Multnomah County and the City of Portland do very similar things when it comes to homelessness—just for different populations.
According to rules enshrined at some point in the last several decades, it's been the city's job to contract with "single-service providers" like JOIN and Central City Concern—that is, to steer funds toward services that will help single men and women over the age of 24, and couples. The county, as part of this bargain, is tasked with doing the same thing for families, kids, and domestic violence victims.
At the heart of this is the same basic planning and contract management work. On the county side, a handful of employees at the Department of County Human Services steer funds and contracts. On the city side, it's another handful of employees at the Portland Housing Bureau.
There was a good deal of exclaiming last week, when nascent plans to merge those two efforts became public. Under a plan being explored by County Chair Deborah Kafoury and Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman, the handfuls of employees I described would be brought under one roof—and rolled into A Home For Everyone, the coalition that's forming up plans to meaningfully address homelessness in Portland in coming years.
Here's an organizational chart officials have worked up for what's being called either the "Homeless Services Lead Agency" or the "Joint City-County Office of Homeless Services." (And here's a higher-resolution version.)
It's a draft framework, right now. But it's clearly something officials have put some thought into. Under this layout, Marc Jolin, who's already paid by both the city and county to direct A Home For Everyone, would be something of a Portland homelessness czar, supervising staffers working on homelessness issues.
Jolin would answer directly to Kafoury, but he'd also be answerable to the Home For Everyone Executive Committee, which includes Mayor Charlie Hales and Saltzman. And both governments would continue to fund efforts to ease homelessness, as they are now.
Again, all this is in early stages. "It’s a living, breathing thing," county spokesperson David Austin says. "It’s still moving around."
In a letter Saltzman and Kafoury sent out last week, they argued a consolidation would improve efficiency, reduce duplicative efforts, and create more consistency in contracts between local governments and service providers.
But there's a big chunk of Portland's homelessness efforts that's not addressed in that letter: Hales' current policy of eased restrictions on homeless camping within the city.
Under an ongoing pilot project, the mayor's office is inking user agreements with organized campsites—including well-regarded Right 2 Dream Too and two newer encampments—via the Office of Management and Finance (OMF), which Hales controls. OMF also is the agency responsible for day storage sites for the homeless, and a contract with a local security firm that carries out camp sweeps around town—something that might ramp up as the new camping policy kicks in.
OMF's fast-increasing role in addressing the city's homelessness problem has been a sticking point for some. It was one reason, among several, that Commissioner Nick Fish lodged the sole "no" vote Wednesday on a resolution to move R2DToo to a city-owned plot on the Central Eastside.
"This proposal is not aligned with the Housing Bureau, a Home for Everyone, the county or our ending homelessness initiative," Fish said at the hearing. "It does not include clear accountability measures, benchmarks for success, or even a budget."
Whether OMFs new responsibilities are folded into the new agency officials are contemplating remains to be seen. Kafoury and Saltzman have created a steering committee to better suss out the office's role.
"There are still questions that are unanswered," Kafoury says. "That's one of them."