City Commissioner Dan Ryan Pushes to Add Urgency, Efficiency to Response to Homelessness

“It is imperative that we take decisive steps,” Ryan says.

Pioneer Courthouse Square, December 2020. (Brian Burk)

City Commissioner Dan Ryan, who oversees the Portland Housing Bureau, is the city's liaison to the Joint Office of Homeless Services and, along with Mayor Ted Wheeler, serves on the board of A Home for Everyone.

Last week, Ryan issued a four-page memo, the "Street to Stability Action Plan," that indicated some impatience with the pace of progress in addressing homelessness.

"Despite the year-over-year increase in regional investments and incremental improvement in strategies, we have not yet been able to develop solutions that decrease the number of Portlanders who are living unsheltered," Ryan wrote.

"It is imperative that we take decisive steps to ensure the city and our partners possess the ability to act with immediacy and be nimble in addressing the homeless crisis and the tangential effects of the pandemic."

Ryan's memo points to two action items. One is getting the city's bureaus, Multnomah County, Metro and various other public agencies and nonprofits to work together in a coordinated fashion. "By the nature of the institutions themselves, siloing takes place and inefficiencies are the inevitable result," Ryan noted.

Part of the challenge of coordinating all the entities that have a piece of responding to homelessness, Ryan added, is the shortage of good data.

"We currently do not know how many individuals are living unsheltered, nor do we know who or how often an individual is moving through our systems of care in real time," Ryan wrote.

So what's Ryan going to do? He plans to convene a city working group aimed at better bureau coordination and he plans to include Marc Jolin, director of the joint office, in that effort (the office is funded by the city and Multnomah County but is housed with the county.)

That seems logical: Numerous city bureaus interact with Portland's homeless population.

Ryan's second action item is less obvious: He plans to "convene a group of community leaders, key stakeholders, and people with lived experience to help inform the regional response and provide feedback at key decision points." That sounds a lot like A Home for Everyone, which already includes representatives from the county, the cities of Portland and Gresham, and various nonprofits and community groups on its executive committee and community board.

Ryan said he's not trying to replace A Home for Everyone's efforts.

"My intention is to supplement and build on A Home for Everyone," he said. "They are doing incredibly important work, and are central to the governance of the joint office. Every day, my office hears from individuals, nonprofits, faith groups, coalitions and businesses who are addressing homelessness outside of A Home for Everyone's framework.

"Many of them are already doing work to address the crisis, and many others have ideas, resources, and a desire to be part of the solution. This must be an 'all-in' effort, and I want to make sure our homelessness response is unified at all levels."

Denis Theriault, a spokesman for the joint office, says Ryan's focus and energy are a welcome addition to the cause.

"Silo-busting is wonderful," Theriault says. "There's going to be a lot of that with all of our partners with this new funding coming from the Metro homeless services measure."

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