Third-party review of Joint Office of Homeless Services points out inefficiencies, gaps in services

This week, the county-run Joint Office of Homeless Services received the results of a third-party review that took place over the past couple of months.
Published: Sep. 23, 2023 at 12:25 AM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - This week, the county-run Joint Office of Homeless Services received the results of a third-party review that took place over the past couple of months, which includes observations on the office’s current effectiveness and recommendations on how to move forward.

The office was formed in 2016 to create a partnership between the City of Portland and Multnomah County to address the issue of homelessness.

The review from Health Management Associates of Oregon (HMA) took place over a 60-day period, and included more than 40 interviews with City and County leaders and others involved with the office.

Multnomah County Commission Chair Jessica Vega Pederson said she asked for the review after she discovered the office was under-spending funds from the supportive housing service measure. “I sent out a letter, to my board and the City board and the Metro, saying this is not acceptable, and we’re going to do things to change it,” she said.

The HMA’s review pointed out what they felt were serious gaps in strategy, funding, and communication within the office.

The review noted a “lack of a clear set of strategies, vision and measurable outcomes”, “philosophical differences and debate with regards to model and approach”, “siloed investments which often leads to less desired outcomes”, and an overall “lack of a cohesive, effective governance of the homelessness response system”. It also pointed out that the office was falling short on integrating housing and healthcare solutions.

The review states that the fragmented systems within the office is leading to ‘returns to homelessness and poor outcomes’ for those the office is trying to help.

“There were a lot of things that we knew were not right with the system, things that we had to improve on,” Vega Pederson said. “I think one of the clear things that came out though is that as were talking about homelessness in 2023, the need to have a very strong partnership with our healthcare partners, with our CCO’s is key in order to successfully solve chronic homelessness.”

A ‘lack of trust’ between the City and the County was also noted from the interviews, and many interviewees reported not receiving communication about the work being done by the office and that they would often find things out through the media.

“There has been a legacy over the past several years that the voices of the City were not necessarily brought in to the work that the joint office was doing,” Vega Pederson said. “It was really important, as we talk about what’s next and what’s this work going to look like going forward, that the City and the County are partners in this and we also have an understanding of who are the other partners and voices that need to be a part of this.”

The short-term and long-term recommendations in the review included clarifying the roles that the City and County both have in the office, and creating a shared, cohesive vision for the future of the office and strategies moving forward.

The office’s director Dan Field said they’re still working closely with the consultants to make changes.

“We’re in a crisis, we all know that and we’re moving quickly, and this is not a classic kind of consultant report where they prepare it and just drop it on us,” Field said. “James and this national HMA team have been working with us on a daily basis to understand our workflows and understand immediate areas for improvement.”

The City and the County held a joint meeting at the County building on Friday to discuss the findings of the review.

You can read the HMA’s full report on the status of the Joint Office of Homeless Services here.