Commissioner Jayapal's Newsletter: February 13, 2021

February 13, 2021
Dear Friends and Neighbors,

It was just over a month ago that we experienced one of the most traumatic events in our nation’s history: the storming of the U.S. Capitol. Many of us wondered whether still worse was in store -- and breathed an enormous sigh of relief as President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Devi Harris were sworn in, under crystalline blue skies and accompanied by the wise and forthright words of poet Amanda Gorman. This new administration is no panacea for all the deep and complex challenges we face; but it does represent an enormous shift in the values that will guide us forward. The return of decency, competence, integrity, and compassion is worth celebrating. 

More concretely, the administration’s immediate action on a wide range of issues is promising. Establishing federal leadership on pandemic response; offering a comprehensive package of economic relief; returning the United States to the Paris climate accord; proposing a re-visioning of our broken immigration system; and using executive action to reverse a plethora of harmful policies enacted by the previous administration -- all these steps offer progress on issues critical to our present and our future. 

COVID Update

Meanwhile, closer to home, you’re all likely aware of the good news that case rates in the Metro area have dropped sufficiently that we’re now in the “high risk” rather than “extreme risk” category. This is a tribute to the care you have all taken to mask up, maintain distance, and avoid social gatherings -- thank you! As the chart below shows, however, we are still at a level well above the peak we saw last summer. And we now have the new, more readily transmitted variants at large. So this is not the time to let down our guard: please continue the careful public health habits that have stood us in good stead.

Vaccine Distribution

There are, of course, other developments that offer hope, chief among which is the rollout of COVID vaccine. As is true across the country, Oregon’s rollout has been rocky; nevertheless, it signals a new phase of our coexistence with the virus. Approximately 625,000 doses have been administered, including first and second doses. For information about eligibility and sign-up for vaccination, please scroll down to the bottom of the newsletter.

At this point, most vaccinations in the Metro area are taking place at the Convention Center. In addition, a drive-through vaccination site is operating at the Portland Airport.  This site has been used primarily to serve people with disabilities, people who are receiving in-home care, or others who would have difficulty using the Convention Center site. I had a chance to visit it a couple of weekends ago, and it’s a pretty amazing operation; I’m grateful for the partnership with OHSU, the Port of Portland, and the Red Cross. 

Just in the past few days, some area Albertson’s and Safeway pharmacies have received allocations of the vaccine. The allocations are small -- 100 doses per location -- but are expected to expand over time. The link for those appointments is provided below as well.

Multnomah County is getting its own relatively small allocation of the vaccine. We’ve used that allocation to vaccinate our front-line employees as well as those of partner community-based organizations, such as shelter staff and community health workers. We have also started vaccinating adults in custody at our jails. As additional groups become eligible, we will use our allocation to concentrate on the hardest to reach and most at-risk communities -- those who would have trouble getting to the mass vaccination sites, immigrant and refugee communities and communities of color, and people in multigenerational households.

As with testing, I am extremely concerned that we will, once again, leave behind those most at risk. Oregon’s testing plan so far does not prioritize those front-line workers we were so grateful for at the beginning of the pandemic: grocery store workers, food processing workers, agricultural workers, bus drivers, and more. These are people who have had no option but to work in order to keep the economy going and allow the rest of us to keep our lives going; and who are disproportionately people of color. This is profoundly inequitable; and given that these workers are among the most at risk of catching and spreading the virus, may also lengthen our path out of the pandemic. I’ll continue to watch and advocate for equitable and effective vaccine distribution.

Eviction Moratorium

Some important information about recent changes in eviction moratorium protections for Multnomah County renters:

Effective February 1, the Board of Commissioners rescinded Multnomah County’s eviction moratorium in order to align with the statewide moratorium. I opposed this decision: the state’s moratorium offers less protection and requires renters to sign a declaration of their inability to pay. I am very concerned that many of our most at-risk renters will find this declaration a barrier -- immigrants and refugees who don’t speak or write English, people who aren’t plugged into the information channels that would alert them to the fact that this declaration is required, and those who would find signing such a form intimidating.  I will be working to identify additional resources we can bring to bear to protect renters.

I do empathize with landlords -- particularly small ones, who also find themselves squeezed by COVID. I know many of them are struggling to pay mortgages. In this public health crisis, our first priority has to be the people most at risk of losing their housing -- our struggling renters. But it is crucial that the federal government step in with assistance for landlords as well (as the state has done with its recently created landlord assistance program.)

It’s critical that we get information about the new provisions and requirements out to renters, so please share this widely within your networks.

What I’m watching in the Legislature

As the Legislature begins the 2021 session I have been meeting with the legislators in District 2 to discuss priorities and bills that impact the programs and services provided by the county. Chief among these priorities is funding for our social safety net services: housing and houselessness, behavioral health, public health, domestic violence, and services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

I’ll also be keeping a close watch on the public safety reform bills sponsored by the legislature’s People of Color Caucus -- these are an important part of the public safety reform agenda that has grown out of the racial justice uprising of the past year. Some additional policy items I’m working on and/or supporting include:

  • Removing supervision fees for people coming out of the criminal legal system; 

  • Prohibiting the predatory real estate practices that have contributed to displacement and loss of wealth for homeowners in North and Northeast Portland; 

  • Ensuring adequate education funding for youth in our detention system; and

  • Providing immunity from prosecution for minor victims of sex trafficking. (Minors who have experienced sex trafficking can currently be charged with prostitution. This is inherently contradictory, since minors cannot, by law, consent to sex. It’s also enormously traumatizing to young people who are already coping with multiple forms of trauma, and likely keeps them trapped in abusive relationships.)

Arbor Lodge Shelter Update

As I mentioned in my last newsletter, the Joint Office of Homeless Services (Joint Office) has purchased the former Rite Aid at 1952 N. Lombard for use as a shelter. For the present, it will be used as a severe weather shelter on nights when needed, with the longer-term plan of developing it as a year-round shelter beginning later in 2021. This weekend marks our first severe weather event of the season, and I just returned from a night shift at the shelter. Twenty-six folks came in from the cold; so this shelter meant that many fewer people at risk out on the streets.

I recognize that community members feel they should have received more notice of this decision, and have some concerns about a shelter being sited at this location. The purchase was put together very quickly because we received late guidance that CARES funds could be used for such a purchase, with the requirement that they needed to be spent by Dec. 30. I myself did not learn about the purchase until a few days before it was announced. 

That said, planning for the long-term shelter has not yet begun, and we look forward to working with the community as we embark on that process. I’ve had the chance to meet with several area neighborhood and business associations to answer questions and discuss more extensive community engagement, and very much appreciated the supportive and welcoming spirit of the conversation.  To learn more about the project and how you can get involved, visit ahomeforeveryone.net/arborlodge.

In the Community

Virtual events just aren’t the same, but I’m still always glad to have a chance to meet with constituents. Over the last month I was able to meet with the Parkrose Neighborhood Association; participate in a webinar on air quality organized by Neighbors for Clean Air; and speak with a PSU School of Social Work class about policy-making.

I also engaged in a Willamette Week interview/conversation with Sandy Mayor Stan Pullian, linked to here. The idea was to see whether a Democrat and a Republican (though we both hold nonpartisan offices) could find common ground. It was a challenging exercise. While I believe in looking for common ground, that is hard to find when there’s disagreement about underlying facts.

I'm grateful to be part of a community that finds common ground in a vision of our country and county as places of justice and generosity; and I appreciate all that you do to move us toward that vision. As we head into this snowy weekend, please stay warm and safe.

With gratitude,

Susheela

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