Mental Health Center Will Prove a Sound Investment

Anyone working, living in, or visiting Portland knows we have a mental health crisis downtown. According to our most recent data, almost half of people living without shelter in our community experience mental illness.

Multnomah County is responding to this crisis by planning the first-of-its-kind behavioral health resource center in downtown Portland ["Shell Game," WW, May 13, 2019].

It has taken us years to find the appropriate location to serve people where they are at. We now believe we have found that property with broad support from the mental health community and many neighbors.

The Bushong Building has proven to be the best available option for our unique and specific needs. The location, combined with the adjacent parking lot, the building's open floor plan ("a shell") and other factors, gives us maximum flexibility to develop an effective program for some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

The article questions the county's decision-making, both from a real estate perspective, and in light of the county's budget constraints. The purchase turned out to be a sound business decision, with the site since attracting other offers that exceed the county's purchase. This is also the exact time we should be looking to invest in projects that save money long term. There is abundant evidence that connecting people to services and housing saves the public money by keeping people out of emergency rooms and jails. The Center for Outcomes Research and Education at Providence Portland Medical Center found that housing with fully integrated services reduced health care costs by $8,724 per year for people on Medicaid, an overall decrease of 45 percent.

Yes, there are some people downtown who don't want a real solution to this emergency. And it's too bad they're trying to mislead the community about this project and its promise for transforming the lives we are seeing in crisis on our streets every day.

I am committed to funding this mental health resource center, as I told Willamette Week when they called me, just like we have for the Sellwood Bridge, Health Department Headquarters and Central Courthouse.

We have the best site, the partners and the will to fill this gap in our safety net.

We just wish Willamette Week had included the information we provided so your readers knew it, too.

Deborah Kafoury

Multnomah County Chair