HOMELESS WILL GO COUNTLESS: The Joint Office of Homeless Services is seeking a waiver for the biennial "point in time" count, which takes place every odd-numbered year in late January. That process, in which Multnomah County takes a one-night census of all the houseless people it can find in the county, is part of a federal effort overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The count is a key component to ensure "continued eligibility for state and federal funding" for homeless programs, but late last year, the feds said counties could seek waivers due to the pandemic without endangering funding. The feds have already granted King County, Wash., and Los Angeles County waivers. But Multnomah County's situation is unusual: Next year will mark the beginning of expenditures from Metro's $250 million homeless services measure, so this year's count would have provided a baseline for that effort. If it gets the waiver, the joint office plans to count those in transitional housing and shelters this year and count those unsheltered in 2022. "It's a difficult decision, but we don't see a way to conduct as accurate of an unsheltered count as we've done in past years without creating additional health risks for thousands of vulnerable people and our provider community," says Marc Jolin, director of the joint office. "That's not a trade-off we're willing to make."
POT SHOP WOES CONTINUE: On Jan. 4, the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office filed charges against five suspects accused of robbing a cannabis shop in the Hollywood District. According to the probable cause affidavit, the group—all of whom are under the age of 23—pulled a handgun on the employee Jan. 1 and filled black garbage bags with cannabis products. The incident is the latest in a string of cannabis dispensary robberies and burglaries that date back to May 2020, as WW previously reported. One of the recent robberies turned deadly: On Dec. 14, Portland police say, 44-year-old Michael Arthur, an employee at Cured Green dispensary in North Portland, was killed during an armed robbery. The Portland Police Bureau could not provide an updated tally of cannabis robberies, but a spokesman says the bureau is aware of the issue. "These robberies are on the Police Bureau radar," says Lt. Greg Pashley. "These shops are targeted, at least in part, due to all the drugs and money that are on hand with relatively low security. Robberies are difficult to prevent, since among other factors the suspects have the ability to choose the time and place with no notice."
MAYOR'S CHIEF MOVES ON: Kristin Dennis, chief of staff to Mayor Ted Wheeler, will leave City Hall on Feb. 3 to become chief of staff to Metro Council President Lynn Peterson. Dennis, Wheeler's third chief of staff, was instrumental in negotiating furloughs and compensation freezes with city employee unions last year as the pandemic took hold. She and Peterson know each other from Lake Oswego, where both were city councilors. Metro, which saw voters defeat its $4 billion transportation measure in November, has both big ambitions and an increasingly large and complex mission as it has become a regional funding mechanism for housing and homelessness services, in addition to its traditional roles as owner of the Oregon Zoo and Convention Center. Peterson's current chief, Paul Slyman, will move to another post inside Metro. Wheeler has not yet hired Dennis' replacement.
SPEAKER CHALLENGE STALLS: State Rep. Janelle Bynum (D-Clackamas) ended her challenge to House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) on Jan. 4, a week before a scheduled showdown on the House floor. Bynum did not come up with the votes to take Kotek's job, but wrung pledges from Kotek to improve conditions for lawmakers of color. And Bynum will still chair the powerful House Judiciary Committee. She hopes to move up someday. "I look forward to the day in the near future where Oregon state representatives are able to vote with pride and unity to elect me to lead the chamber," Bynum said.
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