Powerful Conversations, Meaningful Outcomes
September has been an exceptionally busy month for me and my team. We have been diligently working on how we can better our City by addressing some of the most pressing issues and finding meaningful solutions that will have a lasting impact. Earlier this month, my Deputy Chief of Staff, Jamal Fox had the opportunity to sit on a panel and talk candidly about his experiences navigating the workplace as a black man.
He was joined by Chief of Police Danielle Outlaw, Fire Chief Sara Boone, and former Human Resource Director Serilda Summers-McGee, each being the first black female Chief of Police, Fire Chief, and Human Resource Director respectively for the City.
The questions asked of them were powerful, and their answers even more so. This panel addressed issues that were uncomfortable but crucial to understanding their work and acknowledging the perseverance it has taken each of these individuals to obtain the level of success that they have in their respective careers, along with the high level of professionalism they exude.
One of my many priorities is creating a more diverse workplace where individuals feel welcomed, supported and included regardless of how they identify, or how they are identified as by the dominant culture. Having Jamal, Danielle, Sara, and Serilda in senior leadership roles in the City gives me hope.
Exciting, Unique, New and Effective Solutions
Another top priority that touches many of our lives, is how we think of humanity and our fellow humans. Homelessness is a societal crisis and I'm deeply committed to ensuring individuals experiencing homelessness are treated compassionately and respectfully. That is why my team and I are collaborating with my colleagues and community partners across all agencies to develop the Portland Street Response (PSR) program.
The program is important for two primary reasons. First, it addresses the over-criminalization of houseless/homeless individuals and pairs their needs with the proper response and services. Secondly, the First Responder system is overwhelmed with calls that are not related to criminal activity. This new program will help relieve First Responder resources so they can address more serious call types.
PSR is unique because we reached out to the homeless to ask what they need in a First Responder, rather than determining the answer for them. After surveying the homeless and analyzing the response, the answers were not surprising. They expressed a need for first responders who are mental health professionals, social workers, nurses, EMTs, peer support, and conflict resolution specialists.
I recognize the PSR is not a catch-all solution, however, it is a piece of the larger puzzle towards solving the seemingly intractable homelessness problem, and hence, a step in the right direction. The PSR program paired with other services has the potential to produce meaningful and measurable results while providing focused help to people through a compassionate and humane approach.
Pairing services with others will make programs more effective which is crucial for addressing homelessness. This is about our values, that every person deserves a safe place to sleep and to call their own. As the Mayor of a city with unprecedented economic growth in our region, I am acutely aware that this growth also brings additional economic pressure on those who aren’t experiencing the benefits of that growth.
Innovative Approach to the Shelter Service Model
The Laurelwood Center’s opening in the Foster-Powell neighborhood represented a distinct change in the way shelters across Portland work. At this shelter, there are 120 beds, and people can bring their pets, their partners, their possessions, and they don’t have to line up night after night with the hopes of maybe getting into shelter.
possible through the work of the City of Portland, Multnomah County, and Transition Projects. The primary goal is combining the shelter component with the service component. The one-on-one services that are provided at Laurelwood help to ensure that people are provided with whatever they need to get into permanent housing.
With the rise in houseless individuals on the rise since 2017, my office has been working tirelessly to help open more shelters with a service component, especially with winter fast-approaching. We are intentionally designing dignified spaces for people to get connected to services and get back into housing.
Bridging the Gap in Housing Funding
Despite all we’ve already accomplished, we’re just getting started. Last month, I was excited to announce the city’s nine new projects that have been selected for funding from Portland’s Housing Bond. We now have enough Bond-funded housing units completed or in progress across the city to me—and in some cases even exceed—all the goals set forth under Portland’s Housing Bond, and there are still funds left over to do even more good work. We now have all the units either completed or in progress to hit our Bond goals – or surpass them, creating housing for more than 2,900 people with 658 units for families with two bedrooms or more.
These investments have been specifically targeting our communities of color, to mitigate displacement, and to invest in our East Portland neighborhoods. For these accomplishments—a testimony to the compassion and caring of the good people of the City of Portland, the voters who made it all possible—I say thank you!
Once again, this action we’re taking reflects the values we as a city embrace every day. Every one of us, our families, our friends, our teachers, our students – all deserve healthy, safe and affordable places to live. You have my promise that we will continue finding and implementing solutions to homelessness. We’re in this together and it will take a community effort to achieve our goals.