With a month to go until the 2020 Oregon Legislative Session, dozens of local and state leaders gathered over breakfast at the Joint Office of Homeless Services Thursday to discuss the County’s top legislative priorities ahead of the short session.
The legislature is organized between regular sessions in odd-numbered years, beginning on the second Monday in January, and 35-day “short sessions” on even-numbered years in February. The annual legislative breakfast is an opportunity for Multnomah County to brief lawmakers prior to convening.
This year’s breakfast took place blocks from the County’s new Behavioral Health Resource Center. The County purchased the building at 333 SW Park Ave in Jan. 2019 to serve as a resource for people with mental illness who are experiencing homelessness. The County is seeking $12.5 million in capital through a partnership with the state in the first of a series of behavioral health resource centers for the metro area.
As Chair Deborah Kafoury welcomed lawmakers on Friday, she said housing and homelessness remains at the top of the County’s priority list heading into the upcoming session.
“Since my time on the Multnomah County Commission, I’ve been focused on issues of homelessness and housing,” Chair Kafoury said. “We have succeeded in serving a whole lot of folks. Last year, the Joint Office served over 35,000 people in Multnomah County.”
Restoring community corrections funding
Over half of Multnomah County’s general fund budget goes towards public safety, which includes the Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney, and Parole & Probation. So when the County takes cuts to community corrections, Chair Kafoury said, the impact is felt strongly.
In the past year, the County has worked to reduce its caseload, keep people out of jail, and get them off of parole and probation. At the same time, the County has reduced recidivism to lower than the state average. But due to budget cuts, the County is at risk of laying off parole and probation officers and reducing jail beds.
“Giving people the services they need so that they don’t need to go to jail is crucial, but we can’t do it unless we have these services available,” Chair Kafoury said. To right size the budget, the County is seeking $50 million for the 2019-21 biennium.
Additional priorities round out legislative wishlist
Beyond housing, homelessness and community corrections, the County’s legislative priorities include:
Maintaining community mental health services: A funding gap was created by an Oregon State Hospital Civil Commitment Caseload reduction. The County is seeking $9 million to realign the community mental health caseload.
Fully fund intellectual and developmental disability case management services: Various state and federal rules and regulations have drastically increased the staff hours required to serve this clientele. An Oct. 2019 audit found the lack of state funding is putting clients’ safety and well being at risk. The County is seeking $5 million for 2019-21.
Restore domestic violence co-located advocate services: In the summer of 2018, state changes cut Multnomah County’s co-located advocates from 5.75 FTE to 2.5. The County is seeking $850,000 for 2019-21 to restore these services.