PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland and Multnomah County leaders announced a $38 million investment into homelessness programs and public health services Monday afternoon.
The investments will go toward more shelter beds, behavioral health services, outreach workers and community clean-up initiatives — and officials said it will be funded in large part from the city’s multimillion-dollar fall budget surplus.
Mayor Ted Wheeler, County Chair Deborah Kafoury and City Commissioner Dan Ryan explained the details of the spending package at a press conference at 1 p.m. Monday.
“All of us here today see with clear eyes what’s been happening over the course of the 40 years that led us here — a fundamental breakdown in how we care for the most vulnerable people in our country,” Kafoury said in a prepared statement. “This represents a rare opportunity for us to come together, pool our resources and inject an immediate infusion into our system to address homelessness in our community.”
Wheeler acknowledged that homelessness across the metro area has been severe since before the pandemic, but said that COVID-19 “made the situation much, much worse.”
“We’re doing all that we can at the local level with the resources we have to make Portland cleaner and more compassionate,” Wheeler said.
He likened the situation in Portland to other cities across the country and called on the federal government for help.
“To Congress, I call on you to embrace houselessness as the national humanitarian disaster that it is,” Wheeler said. “America’s cities cannot solve homelessness without your help. This crisis will not end until there’s a federally funded plan to address it.”
Officials said the investment is also meant to target some of the city’s “high-impact” areas like the Old Town Chinatown neighborhood.
“No where is this gap for the need of behavioral services and their availability more apparent right now than our downtown, most notably Old Town,” Kafoury said.
A fraction of the total, $7 million, will be dedicated to expanding trash pickup and campsite cleanup programs, officials said.
The city and county will split the funding nearly evenly, with Portland receiving about $18.8 million and Multnomah County receiving roughly $19.2 million.
On Oct. 8, the City Budget Office said the city saw a $62 million general fund surplus, half of which can be spent during a period called the fall Budget Monitoring Process. As part of the BMP, Portland city commissioners analyze the city’s budget and vote on whether to make changes.
Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office has already expressed an interest in spending $400,000 of that money to rehire retired police officers to fill vacancies at the Portland Police Bureau, according to KOIN 6 News partner The Portland Tribune.
Police and homelessness programs will also be two major topics of discussion when the city leaders meet Thursday.