PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Washington County Board of Commissioners joined the House America initiative to reduce homelessness and provide affordable housing this month, making it the first jurisdiction in the state to join the federal effort.

The House America initiative was developed in response to the nation’s growing homeless crisis, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal initiative is a national partnership between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), and local state and city leaders to tackle the homeless crisis through a ‘housing first’ approach.

“House America is an important initiative given the rise in homelessness we have witnessed in our community,” stated Washington County Board Chair Kathryn Harrington, in a recent release. “There is no one size fits all solution as we work to address the needs of people experiencing homelessness, but I am hopeful seeing the many programs we at Washington County have implemented and will continue to implement to address this crisis.”

With funding and resources provided by the American Rescue Plan and the new HUD Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHV) program, the Washington County Department of Housing Services has been able to grow the number of vouchers for those experiencing homelessness by more than 70%.

The county now has 464 housing vouchers for community members in need, in comparison to the 270 housing vouchers the county operated before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Housing is a human right and it’s a national crisis that more than 580,000 people are experiencing homelessness across the country,” said U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, a longtime advocate for affordable housing policies. “This crisis requires regional solutions and I’m gratified that Washington County will be receiving hundreds of new housing vouchers to help Oregonians without a home get a roof over their head and a floor under their feet.”

In a recent press release, the Washington County Department of Housing Services stated, “At this time, over 95% of these vouchers have been issued to families in need, but Washington County closely aligns these programs with the Regional Supportive Housing Services measure that is bringing much needed rental assistance and housing case management resources.”

The department said they expect to receive an additional 50 vouchers for homeless veterans by spring of 2022.

“As winter sets in, I continue to think about the thousands of Oregonians and Americans experiencing homelessness. Finding a solution to the lack of affordable, accessible housing will take collaboration across all levels of government and the private sector,” stated Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici. “At the federal level, I’m committed to advocating for increased resources to help these families and individuals. Thank you to Washington County for joining the House America program, a partnership that will help get more residents into homes. Together, we can make a meaningful difference in solving this crisis.”

Washington County has set a goal to add 250 year-round shelter beds and help house over 1,600 individuals experiencing homelessness over the next few years. 

Efforts are already underway as the county has financed over 100 “bridge” shelter beds within the jurisdiction since July 2021. Case management and approximately 120 days of housing are included as part of the shelter services, as community members transition into permanent housing with continued rental assistance.

“Federal partnerships are key to our work,” Washington County Department of Housing Services director Komi Kalevor stated. “We continue to administer federal programs to serve people experiencing homelessness with housing and with wrap-around case management support.”