February 8, 2016

East County Caring Community meeting attendees discuss faith community strategies.

The housing crisis in Multnomah County is all too easy to describe.

Rent increases of 20 percent or more. An entire apartment complex of low-income families of color served no-causes evictions to make way for higher-paying renters. A 30 percent rise in the number of families walking through the doors of an emergency shelter.

The solution seems less easy to define and daunting; but the progress is unmistakable.

A regional initiative of governments and nonprofits called “A Home For Everyone” secured housing for 3,500 people last year, including nearly 700 veterans and their families; dedicated $60 million to building affordable housing and expanded tax incentives to builders who construct affordable units; and opened a year-round family shelter.

“This last year has show us what we can do when we work together,” Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said Thursday to room filled with officials and advocates who gathered to brainstorm solutions to homelessness in East Multnomah County. “We are making unprecedented investments in programs that are putting people into permanent housing.”

But it’s not enough, she said. While some families are finding stable housing, others are losing theirs.

“If we are going to truly address our housing crisis,” she said, “we will all have to work together, sharing solutions, resources and the resolve to get things done.”

Thursday’s meeting of the East County Caring Community brought together executives from Home Forward, Human Solutions and JOIN, as well as officials from the City of Gresham and staff from across Multnomah County to identify projects that work and brainstorm new ideas.

Chair Kafoury (left) and Betty Dominguez of Home Forward at Thursday's meeting.

Beth Burns, executive director of the homeless youth services nonprofit P:ear, huddled around a table with Becky Straus, an attorney from the Oregon Law Center discussing tenants’ rights.

Esmeralda Herrera, a case manager at Impact Northwest, gathered with county health staff at another table, throwing out examples of programs that served displaced people of color.  

Meanwhile Kafoury met with officials from Housing and Urban Development and Tri-Met to discuss best practices around affordable public transportation.

Rebecca Stavenjord, who organizes the East County Caring Community meetings in collaboration with the City of Gresham and East County school districts.  

“Everyone in the meeting had a little piece of the puzzle, when we get together to talk, we can come up with creative solutions together,” she said. “Facilitating that process is really exciting.”