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Oregon mayors present state funding request to address homelessness

A homeless encampment in Portland.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff
A homeless encampment in Portland.

A coalition of around 50 Oregon mayors is pushing for ongoing state funding to respond to the homelessness crisis.

During a Monday press conference, members of the Oregon Mayors Association asked for almost $125 million annually in state funds to support ongoing programs to address homelessness. The proposal would be introduced during the 2023 legislative session.

The mayors association say they were grateful to receive one-time emergency funds during the pandemic, but they've done everything they can with limited resources.

“Cities are the direct epicenter of this crisis, and we’re the ones being held accountable for the homeless response,” said Mayor Lacy Beaty of Beaverton. “But cities have not received direct funding to solve this issue from the state.”

Beaty said the funding request would be introduced in the 2023 legislative session. It would be allocated to all Oregon cities based on population size. Cities would receive $40 per resident, with a $50,000 minimum annually, if approved by state lawmakers. The funds would be directly given to all cities, without the need for an application or grant proposal.

The money would be used for homelessness response and prevention services, including shelter operations, outreach and food bank assistance. Cities could use the funding for their own homeless services, or give it to local community partners.

The state’s rural mayors say their homelessness problems aren’t being given enough attention, and this funding model would ensure equitable access to the funds.

“If funds go only to cities with highly visible challenges, root causes of homelessness are left untreated,” said Dayton Mayor Beth Wytoski. “Not only is this inequitable, it’s also ineffective.”

Wytoski says grants and county allocations heavily favor larger cities, which have the resources and staff to manage applications.

Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis said they need an ongoing funding commitment from the state, rather than one-time dollars.

“The danger that we’re facing is without continued financial support from the state, we won’t be able to sustain the work that we’ve done. What the community will experience is a backsliding,” Vinis said.

She highlighted the use of funding to open safe sites in Eugene, which offer sleeping space, showers, meals and access to service providers.

The proposal has support from mayors of Oregon’s largest and smallest towns, including Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who said the funding would be critical to his new plan released in October.

The mayors of Medford, Ashland and Klamath Falls are also in support of the proposal.

On top of annual funding, the proposal also includes allocations for capital construction for specific shelter and transitional housing projects at a one-time cost of $125 to $175 million statewide.

Mayor Beaty said Beaverton has been working on building a year-round homeless shelter, but rising construction costs mean the city hasn’t been able to complete the project.

“We need additional support from the state to close the gap,” she said.

Despite working closely with gubernatorial candidate Tina Kotek on the proposal, Beaty said, it isn’t a partisan issue and every candidate for governor has made homelessness a top priority.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.