Multnomah Co. gets extra $50M from homelessness tax, Commissioners disagree on spending

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners met Thursday to discuss where to spend additional funds available to the county for tackling the homeless crisis.
Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 7:25 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners met Thursday to discuss where to spend additional funds available to the county for tackling the homeless crisis.

Previously, Metro alerted the county that about $50 million more than expected had been raised by the Metro Supportive Housing Services Tax.

County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson presented her proposal on how to divide up the money during the work session. This includes money for expanding shelter access, helping to stop people from losing their homes and increasing daytime services.

“I think what we heard from the majority of the board is that people feel good about the vast majority of the investments that are being proposed,” Vega Pederson said. “People have seen some of their ideas come through and show up in the different investments that we’re making.”

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But tension boiled over at one point of the meeting when the county health department was questioned on how it would be spending $10 million for behavioral health services.

Commissioner Sharon Meieran agreed with the board that behavioral health needs to be addressed, but she was concerned about using money meant for housing for behavioral health.

“As you get away from the actual housing element of it, there’s a more tenuous tie so I think that’s a conversation important to have,” Meieran said.

Meieran was also one of the board members who questioned the speed at which the chair wanted to spend the surplus money. Vega Pederson said she is planning to hold a vote on her proposal next week.

“The goal should not be rushing to spend money,” Meieran said. “We need to be focusing on a plan and spending money intelligently, smartly, and accountably where it can make the most difference now so we can save lives and get people off the streets.”

Vega Pederson told the board she wants to see the money out the door as soon as possible so nonprofits and government agencies can start helping those experiencing homelessness.

“The more time we spend time on deciding how we spend these dollars, the less our joint office and other staff members have time to be really working on that long-term bigger work,” Vega Pederson said.

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Also this week, Gov. Tina Kotek announced she would be taking back about $2.7 million of the $18 million given to the county through her $200 million Emergency Homelessness Response package. That money will now be divided up between Clackamas, Polk and Marion counties.

Vega Pederson said she had a conversation with the governor on the phone about giving the money back earlier this week.

“I know there are areas in the state where we have seriously underfunded shelter,” Vega Pederson said. “We have people looking to get shelter in places like Clackamas County and other parts of the money and they don’t have the funding.”

Meieran disagrees with giving some of the money back to the state. She believes the county should be using every possible dollar to create a plan to address the crisis.

“We do not have a plan to address homelessness in Multnomah County and that is the elephant in the room,” Meieran said. “Until we get one, we’re not going to be able to  achieve goals because we don’t have shared goals.”

Follow this link to see the full proposal