Several weeks ago I shared information about the Jewish Federation's efforts, in partnership with a coalition of other faith-based groups called United in Spirit, to reduce houselessness in Portland. Last week, the second “summit” took place, which included: Mayor Ted Wheeler and his chief of staff Bobby Lee, Portland Commissioner Dan Ryan, Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran, Metro Councilor Christine Lewis, Deputy Police Chief Mike Frome, representatives from the Portland Business Alliance, Central City Concern, Bybee Lakes Hope Center, Here Together, and United in Spirit.
Houselessness is a serious topic that requires difficult conversations and workable strategies. Here are some key comments/thoughts/feelings (without attribution) for additional insight into the summit discussions:
Frustration & Concerns
- Personalities are getting in front of principles.
- We have to get this problem solved now or we are going to have an empty downtown. Currently 22% vacancy rate expected to rise above 30%, having profound impact on property values and property tax income.
- There are places the homeless cannot sleep, but we do not have agreement on those locations.
- Our city suffers from collective compassion fatigue and denial.
- We believe the fastest growing homeless populations are senior citizens and women with children.
Obstacles to Progress
- We do not have accurate numbers of individuals living/sleeping on the street. It has been three years since anyone tried to count -- a new count is planned for February.
- We need to know “who” the homeless are and identify what they need in services.
- There is entrenched interest in the status quo from many non-profits, service providers, and agencies.
- Amount of time people need to wait for housing vouchers is unacceptable. We have housing, yet we have to connect people with services so they can stay in housing.
- There is both “service resistance” and a lack of services that meet people where they are. We must bring forth options that create a continuum.
Major Point of Agreement: Need for Data
- For data to be effectively used to coordinate service delivery, it must be shared. Portland is launching a project where case workers from different service providers can share information.
- Helping Hands has experience building profiles & custom programs for homeless individuals. The question is whether it can be scaled up?
- Central City Concern collects data “all the time” and has a “robust client data service.”
- Build a Command Center and scale up the Built for Zero platform
- Understand how to collect and share meaningful data -- and clarify who is responsible.
- Review County Auditor’s recent analysis on the gap in services reported/provided.
- Invite the groups that are doing the work on the ground to the table, incentivizing them with stipends (include neighborhood coalitions).
- Engage state and federal officials, in particular the governor and our state’s Congressional delegation.
- Create an inventory of service providers including smaller nonprofits.
- Bring together the “nine government agencies with considerable amounts of property” that can be used for Safe Villages.
- Identify shared goals (“we can move mountains if we have agreed-upon goal”)
- Increase social media support for officials and non-profits doing the right thing (“don’t let false statements be so loud”).
As a follow-up, several leaders from the JCRC met with Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury to discuss the issue. She expressed serious concerns about the immediate future: the combination of the Omicron variant and severe cold weather bearing down on the unsheltered.
Here is how you can help:
- Sign up for an orientation to volunteer at emergency shelters
- Donate cold weather gear to organizations
- Keep an eye out for neighbors experiencing homelessness
- If someone's life appears to be in danger, call 9-1-1. If you see someone you are concerned about during cold weather (if they're not dressed appropriately, etc.), call non-emergency 503-823-3333 and request a welfare check.
- To help someone find shelter and to help them get transportation to the shelter, call 2-1-1.
I am very proud of the work of our Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), including Michelle Bombet Minch, Chair, and Bob Horenstein, Director, in addressing this challenge. I know many others are involved in this issue and we hope positive solutions come about quickly.
Finally, I want you to know that we are actively monitoring a coordinated flyer drop that occurred last weekend across the United States (cities include: Boise, Greensboro, Denver, Austin, Los Angeles). The flyers were placed inside plastic bags that contained rice to weigh them down and were left on individual driveways. One flyer (pictured below) blames the COVID pandemic on the Jewish community, along with providing a link to GoyimTV, a website known for espousing antisemitic stereotypes and conspiracies.