January 31, 2020

Commissioners Susheela Jayapal and Jessica Vega Pederson joined dozens of older adults at the Hollywood Senior Center Wednesday to build warming kits of band aids, socks, antibacterial wipes, tissues and hats for a service project benefiting local residents experiencing homelessness.

For more than 45 years, the Hollywood Senior Center has helped promote wellness among older adults in Multnomah County. Visitors 55 and older have access to a range of programs, from exercise classes to drawing or painting lessons. 

Commissioners Jessica Vega Pederson and Susheela Jayapal prepared warming kits and hosted a Q&A session with older adults.

“Our vision is rooted in the belief that we should all have a high quality of life and access to programs and services,” Amber Kern-Johnson, the executive director, said. “And many of those programs and services we are able to provide is in partnership with Multnomah County.”

As the group prepared the kits, both commissioners briefed the group on the strides Multnomah County has been making in addressing the homelessness crisis, as well as the work that must be done. Among the hottest topics discussed Wednesday: housing and homelessness.

Commissioner Jayapal represents the NE Portland district the Hollywood Senior Center belongs to. As a resident of District 2 for 25 years, she said she deeply understands the impact of the housing affordability crisis on the local community.

“The root driver of what we’re seeing is economic,” Commissioner Jayapal said. “We are doing a lot. In the last five years we’ve more than doubled the number of emergency beds in our system. We served more than 12,000 people last year with rent assistance and services to get people into housing.”

Other topics included the 2020 Census, transportation, climate change, the local economy, and civic engagement. Of all the topics covered, one gathered the most interest--what can seniors do to remain civically engaged?

“What’s close to my heart is, I want ideas from you on how seniors can protect issues that are close to them,” one participant told the commissioners. “What can I do? What can I help my friends do?”

There are a number of factors that are affecting causes important to seniors, Commissioner Vega Pederson said. Cuts at the federal level are having significant effects on older adults. And locally, business income tax and property tax revenues are stagnant, which affects investments in seniors at the local level.

The number one way to stay engaged, Commissioner Vega Pederson said, is for older adults to communicate to Multnomah County leaders about topics that are important to them. The County’s annual budget hearings are open to the public. 

“As we’re having these discussions, it’s important that we hear from older adults about the needs for critical services and why we must continue making certain investments,” Commissioner Vega Pederson said. “We know that these are services that people rely on, and we’re committed to protecting them, but it’s really important for there to be voices of people who are being affected”