Over 3000 Portlanders are homeless tonight; despite promises and plans the number is increasing not decreasing. Stay the course or change policy and direction?
We need a change in how we address homelessness in our community. One central problem is that for years the City and Multnomah County have taken responsibility for different populations. The City was responsible for funding and programs for single-men and the chronically homeless. The County was responsible for women and families who are homeless and for mental health funding and programs.
An example of the dysfunction of this division in responsibilities is the chronically homeless population –many of whom unfortunately experience mental illness or addiction. If the City is responsible for housing the chronically homeless and the County for mental health services there are bound to be gaps in the system and there are gaps. The City and County need to work together. And they need to work with the system’s consumers and providers to address system gaps and ineffectiveness.
One of the first initiatives I have undertaken as Housing Commissioner is joint governance and joint responsibility for our homeless system and funding. In April the City and County will both vote to create this joint governance model. While I don’t believe this will solve all of the problems around homelessness this is a major first step.
Next we must work on a streamlined system for people to get the assistance they need. When a person is homeless they are naturally in crisis and the current system we have of contacting multiple providers to get on “a list” doesn’t work. It’s also just adding more stress to a person who is homeless. We need to offer a single point of entry. These plans are already in motion and I am committed to making this happen.
We also need to address two other key issues that affect homelessness: the availability of affordable housing and income levels. In just this last month I have already secured an additional $20 million for the development of new affordable housing.
Additionally, we need to address growing income disparities. Many working people just can’t make ends meet. That is unacceptable. One of the simplest ways to solve this problem for many in our community is apparent – we must raise the minimum wage. While this will take a change in state law, I am committed to advocating for this. No one should be forced to choose between paying rent and buying food. Unfortunately, with the unreasonably low minimum wage this happens too often.
Eds. Note – After an election filing deadline, supporters of the Mental Health Association of Portland query all area candidates of contested races about issues important to us and post the responses to our web site. Queries and posting do not imply endorsement; the organization does not endorse candidates. Spelling and typographical errors are amended because we abhor text errors. See all candidate responses at Candidates 2014.