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Homeless Crisis Response to Grow

Leaders pledge new $38 million investment

(AP) -- Government leaders for Portland and Multnomah County on Monday pledged a new $38 million investment to address the ongoing homeless crisis, monies made possible by unforeseen higher business tax revenues.

Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury

The plan is to create 400 more shelter beds, increase the number of outreach workers, expand behavioral health services, and fund community cleanup programs.

“We didn’t get here overnight. The houseless crisis has been chipping away at the city’s soul for over a decade,” Portland City Commissioner Dan Ryan said at a news conference. “There’s zero denial about the impact of this crisis on our street and (that) it’s having on our city.”

Portland, like other major cities, is in the midst of a homeless crisis that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Residents, advocates, businesses and organizations have urged the city to do more to address the issue — in the form of additional housing, mental health resources, cleanups and increased public safety.

“Anyone who’s traveled Portland’s streets knows that our city is overwhelmed by unsanctioned encampments that often pose health and safety and environmental risks to those who, not only live within them, but also to those businesses and neighborhoods that live immediately adjacent,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said.

Officials say that nearly half of the spending package will be used to buy or lease property to create hundreds of additional shelter beds citywide. Currently the county has about 1,750 shelter beds and motel rooms, which can serve up to about 2,000 people.

The county’s 2019 point-in-time count — a yearly census, of sorts, of the area’s homeless population — indicated 4,015 people were experiencing homelessness, with half of those individuals “unsheltered” or sleeping outside.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said officials have identified properties of interest and are in active negotiations with four sites, however the exact locations were not being disclosed at this time.

“If we can have something up and running in a month or two months, that’s urgent and that’s fast,” Kafoury said.

Officials say more behavioral teams and outreach workers will be deployed to Old Town, in downtown Portland — a part of the city that has seen sprawling encampments and increased violence, violence and mental instability.

Last month, officials from four cultural institutions in Old Town sent a letter to city leaders, demanding immediate action to keep visitors, staff and volunteers safe following “rapidly deteriorating conditions”.

Investments will also be made for additional hygiene sites and cleanups across the city — including at encampments and on “dangerous terrains” along highways and on steep embankments.

Wheeler said that the goal is to increase encampment cleanups by five-fold.


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