Oregon governor details $130 million homelessness plan

A recent HUD count found that 18,000 people are homeless in the state.
A mini-homeless camp set up on the edge of Southeast 28th Street in Portland. (Fred Joe / Oregon Capital Chronicle via Creative Commons)

Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek is asking the state Legislature to quickly spend $130 million to build 600 shelter beds, keep 9,000 families housed and help 1,200 homeless people find shelter.

Kotek released the details of her plan, which she first announced during her Jan. 9 inaugural address, in a statement late Thursday afternoon. Lawmakers who control the state’s purse strings must act within the next few weeks if they want to get money out the door before the state’s next two-year budget cycle begins July 1.

About 18,000 people in Oregon are homeless, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s most recent point-in-time count, which captures a snapshot of homelessness on a single day in January. Just less than one-third are in Multnomah County. Its count a year ago showed about 5,200 were homeless in the area.

The spending proposal includes:

  • $54.4 million to help 1,200 homeless individuals or families find new homes. This sum includes money for prepaid rental assistance, leasing 600 vacant homes and incentives and rent guarantees for landlords who rent to homeless individuals.
  • $33.6 million for rent assistance and eviction prevention services. The governor’s office estimates this will help keep 8,750 families from losing their homes.
  • $23.8 million to add 600 shelter beds statewide. These will be low-barrier beds, meaning that people don’t need to be sober, employed or pass criminal background checks to receive shelter. The sum also includes an unspecified amount of funding to hire housing navigators, people who help homeless Oregonians connect with resources and navigate bureaucratic rules.
  • $5 million directly to Oregon’s nine recognized tribes for their homelessness services.
  • $5 million to increase capacity for  “culturally responsive organizations” to work toward equitable outcomes for homelessness.
  • $2 million for cities and counties to use for sanitation services
  • $1.8 million for the state Office of Emergency Management and Oregon Housing and Community Services to coordinate the state’s handling of the homelessness crisis.

On her first full day in office, Kotek signed executive orders to declare a homelessness state of emergency in several Oregon counties, direct state agencies to prioritize reducing homelessness and set a goal of building 36,000 new homes annually. She said she plans to ask for more funding from the Legislature during the two-year budget period that begins July 1. Lawmakers will approve that budget later this spring.

In the meantime, Kotek said lawmakers should act now to approve the $130 million.

“Unsheltered Oregonians need relief now, and our local communities need the support to provide that relief,” she said in a statement. “This is only the first step. Together, we can act with the urgency people across our state are demanding.”

Legislative leaders have been broadly supportive of Kotek’s requests to increase funding for housing and homelessness. Lawmakers will return to committee meetings Monday and to the floor Tuesday.

This story first appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle. It is republished under Creative Commons license.