Dear friends and neighbors,
Our community is growing and changing, and with this growth comes opportunities and challenges. The era we are living in now reminds me of the start to Charles Dickens novel, A Tale of Two Cities, where, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...”
On the one hand, our region is thriving. In recent years, Portland has enjoyed the second fastest job growth rate among the 50 largest U.S. cities, adding more than 42,000 jobs between 2013-2015. With the influx of new residents came an increase in household income. Between 2010 and 2015, Portland enjoyed the third largest increase in household income among large cities, with income increasing an average of $9,604 per household and moving Portland from the 17th wealthiest city to 8th. Households with incomes of more than $100,000 grew by more than 50 percent.
On the other hand, way too many people are being left behind. Forty percent of people of color who work full time are making less than $30,000 a year. Rents have skyrocketed and many have been forced to move due to gentrification, rent increases or no-cause evictions. The poverty rate in many East Portland neighborhoods exceeds 25 percent. East of I-205, there are nearly 55,000 people living in poverty, the highest concentration in all of Oregon. Homelessness seems rampant and more visible than ever before. Many in our community are frightened because of draconian federal immigration policy, and worried about devastating environmental rollbacks.
The question before us is what type of community are we going to create? One that’s inclusive and values all members of our society - be they rich or poor, immigrant, refugee or lifelong Oregonian, white or people of color - or one that’s exclusive, unwelcoming and doesn’t give everyone a fair shot.
We know what the answer is, and that was evident in your responses to a survey I sent out two weeks ago asking you to identify your top concerns. I want to thank everyone who took the survey, including those that took the time to write about issues that weren’t on the list.
The top issues identified by those who responded are:
- Affordable housing and homelessness;
- Mental health funding; and
- Racial and ethnic disparities in our criminal justice system.
To me, this is confirmation of the values of our county. It shows that we as a community want to make sure that everyone has a place to call home; provide care for the most vulnerable among us; and ensure that everyone in our community be treated fairly.
I will take these values with me as we work toward an inclusive, diverse and just community. I ask you to continue to share your ideas, priorities, and concerns with me as we head into our budget season, as well as thereafter. The county will be holding a series of budget meetings and I will be hosting a town hall meeting at the end of this month. Details are below. I encourage your participation.
While our challenges are many, our abilities and opportunities are greater still.
It is an honor to represent you.
In the District
Last Friday, I spent the day touring a number of schools and key programs to learn more about the good work happening in our community.
Our first stop was Earl Boyles Elementary School, where Judge Nan Waller, a board member of the Children’s Institute, and Principal Ericka Guynes shared with us the many successes of the Early Works Initiative. A partnership between the Children’s Institute and the David Douglas School District, the Early Works site at Earl Boyles has provided much-needed access to high-quality early childhood education. Multnomah County has played a critical role in the success of this particular site through the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) program -- which provides after school programing, a food pantry and other services for families and children. I was most impressed to hear of the ways that this Early Works site has galvanized the engagement of parents, families, and communities in the Lents and Powellhurst-Gilbert areas of east Portland.
We then visited the Rockwood Library Makerspace, where middle and high school aged students have access to tools, software and equipment to experiment, design and create. This is a tremendous asset to our community -- where STEAM education (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) is limited. I was pleased to hear that the Multnomah County Library is applying the latest research on positive youth development in this Makerspace. Youth ages 6-12 are invited to “hang out, mess around, and geek out,” with the guidance and support of professional staff.
We then met with Russell Elementary School Principal Heather Bailey to discuss the needs of her students. Russell is the only school in the Parkrose School District without a SUN program. The school serves a diverse student population and would benefit from the improved attendance, supplemental instruction, and culturally-specific programming that SUN has delivered in neighboring schools. I will be fighting to ensure that the SUN program is expanded to Russell in this year’s budget.
Our last stop was Athena House, which provides emergency and long-term stabilization for commercially sexually exploited youth. The stories we heard while visiting were heartbreaking, but we were encouraged by the great work being done by Janus Youth Programs, who runs the house. As Chair of the subcommittee charged with assisting exploited youth and decreasing demand for sex trafficking I will continue to fight for resources to treat the victims of sexual exploitation.
Earth Day Events and East Portland Town Hall
Join us on Saturday, April 22nd as we mulch the trees and shrubs planted earlier this year at Errol Heights! Please arrive at around 8:45 am to register for this tree care event. Breakfast snacks, hot chocolate, coffee, gloves, tools and guidance will all be provided. More details can be found here.
I will also be hosting a East Portland town hall with State Representative Diego Hernandez (HD-47) at Midland Library in the large conference room on Sunday, April 30 from 2-3:30 pm. We will be talking about the important work we’re doing, answering questions you have, and hearing your concerns. I hope to see you there!
In the News
Budget Public Hearings
Library Seeks Advisory Board Applicants and Summer Reading Volunteers
The Multnomah County Library Advisory Board is seeking applicants, and those from East Portland and East County are encouraged to apply. Additional information and an interest form can be found here.
The library is also seeking volunteers for its wonderful Summer Reading program. Volunteers register people for the program, award prizes, talk with kids about the books they have read and help with events. Those interested in volunteering can find more information here.