Homelessness is affecting everyone in the Portland region. At a Feb. 13 public hearing, the Metro Council heard three hours of testimony about just how homelessness touches people in this region.
More than 65 community members testified about their priorities for the houseless community throughout the greater Portland area at a public hearing on a potential May 2020 supportive housing ballot measure.
Earlier this month, the Metro Council announced collaboration with HereTogether, a local homelessness advocacy coalition, to discuss the proposal being put to voters on the May 2020 ballot.
To fund this proposed homelessness measure, Metro is considering asking voters whether to charge a 1 percent income tax on people who make more than $125,000, or couples with a reported income of $250,000 or more.
The money collected from that tax would pay for services for people experiencing homelessness, including job training, mental health care, medical care, addiction treatment and case management, as well as rent assistance.
In this expedited process for the regional government, over the past week on Feb.10, Feb. 11 and Feb. 12 Metro staff engaged in community dialogue in Washington, Clackamas and Washington counties to discuss a plan to provide stable housing and services.
Members of the community made it clear in their public testimony that homelessness is not only an issue, but past due for a solution. Courtney Shannon, who identified as homeless, said she is sick of her friends dying on the streets and urged council to act now on this measure.
“We are way past a state of emergency. I’m sick and tired of seeing stray dogs getting treated better than people,” Shannon said.
Several members of the community, both housed and unhoused, raised the issue that far too many people are experiencing homelessness throughout the region. According to the 2019 Multnomah County point in time count, at least 4,015 people are houseless.
Another concern shared in testimony is accountability. Many who voiced support for the measure also question how the tax money will be spent and criticized the rushed process for a needed measure.
Unlike other measures, the proposal has undergone a process of only a matter of weeks with a vote to be made by Metro Council before the end of the month.
If the proposal does become a measure, it would add to the work Metro is already doing building homes throughout the region after passing a $652.8 million dollar housing bond in 2018.
As of today, the housing bond has funded the building of 683 new apartment homes region wide along with 700 more apartments in upcoming projects that will help more than 1,000 Oregonians find stable housing.
In between public testimony, Councilor Sam Chase asked the county chairs what is needed post the passage of the potential measure in order to be prepared for the needs of the community.
Washington County Chair Kathryn Harrington responded by saying that with this funding, it will allow for regional collaboration on a shared issue among all three counties.
“No longer will homeless people who have been residing in Washington County go to Multnomah County because Washington County doesn’t have enough services for individuals as opposed to families. And no longer will Clackamas County residents be dependent on services from the other county,” Harrington said.
Last week, during her State of the Region speech, Metro Council President Lynn Peterson announced support for a housing measure saying “I can’t sit here while people die in tents on the streets, parks and alleyways and parking lots across the region.”
In her closing remarks at the end of the hearing, President Peterson announced upcoming decisions to be made by the council to finalize the language of the proposed measure during a public work session Tuesday Feb. 18.
The Metro Council is expected to vote on the proposal Feb. 20.