To no one's surprise, the Portland City Council this afternoon unanimously took the first step toward a massive new outlay on homelessness programs and services—a $2 million package that came to life only after significant political criticism erupted over what's otherwise been a summer filled with camping crackdowns and harsh rhetoric about "lawlessness" on the streets.
Today's vote was on a $300,000 proposal (pdf), relying on excess federal grant money, that the housing bureau hopes will find stable homes for some 92 women and clear shelter space. That's a big deal, given that shelter wait lists are long enough that would-be clients often have to wait weeks before getting off the streets.
The plan calls for the housing bureau to work with nonprofits it's long built relationships with. And by focusing on getting women into homes—bypassing shelters altogether, in some cases—the plan makes advocates happy. Previous versions of this proposal, a passion of new Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman, focused only on shelter capacity. Advocates and elected officials, including County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury, ripped that initial approach as misguided and inefficient.
"The $300,000 is certainly not the end," Saltzman said before giving his vote. "It's the beginning."
The Mercury first reported on the plan to spend grant money last month. Days after that story ran, and after meetings with Mayor Charlie Hales and former Housing Commissioner Nick Fish—amid some intense criticism—Saltzman went on KGW and broke the news he was suddenly looking at some $1.7 million in additional one-time funding on homelessness.
That larger proposal, also first detailed by the Mercury last month, would focus some $700,000 on women, expanding the program council just approved, and then spend an additional $1 million helping others on the streets, including street kids. The model for that million bucks is a similar one-time effort brokered in 2010 by Fish and former Mayor Sam Adams. That effort, aimed at clearing clogs in the social services system, helped hundreds of people.
Saltzman repeated his promise to submit that spending during next month's regularly scheduled budget update. There had been questions about how the city would pay for the expansion, even on a one-time basis. But now, with the city now staring at a surplus as large as $11 million, it's almost assured to pass.
"I will stand shoulder to shoulder with you," Fish told Saltzman, speaking for his colleagues,
"when you bring back this supplemental request."
That push also brought an important promise from Kafoury, invited by Saltzman to testify on the entire proposal. Delivering on an idea pushed by housing activists, she vowed to work with her board to augment what it spends on homelessness. The two governments are working together on blending their efforts, an effort where Kafoury (frontrunner to take over as county chair next year) is running point.
"I also pledge to work with my colleagues to join with the city in finding additional funding to help those who are currently living without a roof over their heads," she says.