Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury’s most consequential task is reducing homelessness. So one way to differentiate the four candidates running for her job is to ask them: How is Kafoury faring in that work?
In May 2020, voters passed the nation’s most generous per capita tax aimed at finding people housing and keeping them in it. Kafoury led the way on that measure. But as the pandemic drags on, Portland sidewalks are full of tent camps and voters are dissatisfied. The metro-area-wide measure gives more resources to the county and created a more powerful role for the chair.
This campaign season will be marked by a continuing debate over how much of the funding should be directed to long-term solutions and how much to the immediate task of shelter. Kafoury, who to her credit has overseen an expansion of shelter beds, has also long been a leading champion of the “housing first” model, which prioritizes permanent homes.
We asked the candidates seeking to succeed Kafoury to grade her on the issue of homelessness.
Commissioner Sharon Meieran
Despite unprecedented resources and community buy-in, the humanitarian crisis of people living unsheltered has dramatically worsened.
Chair Kafoury deserves credit for leading conversations around long-term homeless solutions and supportive housing.
But changing the conversation from short- to long-term priorities doesn’t eliminate the need to address immediate problems. People are dying in increasing numbers on our streets, and this is a tragic failure.
In a crisis we need to act, and homelessness must be our top priority.
Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson
The idea of reducing something as complex as homelessness, an issue spanning so many jurisdictions, institutions and causes, to a letter grade for one person seems a bit ridiculous. The crisis on our streets today took decades of policies at the federal, state and local level plus a pandemic to create. The only appropriate grade for anyone working on these issues is “I” for incomplete.
I appreciate Chair Kafoury’s leadership in helping pass three housing measures and passionately working to stand up both immediate and long-term responses to these multiple crises. We also need to aggressively address the significant impacts COVID has had on our county in terms of scale and acuity. I am running as someone with a bona fide track record of working collaboratively, bringing people together, and handling big problems. Under my leadership, we’ll better track our progress, work with and hold our partners accountable, and move people off our streets.
DECLINED TO ANSWER
Commissioner Lori Stegmann
Multnomah County has seen the number of people served in permanent housing programs, emergency shelters, and prevention services increase dramatically year over year. Between July to September 2021 alone, we served nearly 30,000 people in these programs, all during a pandemic. Is it enough? Absolutely not. Can we do more? Absolutely yes. As the next chair, I am committed to scaling up resources to match the cadence, rate and severity of our growing houseless population.
The homelessness crisis isn’t the responsibility of any one elected official and to judge the Chair alone for the county’s approach to homelessness is irresponsible, only adding to the dysfunction we see in Portland. Let us not forget that she shares responsibility to govern with four other Commissioners. The solution to homelessness is housing and requires intervention from all levels of government. We need to stop the narrative spin and collaboratively get to work.