PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — At a critical time in working to remedy homelessness, a new audit of the Joint Office of Homeless Services found the office to be lacking in several areas.

The audit, released on Wednesday, used interviews with staff as well as a survey to analyze the state of the office.

According to the audit, staff shared the troubles of dealing with public criticism, including one employee who said they didn’t tell people where they worked because of the criticism.

Troubles also came from outside the office, with the audit highlighting that homeless service providers viewed the Joint Office of Homeless Services as a “confusing and chaotic organization.”

“Having a vision for how these different systems that are serving different populations of people are going to work together, and having a vision for how we will get out of this crisis,” said Jennifer McGuirk, the Multnomah County auditor.

The major troubles came down to a lack of communication and timeliness when working with the Joint Office, which included not paying providers on time, not completing contracts on time and the fact that less than half of homeless service providers thought the Joint Office was doing a good job communicating policies and goals.

Chair Jessica Vega Pederson said she has created quarterly meetings with all service providers to streamline communication and solve these issues. Some of the organizations meet more often with Joint Office staff.

“That’s the whole point of having the Joint Office of Homeless Services,” she said. “That’s the goal that we’re working for is how we can make that happen more efficiently knowing we are still following certain guidelines from the federal government.”

The chair is also hopeful that new leadership, like having permanent Director Dan Field, can help organize an office that hadn’t had a permanent director. She said it is about trying to focus more on contract administration.

“We want to make sure that we are consistent that we have good expectations for folks and that people have the resources that they can go to if questions come up, if there are questions around processes, so that we’re consistent around how contracts are managed, and the roles that people have.”

In response to the audit’s findings, a number of recommendations were made in hopes of improving the Joint Office:

  • Joint Office management should schedule regular communication among homeless service systems.
  • To improve timely payments to providers, staff should adjust their process so that they review payments in question, but do not prevent the rest of the invoice from being – processed.
  • Joint Office management should hire a contract management specialist to oversee the process.
  • Joint Office management should modify the Program Specialist role so that this conflict of interest is eliminated.
  • To ensure fairness among providers, Joint Office management should create criteria that must be met in order to change performance measures.
  • Joint Office executive management needs to communicate their strategic vision.
  • Joint Office management should ensure they send regular communications to service providers to address policies and goals.
  • Joint Office management should ensure that Joint Office staff are trained on how to review equity plans and should review equity plans submitted by providers.

The recommendations are set to be completed in 2024.

In response, the Joint Office issued a letter in response that said, in part:

In this letter, we acknowledge the audit recommendations and describe the commitment of County and Joint Office leadership in addressing those recommendations. In fact, some of this work is well underway, and this report helps validate that we are moving together in the right direction. We are pleased to offer early comments below about our plans for capturing and reviewing our performance, the lessons we’ve learned, and opportunities for improvement.

We have made much progress since the audit’s inception in spring of 2022, a particularly challenging moment in time for the Joint Office, when many of the interviews for this report were conducted. And now, many months later and under the guidance of new leadership, we are focused on both correcting past mistakes and moving forward with plans to reduce homelessness in Multnomah County.