Dear friends and neighbors,
With the new year fully upon us, I wanted to reach out and share with you the work we're doing at Multnomah County, and a look ahead.
In November voters elected three new commissioners to the Multnomah County board, making it the first board with a majority people of color, and the seventh board in the county’s more than 160 years comprised entirely of women.
I've spoken with many people in the community who've told me that this board gives them hope. I agree. And already, our new commissioners are getting to work.
Commissioner Sharon Meieran is applying her background as an emergency room doctor to housing and mental health issues. Digging into how we can do better to serve the most vulnerable.
Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson is taking a lead on transportation, exploring how we can invest in our bridges and roads and improve mobility and safety.
And Commissioner Lori Stegmann is looking at new ways to help lift families in east county out of poverty and bring opportunity to communities that have been left behind.
All three of these strong women are bringing new leadership and new perspectives to the board, joining me and Commissioner Loretta Smith at a critical time.
As a community, we don't always agree with each other. But we have shown time and again that we can come together when it matters and deliver results.
That's how we rebuilt the Sellwood Bridge, its how we came together to house more than 1,000 homeless veterans and it's how we're working to make our justice system more fair and our communities safer.
Here in Multnomah County, we all want our community to be a place that our children are proud to call home. And the people who are stepping up every day to commit themselves to that vision are a daily inspiration.
Video: County and local leaders speak out against threat to sanctuary communities
On January 25, county and local leaders gathered at Multnomah County headquarters to express dismay about President Donald Trump's executive orders on immigration and sanctuary communities.
"Multnomah County will follow the Oregon Constitution and the policy of directing local resources for local priorities," said Chair Kafoury.
In addition to Chair Kafoury, speakers at the press event included Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson; Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese; Andrea Williams, executive director of Causa and Mathew dos Santos, legal director of the ACLU of Oregon.
Multnomah County asks public to report ICE raids at courthouse
In recent days, there have been reports of a nationwide surge in Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids. Federal immigration officers in El Paso, Texas detained a domestic violence survivor, who was visiting a courthouse to a receive protective order against their abuser.
So far, county leaders have not received any reports of such actions at the Multnomah County Circuit Court Courthouses. But the possible increase in these incidents across the country is concerning. Abusers often use threats of deportation to prevent their victims from seeking help.
Courthouses should be safe locations for people to access justice, particularly people who are fleeing violent relationships. They must be able to safely seek help without the added fear of detention and deportation.
Multnomah County works to support families in our community and to provide services to all those in need. The county is working toward asking Oregon's congressional delegation to request that the Department of Homeland Security designate courthouses as "sensitive locations" like churches and hospitals.
In the meantime, if you witness or hear of an instance of a domestic violence survivor being detained by ICE officers at Multnomah County courthouses, please contact the court at 503.988.4794. If you or someone you know is in need of domestic violence services, please contact Call to Safety at 1.888.235.5333.
Tight housing market threatens progress in ending homelessness
Seven months after the City of Portland and Multnomah County joined forces to spend $30 million and create a coordinated office for attacking homelessness, that partnership has presided over a string of successes.
A dramatic expansion in day-and-night shelter capacity has helped hundreds more people find a safe place off the streets. Many more vulnerable young people, who are disproportionately people of color, were given a chance to find and keep stable homes.
Expanded help for victims of domestic violence has helped more Latinos back into housing, where they can begin the difficult work of healing and rebuilding their lives. And new funding for prevention programs has helped hundreds more people -- and especially people of color -- stay in housing or quickly regain it, avoiding the trauma of homelessness.
Those successes from the Joint Office of Homeless Services and its nonprofit partners stood out Tuesday during a rare combined session of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners and Portland City Council.
The briefing served as a progress report on the Joint Office, which formed in July 2016. It also offered a chance to review years of intense community collaboration as part of the A Home for Everyone initiative -- a partnership in which the city, county, businesses, faith leaders and community organizations pursue unified plans to end homelessness.
"We've done so much in the last seven months, and there's still so much to do," said Chair Kafoury. "We're targeting all of the right places. But it's going to take everyone in our community to help solve this problem."
Chair Kafoury throws support behind protecting tenants
Chair Kafoury testified before the Portland City Council last week, throwing her support behind a new policy that requires landlords to pay moving expenses for tenants who receive no-cause evictions or rent increases larger than 10 percent a year.
City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, with support from Mayor Ted Wheeler, announced the plan early this month. As part of her remarks supporting the plan, Chair Kafoury calls out the county's response to news about an apartment complex in Northeast Portland where tenants received 100 percent rent increases. The building is home to 26 kids -- more than 5 percent of the student body at their neighborhood elementary school.
The county will provide $48,000 in rent assistance to help those families stay in their homes through the school year. That announcement came the same day the Chair and Mayor Wheeler wrote an open letter urging landlords to work with tenants who might be struggling to make rent in February after losing work because of last month's snow storm.
'Flip the Script' a pathway to jobs/housing for African Americans leaving incarceration
When Freda Ceaser meets with people leaving incarceration for the first time, she usually knows what they're going to say.
"'If I could just get a job, I could get back on my feet or if I could just get a foot in a door, I could stand a fighting chance,' These are people who want to change their lives," says Ceaser, director of employment services at Central City Concern.
"But they are facing a lot of challenges as they come out, and it does a number on your confidence."
Ceaser and Central City Concern, a Portland nonprofit working to end homelessness, have become a driving force behind a new program meant to help African Americans leaving the justice system. It's called "Flip the Script," and it focuses on breaking the cycles that send people of color back to prison more often than other parolees.
The program is funded and supported through a partnership with Multnomah County's Department of Community Justice (DCJ), the City and County Joint Office of Homeless Services, Central City Concern and Meyer Memorial Trust, with a specific focus on decreasing the disproportionate incarceration and use of emergency shelter for people of color.
"We looked back three years at the recidivism rate. So for us this was a no-brainer," Ceaser says. "We need to invest in our reentry programs, especially housing and employment. Clients exiting our program with full time employment and rent responsible, their recidivism rates are cut in half."
"I want you to know that you have my full-fledged support," Chair Kafoury said to the guests. "We all know that a stable home and stable income are the key to getting ahead. And yet sadly, when people finish their service in our corrections system we put every barrier we can in front of them. For too long, our criminal justice system has focused on punishing people, especially people of color, instead of investing in their success. This collaboration will change lives."
Help teens learn valuable skills while working in a garden
Want hands-on experience with restorative justice practices? Love getting your hands dirty in the garden? Our Department of Community Justice (DCJ) is looking for Hands of Wonder Volunteer Facilitators and Gardeners.
Through the Hands of Wonder program teens under the supervision of DCJ gain real-life work experience by learning to grow, harvest and sell organic produce.
Questions? Contact the DCJ Volunteer and Intern Coordinator at 503-988-5634