Multnomah County Boosts Spending on Shelter and Supportive Housing in 2023 Joint Office Budget

As the homeless crisis in Portland increases, so do the dollars attempting to remedy it.

The county department that receives federal dollars as well as money from the city of Portland, Multnomah County, and the Metro supportive housing services measure passed by voters in 2020 will have by far its biggest budget ever this coming fiscal year.

The Joint Office of Homeless Services’ budget for 2023—approved last week as part of the county’s $3.3 billion budget—will be $255.5 million.

While the overall county budget is up 17% from the previous year, the JOHS budget jumped 59% from last year’s number of $161 million.

The budget marks the final, and by far the largest, of Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury’s eight-year tenure. Kafoury is term-limited from seeking reelection this year.

In a statement, Kafoury sounded an optimistic note about the spending plan she and her colleagues on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners approved.

“It reflects our belief that we can come together to solve problems, it promotes solutions to our greatest challenges, and it lifts up opportunities for people across the county to achieve their full potential,” Kafoury said.

The JOHS spending will include $130 million for shelter, including motels; $106 million for supportive housing; $25 million for behavioral health; and $12 million for outreach efforts.

The budget comes just one month after the latest point-in-time count showed a 30% increase in homeless residents across Multnomah County since the last tally in 2019. It was a large but expected increase.

One budget item in particular captures a gap in county and city services that both governments are attempting to fill: funding for a 40-bed motel in East Portland that’s specifically for houseless people whose mental health and addictions make them a poor fit for other available shelters. Residents are currently moving into the motel, according to Joint Office spokesman Denis Theriault.

For some houseless residents in Portland, the overlapping crises of addiction, mental health conditions and trauma make living in congregate shelters highly challenging. The motel, run by an organization called New Narrative, has 24-hour access to mental health treatment, intervention and peer support. New Narrative already runs two other motels using a similar model with county funding.

The county ramped up its use of motel shelters early in the pandemic to help houseless Portlanders isolate.

The infusion of dollars in the 2023 budget will also expand shelter capacity to 2,418 beds, an 800-bed increase from the 1,600 beds currently available. The county’s new behavioral health center is slated to open this fall in downtown Portland.

Two other developments in the works will provide housing for marginalized groups: The Westwind, a building in Northwest Portland purchased in 2018 by the county, and the Joyce Hotel, which the city just began renovating after six years of ownership.

The Joint Office has also taken on the responsibility of handling homelessness databases, as mandated by the feds, from the Portland Housing Bureau.

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