Portland’s Unveils New Strategy To Combat Homelessness

In an effort to address one of the city’s most persistent and complex challenges, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson unveiled a comprehensive plan on March 11 to significantly reduce homelessness. The Homelessness Response Action Plan sets a bold course to provide shelter or housing for an additional 2,700 individuals living without shelter over the next two years.

This initiative represents a strategic reset of the community’s approach to homelessness, pivoting towards new metrics and concrete steps that aim to unify efforts across multiple sectors. The plan, according to officials, is not just a blueprint for action; it’s a reimagining of how the city and county can collaboratively work to ensure that every person leaving a tent or shelter bed has a stable and lasting home.

Key to this plan is addressing the glaring racial disparities in homelessness and providing clear, expanded access to a range of services, preventing individuals from experiencing homelessness in the first place. The initiative promises more than just shelter; it aims to deliver a constellation of support, including healthcare, housing navigation, and crisis intervention.

The draft plan sets forth detailed goals and transparent budgeting, data sharing, and financial reporting mechanisms. It introduces a new governance structure to unite the various efforts in tackling homelessness and its root causes. This restructured approach moves beyond the confines of the Joint Office of Homeless Services, engaging healthcare partners, housing and service providers, treatment facilities, and government bodies at all levels.

Among the ambitious objectives, the plan targets to add 1,000 new shelter beds within two years and significantly increase the number of adults transitioning from shelters to permanent housing. Additionally, it focuses on enhancing behavioral health support, with the goal of opening a drop-off sobering center and adding more behavioral health beds.

In a departure from traditional methods, the plan employs a comprehensive counting method using by-name data. As of January 2024, the count stands at 11,153 individuals experiencing homelessness in Multnomah County, with nearly 5,400 unsheltered. This approach offers a more accurate picture compared to the one-night Point in Time Count, which, in 2023, reported lower figures.

Chair Vega Pederson emphasized the plan’s commitment to those in need.

“Homelessness is one of the most pressing issues Multnomah County faces,” she said. “This plan is our commitment to those who need us the most, ensuring they have the resources to be safe, sheltered, and on the path to permanent housing.”

Mayor Wheeler highlighted the plan’s focus on measurable outcomes and behavioral health.

“This is not just about setting goals but about a commitment to tackle homelessness with measurable outcomes and a focus on behavioral health.”

Governor Tina Kotek commended the plan’s comprehensive approach and the state’s readiness to be a partner in its implementation. Dr. Bruce Goldberg, a public health expert and advocate, praised the plan for establishing a coordinating body with real-time data, enabling better matching of services to client needs.

The public’s involvement is crucial in refining this plan. A comment period is open until March 29, inviting feedback from experts, community leaders, and the public. This phase includes virtual town halls, with final feedback compiled by staff starting March 30, aiming to finalize the plan by April.

The Mayor and the Chair are set to propose a new intergovernmental agreement to formalize this partnership, replacing the 2016 contract that created the Joint Office. This agreement, requiring approval by the City Council and the Board of Commissioners, will enshrine the new governance structure and specific goals, marking a significant step forward in the city’s fight against homelessness.