In essence, the race for Multnomah County chair is a referendum on how county officials are addressing homelessness. That means that one of the central questions of the contest is whether the Joint Office of Homeless Services, which the county oversees, is performing its tasks as well as it ought to.
Not coincidentally, that’s also the issue on which two of the leading candidates most intensely disagree.
Those candidates, Jessica Vega Pederson and Sharon Meieran, both serve on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners. In that role, they’ve regularly differed—especially as Meieran has challenged the priorities of incumbent Chair Deborah Kafoury and argued that more money should be spent on behavioral health services and immediate shelter.
Last week, as WW invited candidates to our office for endorsement interviews, we asked Meieran and Vega Pederson to evaluate the work JOHS is doing.
“We have thousands and thousands living unsheltered outside,” Meieran said. “And we have no idea how many there are, who they are, or what they need.”
That drew a pointed reply from Vega Pederson, who retorted that if Meieran hadn’t gotten the answers she wanted from JOHS, that spoke more to Meieran’s ability to get things done than to the office’s competence. The exchange spoke volumes about the stakes of the race and how little love is lost between its front-runners.
Watch the conversation: