Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Last week I visited the county's new family shelters to serve dinner. That's where I met Juan.
We were getting ready to serve tacos, and Juan, age 5, was determined to help. He didn't care if all he did was hold a bag of chips. But he was adamant. When adults told him he was too young, he started to sob, "I want to help!"
And he did. He served alongside me until everyone had been fed. Then he served himself.
I can't stop thinking about Juan. He had a tenacity and a generosity well beyond his years. And he's been sleeping on a cot in a homeless shelter for months. That is the spirit I hope my budget supports.
Last Thursday I released my executive budget for the 2017 fiscal year. It charts a course for the next year of county government, with a $10 million investment in housing and homeless services, new summer job placements for youth, and violence prevention funds.
This budget supports services for kids, programs that reduce radical disparities in our community and alternatives to jail in cases when mental health services and other interventions are what really matter.
You can read the budget online, and I hope you do. Over the next month, my fellow commissioners and the public will continue a conversation about our priorities and where we should invest taxpayer dollars.
I hope that my executive budget reflects the experiences of our community but at the same time, I know that the need is far more than our resources. And we need to do more to make our community fair and just.
I am committed to that, inspired by those four words that Juan kept saying Tuesday night, "I want to help."
Shelter visit reinforces county's commitment to supporting homeless families
Nearly two months after a new shelter opened in east Portland, families say they have settled into a calmer pace of life.
The previous family shelter was only open during the coldest months of the year, and even then it closed its doors during working hours. The new shelter, open year-round and 24-hours a day, gives parents a chance to focus on what's important.
"We don't have to be out at 7, so we don't have that stress of everyone trying to get everything together," said Evan Rogers, who has spent months at the shelter with his 7-year-old son, Blake. "It's more relaxed getting him ready for school."
Rogers was among the more than 100 guests at the shelter this week when Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury visited to serve tacos prepared by the Tortilleria Y Tienda De Leon's.
Amid the din of children playing, Blake napped on a cot, hugging a basketball. Chair Kafoury chatted with parents about the changes in housing services in the county and listened to families talk of their continued struggles to find stable housing.
The visit comes as Multnomah County has pledged to cut homelessness in half by 2018, and as the City of Portland and the County are dedicating$30 million on housing services, affordable and emergency housing.
"There is so much need, so many people struggling," Kafoury said. The statistics -- showing more than 3,000 people without stable housing -- are troubling enough; Those numbers come into focus when she spends time with families.
Board approves purchase of new shelter site in southeast Portland for women and couples
Women and couples experiencing homelessness soon will have a new site at which to seek shelter and services.
The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously on Thursday, April 14 to purchase a 14,000 square foot building at 5120 S.E. Milwaukie Avenue. The property will be converted into a shelter for single women and women with partners.
The building is currently owned by the Society of St. Vincent DePaul of Oregon, which provides community services to struggling individuals and families.
The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners agreed to spend $2.35 million in one-time only funds to purchase the site.
The women's shelter will open in late summer and, in addition to housing, will offer a variety of wraparound services to people experiencing homelessness. The facility will have the capacity to provide shelter to about 100 women. The county plans to discuss possible programs with the neighborhood over the next few months.
The county sought to purchase the building at the recommendation of the A Home for Everyone Coordinating Board, which has called for the expansion of shelter and services to people experiencing homelessness, a number that includes more than 500 women who go unsheltered each night in Multnomah County.
Chair Kafoury said the shelter purchase was a bold and atypical step for a government that typically concentrates its efforts on providing services to people in need.
"I want to really thank my colleagues, because they have seen and they understand the need in our community that is very real for very many, many people," Kafoury said. "And instead of saying 'Oh, I'm sorry that's not really our job,' or 'Somebody else can take care of it,' my colleagues have stepped up and are stepping up today to say 'It's all of our job.'"
County and city commissioners briefed on proposed Joint Office of Homeless Services
Commissioners from Multnomah County and the City of Portland voiced support Tuesday, April 12 for a proposal to create a central office to oversee homeless services.
The proposed Joint Office of Homeless Services would align service delivery across jurisdictions with the goal of making things easier for people in need to access help.
"After years of talking about having a less fragmented system of human services, we are finally going to make it happen," Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said. "The real potential for this lies in the city and county joining forces to address homelessness. We have joined forces politically through the executive committee of A Home for Everyone and the joint office takes this collaboration to the next level."
Chair Kafoury said the joint office also will allow the city and county to be better partners to area nonprofit organizations, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, business and faith communities, and most importantly, people living on the streets and in shelters.
Chair Kafoury joins Governor Kate Brown and others in ceremonial signing of affordable housing bills
Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, Chief Operating Officer Marissa Madrigal and dozens of other city and state dignitaries joined Governor Kate Brown for a ceremonial signing of affordable housing bills.
The Inclusionary Zoning and Construction Excise Tax, LIFT (Local Innovation and Fast Track) and rent protection bills are among a package of affordable housing bills signed into law by Governor Brown.
They are a critical accomplishment in an intense 32-day legislative session with the housing crisis at the forefront.
The bills will in part: allow local governments to require builders to set aside new multifamily units for people making 80% of the county's median family income; lift a state ban on the construction excise tax; allow housing advocates to fast track $40 million set aside in 2015 for affordable housing; and require landlords to give 90-day notice before raising rents for tenants who have lived in a home for more than a year.
The landmark laws clear roadblocks in affordable housing and alleviate some of the burdens shouldered by so many struggling families in the community.
This is your place: the tie between health and a sense of belonging
Gun shots. Car exhaust. High-speed traffic. The places we live affect our health. Tack onto that an expectation - and so often a reality- of being mistreated; of feeling you don't belong.
"It's stressful being Black in America," john a. powell, a law professor at University of California Berkeley told the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners on Thursday, April 7 during a briefing in honor of National Public Health Week. "Some people feel uncomfortable talking about race. But even when you account for socioeconomic status, race is an indicator of health."
The son of Southern sharecroppers who moved north, powell was born in Detroit. He has worked as a public defender in Seattle, as the national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, as an international consultant to the governments of South Africa and Mozambique and taught law at Harvard and Columbia universities. Today he directs the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California.
He looks at how place - and race - impacts the physical health of a community.
"The way we think about health has changed in the past 20 years. It's not just biological or behavioral. We're looking at environment, geography. Where do people live?" He asked.
People who live in neighborhoods with more crime, violence and traffic, with poor and fewer parks, measure higher levels of stress in their bodies. And living that way, day after day, results in poor health.
But poverty is not created equal. Poor black people live in worse conditions than poor white people, for example.
"Something is going on, beyond poverty," powell said. "We're not just talking about race. We're talking about ethnicity, disability, if English is not your first language. What are the ways we send a message that this place is not yours. We can measure the biological response to feeling like you don't belong."