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Oregon sending $80 million to large cities, counties for homeless response

A tent uses shopping carts as anchors off of Lancaster Drive in Salem, OR on Thursday, March 24, 2023. The ARCHES Project, a branch of Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action, focuses on homeless issues and housing instability.
Amanda Loman
Oregon Capital Chronicle
A tent uses shopping carts as anchors off of Lancaster Drive in Salem, OR on Thursday, March 24, 2023. The ARCHES Project, a branch of Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action, focuses on homeless issues and housing instability.

Oregon’s largest urban areas will start receiving nearly $80 million to help residents out of homelessness by the end of the month, Gov. Tina Kotek announced Monday.

The money comes from a $200 million housing package passed by the Legislature and signed by Kotek late last month. The sums announced Monday are only for the areas surrounding Portland, Salem, Medford, Eugene and Bend, which were included in a state of emergency Kotek declared in January because homelessness increased by more than 50% in those areas between 2017 and 2022.

The Legislature allocated a little more than $26 million for the 26 rural counties that weren’t covered by the emergency declaration because they haven’t experienced similar increases in homelessness. That money will be distributed in July.

The largest chunk of the money, $18.2 million, is “tentatively” allocated toward Multnomah County and the cities of Portland and Gresham, but Kotek said she needed to see clearer plans for how the region will spend its share.

“We need to see stronger collaboration and detail from Multnomah County, the city of Portland about how they plan to spend those dollars,” she said during a news conference. “It’s important we’re not handing out money without specific outcomes.”

Multnomah County is expected to help 275 currently homeless families find permanent housing and create 138 new shelter beds with its share of the money. Lane County, home to Eugene and Springfield, was more ambitious in its goal: It’s set to receive $15.5 million to rehouse 247 households and create 230 shelter beds.

Kotek praised Lane County, which she said submitted the most complete application, while chiding Multnomah County for a lack of detail.

Copies of the counties’ applications provided by Oregon Housing and Community Services in response to a records request show that Lane County’s responses were much more thorough than Multnomah County’s. For instance, in response to questions about what culturally specific resources were available for demographic groups that are at higher risk of homelessness, Lane County listed agencies and specific services they provide, while Multnomah County provided a bulleted list of nonprofit organizations but didn’t say what services were available.

Multnomah County’s application also said it would create 140 shelter beds by leasing 40 motel rooms and buying 100 shelter pods, or tiny huts that can house one or two people each. But it doesn’t yet know where those pods can be located.

“Because we do not have specific sites identified or have a complete understanding of the programmatic needs associated with the expansion, we are setting aside services costs towards the site(s),” the county wrote.

The other regions receiving funds are:

  • Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties in central Oregon, which will receive $13.9 million to rehouse 161 households and create 111 shelter beds. The region’s application includes a list of possible shelter projects throughout the tri-county area, including a family shelter in Sisters and a youth shelter in Redmond. 
  • Marion and Polk counties, home to Salem, which will receive $10.4 million to rehouse 158 households and create 79 shelter beds. The county’s application described plans to open more than 150 shelter beds by May – 75 of those are at the Arches Lodge in northeast Salem which is holding a grand opening this week. 
  • Jackson County, home to Medford and Ashland, will receive $8.8 million to find permanent housing for 133 households and create 67 shelter beds. 
  • Washington County will receive $8  million to rehouse 121 households and create 61 shelter beds. 
  • Clackamas County is receiving $4.4 million to find permanent homes for 130 families. The county won’t receive any money for shelters, which Kotek attributed to a lack of confidence that the county would add shelter beds. The county was poised last month to approve using state funds to purchase a 110-room motel to turn into a shelter, but county Chair Tootie Smith abruptly reversed her vote to approve the project. Smith and fellow conservative commissioners have instead called for holding public meetings about homelessness and asking voters to overturn Measure 110, the 2020 voter-approved law that decriminalized small amounts of illegal drugs.  

Every region is receiving hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars less than it requested, according to the county applications provided in response to a records request.

Kotek said the Legislature needs to allocate more funding for homelessness and housing in the next two-year budget. Her proposed budget calls for issuing $770 million in general obligation bonds to build new affordable homes and redirecting $765 million intended for the state’s reserves to top priorities including homelessness.

An early framework from legislative budget writers acknowledged housing and homelessness as a top priority but didn’t include concrete plans for spending beyond the $200 million the Legislature already approved.

“We need to see the Legislature fulfill the goals that are in my budget for maintaining the new shelter capacity, helping with the existing shelter capacity, making sure we’re on track to do more around building more housing because that is the ultimate solution here,” Kotek said. “We have a long way to go.”

The Oregon Capital Chronicle is a professional, nonprofit news organization. We are an affiliate of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. The Capital Chronicle retains full editorial independence, meaning decisions about news and coverage are made by Oregonians for Oregonians.

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. Julia is an award-winning journalist who reported on the tangled efforts to audit the 2020 presidential election results in Arizona.