PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s threat to split from the Joint Office of Homeless Services has Multnomah County’s Chair of the Board of Commissioners flabbergasted.
Commissioner Deborah Kafoury called out the mayor Tuesday night on Twitter saying Wheeler’s “assertion that the Joint Office insufficiently focuses on chronic homelessness is confounding.”
The words come in response to Wheeler suggesting Portland would sever ties with Multnomah County because the office’s response has not been able to meet the demands of the crisis. In a statement received Wednesday, the mayor said the partnership “must do better to connect the people living on our streets with safe shelter and services.”
The two leaders have paired the city and county together with the Joint Office since 2016.
“At my direction, the Joint Office is also working to bring several hundred new 24-hour shelter spaces to our community for the cold and rainy months ahead,” Wheeler said. “But this is not enough. Anyone traveling around Portland understands the need for more action to address street camping by providing more and better places for people to go.”
Wheeler said he wants more attention from the county on chronic homelessness, including an additional 300 new shelter beds by November.
Kafoury said the mayor’s actions signal a willingness to “dismantle” an operation that serves some of the poorest people in the region.
“While we can all agree that the mayor is right, more needs to be done,” she told KOIN 6 News. “But splitting off a successful partnership seems to be the wrong direction to head.”
Kafoury added that she was caught off-guard by Wheeler’s comments and has no idea what prompted him to consider leaving the partnership. She and county officials have been working at ensuring beds are available in time for the colder months.
Mayor Wheeler’s office was not immediately available for an interview Wednesday.
Sarah Iannarone reacts
Wheeler’s challenger in the November mayoral race, Sarah Iannarone, said Wednesday she supports the partnership between the city and the county.
“You don’t just pick up your ball and go home when you are unhappy with how that’s going,” Iannarone told KOIN 6 News. “You look into the situation, see what’s working and what’s not. Then you stay together, you problem-solve together to make sure we are achieving outcomes we need. Everything in Portland is based on relationships.”
She said she supports a more widespread community approach to help the homeless, working with many groups to set up tent villages across the city to provide temporary shelter.
Full statements from Deborah Kafoury, Ted Wheeler
The Mayor’s assertion that the Joint Office insufficiently focuses on chronic homelessness is confounding, and his threat to disband its services that help 12,000 people stay off the street betrays a striking, willful denial of public data and people’s stories. My full response: https://t.co/EN0Dhn7Ahd pic.twitter.com/BirImhgTq7— Deborah Kafoury (@dkafoury) September 23, 2020
Wheeler’s full statement:
“I respect and am proud of the City-County partnership on homelessness. And, we must all acknowledge that despite that good work, we are experiencing unprecedented homelessness and livability challenges throughout our community. We must do better to connect the people living on our streets with safe shelter and services. I am prepared for an honest and transparent conversation about where we are collectively succeeding, and where we aren’t – I hope my County colleagues are as well.
Generations of federal divestment have left cities and counties on their own to solve problems that require resources only our federal and state partners can bring to the table. Despite that headwind, we are making steady progress. Every year, 12,000 people are safe in a home instead of surviving outside – double the number since 2015. We’ve added new shelters with more and better services to connect people to permanent housing.
At my direction, the Joint Office is also working to bring several hundred new 24-hour shelter spaces to our community for the cold and rainy months ahead. But this is not enough. Anyone traveling around Portland understands the need for more action to address street camping by providing more and better places for people to go.
The challenges facing our community now – exacerbated by COVID — are extreme, and require new thinking, new resources, and new solutions. The Joint Office is bringing solutions to the table. The County’s mental health and drug addiction service system plays an important role. And, the City is accountable for livability and public safety. I am prepared to continue to prioritize the City’s resources by investing in this very vulnerable population and making sure our community spaces are safe and accessible for everyone.”
Sarah Iannarone’s statement
“In the absence of a COVID-19 vaccine, this is a critical time for us to treat everyone in our community with care and humanity. We are bracing for one of the hardest winters this nation and our Portland have ever seen from a public health perspective.
“We can’t endure four more years of Ted Wheeler’s go-it-alone attitude. We’re stronger together, with our relationships powering our policy. I stand with Chair Kafoury and the thousands of houseless individuals who benefit from the Joint Office of Homeless Services in demanding our City does not divest from this vital public service at the core of Portland’s most obvious street-level crisis. Houselessness impacts all of us and this is no time for political games.”
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