April 1, 2021
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It has been a heavy couple of weeks. We were still reeling from the shooting deaths of eight people in Atlanta when we received the news of yet another mass shooting, this time in Boulder.
That the Atlanta shooter targeted Asian women added another layer of pain, grief, and complexity. Anti-Asian violence has been on the rise since the beginning of the pandemic, fueled by the racist rhetoric spewed by the former president. But while he fanned and exploited the flames, this violence is not new: it is ingrained in our history.
Last week marked the anniversary of one local example: the St. Johns riots of March 21,1910, when a mob of angry white residents attacked a small group of South Asian mill workers, beating them, throwing one out of a window, and eventually forcing them all onto trains out of town. They came back, though, and waged a two year legal battle against the perpetrators, very few of whom were ultimately convicted.
Asians have been part of this country for generations. We belong here. Please take the time to learn our stories, and speak out, whenever and however you can, against racism and hate in all its forms.
Our colleagues on the Board of Commissioners joined me and Commissioner Lori Stegmann in issuing this statement condemning the violence.
We are at the one-year mark of the pandemic. I am deeply grateful for the resilience our community has shown in making it through this time. In the early days, there seemed to be a need for synthesis and interpretation of all the information we were being bombarded with. At this point, there isn’t much that a monthly newsletter can add to bring you up to date on COVID data, so I'll likely transition away from making this a regular section.
I will say a few words about Multnomah County’s role in vaccine distribution. Most of the vaccine in the tri-county area is distributed by a consortium of hospital systems: Kaiser, OHSU, Providence, and Legacy. They run the mass vaccination sites at the Convention Center, and OHSU runs the site at the airport. A growing volume is now also distributed through pharmacies.
As the Local Public Health Authority, and as the operator of Federally Qualified Health Centers (our county health clinics), Multnomah County receives its own relatively modest allocation of vaccines. We have used our allocation to vaccinate eligible healthcare and other county employees; contracted service providers, such as shelter operators; and eligible county clinic patients and clients.
Beyond those groups, we have focused our allocation on those who are the most at risk, and the hardest to reach. We have taken mobile vaccination teams to home-bound seniors, people in low-income housing, and agricultural workers; partnered with outpatient settings and others to create pop-up vaccination sites for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color; and will be setting up four BIPOC and immigrant focused continuously operating vaccination sites. And this week, we'll start vaccinating people experiencing houselessness, in partnership with some of our community-based organizations. You'll find the most current links for signing up for vaccine at the end of the newsletter.
Last month, the Metro Council approved Multnomah County’s plan for investment of funds received from the Metro Supportive Housing Services Measure. These funds will begin to flow starting in July -- we anticipate receiving approximately $52 million in the next fiscal year -- and they will be used for long-term rental assistance and supportive services, including behavioral health services, job training, and wrap-around care.
These services will have a long-term impact on our houseless crisis, and allow us to move thousands of households into stable housing, as well as to retain their housing. At the same time, we also need to invest in more immediate approaches. There’s no question that the pandemic has exacerbated the crisis: we see the evidence all around us. It’s heartbreaking to see the growth in the number of people living in tents and in vehicles, on our streets, sidewalks, and open spaces. They need sanitation, trash pickup, and alternative forms of shelter, and they need it urgently. There's an opportunity to use American Rescue Plan funding for this purpose, and I’ve been advocating for that.
An example of such shelter is welcoming its first residents just this week: the St. Johns Village. The Village will be run by our nonprofit partner, Do Good Multnomah. It will house 19 residents in safe, warm, single-person units, with a shared community space, kitchen, showers and bathrooms, and laundry facilities. Do Good Multnomah will provide wrap-around case management services designed to help residents transition into permanent housing. I was able to tour the Village this past weekend, and am delighted to see it finally open, and want to thank all the community members who have supported it.
Many of you have asked about a community meeting for more information about the county purchase of the old Rite Aid on North Lombard for a future shelter. Currently, the Joint Office of Homeless Services is creating its budget for the next fiscal year. This will include the capital improvements on the site, as well as funds for programming. We are planning for community meetings once we have a clearer understanding of the available funding so that we can have a meaningful discussion. If you want to receive updates on the shelter you can sign up for alerts here.
The legislative session has been complicated, to say the least. I’ve met with all our Multnomah County legislators to discuss general county priorities, and have provided testimony on several bills, including SB 274, which would protect youth victims of sex trafficking from being charged with prostitution; SB 778, which would create a state Office of Immigrant and Refugee Advancement; HB 2946, which would create protections for franchisees (the majority of whom are immigrants) of large corporate chains; HB 2754, which would provide the needed funding to continue providing co-located domestic violence advocacy at our DHS offices; and HB 3372, which would protect our communities against environmental polluters.
I’ve also continued to work on the issue of gun violence. This month, I hosted a panel of local and national experts on evidence-based community responses to violence -- responses that treat violence as a public health issue and focus on interrupting and preventing it. As we re-vision the public safety system, these are the kinds of responses we need to invest in. And this week, I’ll be convening our community-based partners in the Cully neighborhood to begin a planning process to identify programs and responses specific to the Cully community.
Finally, I’ve been leading a small workgroup of smart, super wonky, and passionate folks who have been discussing Oregon’s property tax system. (Their dedication is evidenced by the fact that we meet on Friday afternoons at 4 pm to discuss a topic that makes most eyes glaze over.) This is complicated, and I’ll go into further detail at a later date, but in brief, our system is irrational, inequitable, and inadequate. It will be very difficult to fix, but there is growing consensus among government, business, and community that this is a fundamental structural problem that we must try to address.
In the Community
To close, I want to share these photographs from the first in-person community event I’ve attended in over a year: the ground-breaking for Las Adelitas, the largest redevelopment project in the Cully neighborhood to date. The project will include 141 affordable homes, 8,000 square feet of community and commercial space, and an outdoor plaza. It will rise on the spot once occupied by the notorious Sugar Shack strip club, and it is a testament to the will, persistence, and commitment of community members -- Cully residents who organized to close the Shack, to literally tear it down, and to make sure that something wonderful and positive took its place. Congratulations to the many partners who made this happen, under the stewardship of the team at Hacienda CDC. Can’t wait to be back for the grand opening!