PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — After her first 100 days in office, Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson delivered her first State of the County Address at Franklin High School on Tuesday.
While she covered many topics in her speech, Vega Pederson focused a lot of her attention on the homelessness issue in Portland.
“When I came into this office I stated clearly that addressing our homelessness crisis would be my #1 priority,” she said. “We know this is vital work. Because the people living unhoused in Multnomah County cannot wait one more day.”
She promises to root this work in partnerships, starting with a one-year, $32 million plan to unify local and state efforts to reduce homelessness — starting in Portland’s Central City.
“This combined investment will rehouse 545 households and create 140 shelter beds by the end of this year,” Vega Pederson said.
The chair’s plan includes incentives for landlords to increase housing, guaranteed rental subsidies and wraparound services.
“Overall, we’re investing $128 million for housing placements, rent assistance and support services to meet those experiencing homelessness on the streets, in vehicles, in shelter beds –- and assist them to move into permanent housing and help them stay there,” she said.
The county is also putting $87 million toward alternative shelters, like motels and outreach workers.
“Should all beds come online as budgeted and predicted — including all beds funded through other sources — this will support more than 2,500 beds of year-round shelter with wraparound services this calendar year,” Vega Pederson said.
Vega Pederson also acknowledged other leaders in the crowd, saying that she and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler are working on meaningful compromises.
“I feel so optimistic about our shared priorities as we move forward in this work together. We know we’re not going to agree exactly on everything, but we have shared respect for our visions for the work we do,” she said.
Other notable topics:
Gun Violence Prevention:
In addition to investment into homelessness, Vega Pederson also announced a $3 million investment in gun violence prevention.
“We’re committed as a county to family stabilization efforts and resource-building to address the root causes and break cycles of violence,” she said.
One County Approach:
Vega Pederson spoke about a “one county” approach to community safety, spreading the responsibilities to the Department of Community Justice, the DA, the Sheriff, the Department of Human Services and the Health Department, according to Vega Pederson.
Preschool for All:
Multnomah County will be doubling the number of available preschool slots in the 2023-24 school year, offering 1,400 that go on a priority basis to those families the county can impact the most.
“The fact that Multnomah County has made an investment upstream to prioritize universal preschool by 2030 creates a two-generation solution that we’re already seeing pay dividends,” she said.
Vega Pederson talked about supporting colleagues in ways that are equitable and responsible and how the county “employed a budget equity tool for the first time that required that each investment demonstrate alignment with equity and inclusion values and initiatives.”
“An equitable recovery is not possible until the community is engaged at every level of our work. And you are a part of that community. An equitable recovery is more possible because we are in this work together,” she said.
After the speech, KOIN 6 News asked the chair how she feels about supporting the mayor’s large, managed campsites. She said she’s glad they secured state funding to have pods instead of tents at the site.
“We want to make sure that the way we’re providing services to people helps them become stable and safe in the environments that they’re in — and I think this is a really good first step,” she said.
Read the full address here.