July 2017

Dear friends and neighbors,

For many years, Multnomah County has fought a wave of cheap opioids that lead each year to the deaths of hundreds of Oregonians.

We’ve changed the way doctors prescribe drugs at our clinics, passed laws that allow more people to carry naloxone, which can revive someone from an overdose death, and we’ve expanded our syringe disposal sites.

Today we are exchanging almost four million needles a year, double what we were in 2012.

But this crisis didn’t happen by accident. More than half the heroin users surveyed by Outside In say they first started using prescription painkillers. But when those got too expensive, they switched to heroin.

The rise of heroin addiction since the introduction of OxyContin is heartbreaking. And last week, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners took the first step to holding the drug companies behind this crisis accountable.

We are preparing to take the makers of these drugs to court to make sure that the people who profit from this crisis are facing the consequences.

We need to keep working to reduce prescriptions of opioids, keeping the next generation from getting hooked. But we can’t turn our backs on the people who are already suffering.

We know we need more addiction services but we also need more supportive housing to help those struggling with an addiction heal. And just as importantly, we need to confront the shame of addiction so that those who are suffering are empowered to get help.

That will take all of us working together.


Deborah Kafoury

County leaders join families, health experts in call for stronger air toxics oversight

Chair Deborah Kafoury and her daughter Anna Sokol Blosser rally for clean air

Families, advocates, industry leaders and elected officials turned out Wednesday, July 26 to rally support for more robust oversight of air toxic emissions by Oregon industries.

“We spent a lot of time getting kids into car seats to prevent traffic accidents,” said Tri-County Health Officer Dr. Paul Lewis, who has worked as a pediatrician for 30 years. “We can now prevent almost all bacterial meningitis with vaccines. So we strongly believe in prevention.”

But what are we doing, he asked, to prevent harm from the air we breathe?

“Kids are like hummingbirds,” he said. Where an adult’s heart beats 60 times a minute, a child’s heart beats 160 times per minute. Where an adult takes 12 breaths a minute, a newborn takes 60 breaths a minute. That rapid breathing exposes kids to more air, and more pollution.  

“There are established ways to reduce the amount of toxins in the air,” he said. “It’s a moral imperative for us to move forward on this.’’

“Let’s hear it for the hummingbirds!” Chair Deborah Kafoury shouted as dozens of children waved paper hummingbirds at a gathering outside the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality in Portland.

Read more about the call for cleaner air.

Summer meals support neighborhood kids and working families

Chair Deborah Kafoury laughs with children enjoying a summer meal at Parkrose High.

Beginning the first Monday of summer break, as most schools go dark, the cafeteria at Parkrose High lights up.

Children stream in at 8 a.m. for fruit, milk and cereal. At noon, they’re back for pasta, apples and graham crackers. Laughter and summer light bounce across the tables. Summer meals like this will be served every weekday until school resumes.

Recently, Chair Deborah Kafoury joined tables of chattering children and families dropping off kids, and staff at Parkrose High to visit the Summer Food Service Program. The federal program pays for about 200 million meals nationwide during summer break. The children at Parkrose were attending a Portland Parks & Recreation summer camp by the County-sponsored SUN System, a school-based web of services that support kids intellectually, socially and emotionally to assure graduation.

"Summer meals are a critical part of supporting working families in our community,'' Chair Kafoury said. "And the great thing is, at a program like the one at Parkrose, kids are getting healthy food and they're having fun."

Read more about summer meals, including how to find one near you

Earthquake-ready Burnside Bridge project underway

Just as families and neighborhoods need to be prepared for an emergency, Multnomah County is doing its part to help our community withstand and recover from a major earthquake. The Earthquake Ready Burnside Bridge project is underway, studying a variety of river crossing ideas. The project will identify the best options for creating an earthquake-resilient Burnside river crossing that will serve our region for generations.

The Burnside crossing was selected for a major seismic upgrade because it is part of an east/west lifeline route that the region will depend on when a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake strikes.

After launching the project in 2016, the County is seeking community-wide participation this summer to gather public input on alternatives and key issues. The current study will identify options to be studied in greater detail in a future environmental impact statement. The best alternatives will reflect shared values and serve the needs of us all.

Find out more about what Multnomah County is doing to prepare for a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, how you can help, and how you and your family can prepare for emergencies.

Key legislative priorities met in 2017 session

Government Relations Director Claudia Black updates the Board of Commissioners on July 20, 2017 about the county's legislative priorities, including securing funding to build the new central courthouse.

Multnomah County got done in Salem what it set out to accomplish: secure funding for a new courthouse.

During the 2017 legislative session, which adjourned July 7, Multnomah County secured from the Oregon Legislature the final $92.6 million of the approximate $300 million needed to build a new central courthouse. The new 17-story, 44-courtroom building will replace the county’s downtown structure which does not meet current seismic codes.

“It’s been a heavy lift for the past four years,” Government Relations Director Claudia Black said of the county’s ongoing efforts to secure funding during a Board of Commissioners meeting Thursday, July 20.

At the meeting, the county’s government relations team also highlighted the county’s legislative wins of the 2017 session in health, equity and public safety issues. The team also highlighted statewide funding for justice reinvestment and the state’s $5.3 billion transportation package to tackle traffic congestion and fix and expand the state’s roads and bridges.

Learn more about Multnomah County's 2017 legislative priorities.

Office of Community Involvement has new leadership and opportunities to get involved

Dani Bernstein, Executive Director of the Office of Community Involvement

Dani Bernstein brings more than a decade of professional experience organizing communities to their new role at Multnomah County as Executive Director of the Office of Community Involvement (OCI). Bernstein, who uses the pronoun they, has served as a field organizer, field manager and statewide field director for social justice campaigns around the country, including marriage equality and LGBTQ justice. Here in Oregon, they worked at the Oregon Bus Project, a local nonprofit that encourages youth civic involvement. They also served as acting executive director for the Equity Foundation, an LGBTQ community foundation.

Under Bernstein's leadership, the OCI is actively recruiting Multnomah County community members for volunteer service on several Multnomah County committees, including the Budget Advisory Committees that make recommendations regarding departmental budgets and operations.

Multnomah County is also recruiting members of the Oregon Historical Society Levy Oversight Committee. Members of that committee will ensure accountability for the expenditure of OHS levy funds in ways that proactively represent Multnomah County's diverse communities.

Multnomah County government is stronger, more effective, and more accountable when the voices of community members are involved in decision making. Check out the Office of Community Involvement webpage for opportunities to get involved, submit an interest form if you want to learn more, or contact the office directly at 503-988-3450.

Subscribe to Chair Kafoury's newsletter