society museum.
There are many other exhibits and programs at the Oregon Historical Society (located at 1200 SW Park Avenue in Portland) every day. Go to www.ohs.org for more information, and remember that Multnomah County residents have free admission.
Multnomah County Accepting Applications for Community Involvement Committee
Do you care about community involvement in County decision-making? Do you want to help reduce barriers to civic participation? Do you enjoy working with a diverse group to identify common goals that benefit the community? If so, apply to join the County's Community Involvement Committee (CIC).
The CIC serves as Multnomah County’s advisory body on community engagement and involvement, and plays a crucial role in bringing community voice into county decision-making. CIC members engage in an ongoing review of the County's community involvement policies and programs, bring community concerns to County leadership, and assist in facilitating communication between the County and the community.
In 2018, the CIC was on hiatus while the Office of Community Involvement conducted a review of the County’s community involvement process and the role of the CIC. With the review compete, we are currently recruiting for fifteen CIC members. Applications are due Monday, Jan. 28 by 5 p.m.