The Portland City Council approved a $27 million funding package Wednesday morning that will go toward setting up and running three of the six sanctioned encampments Mayor Ted Wheeler hopes to establish across the city in order to eventually ban unsanctioned camping.
The 3-0 approval of the package—City Commissioners Carmen Rubio and Jo Ann Hardesty did not attend the meeting—represents the first money allocated to the controversial encampments, each of which will have capacity for 250 people.
Multnomah County has yet to pledge any funding for the encampments, and it appears unlikely that County Chair Deborah Kafoury will put any dollars toward the city’s plan during the last months of her time in office. It’s unclear if Chair-elect Jessica Vega Pederson, who’s a sitting county commissioner, will help fund the encampments.
The political brinksmanship over Wheeler’s plan continued right up until the vote.
Just hours before the vote, Kafoury made public a letter she sent to all five city commissioners, warning of the potential consequences of the city diverting $7 million of its funds from the Joint Office of Homeless Services to the large camps. (That proposal for withholding $7 million, which depends on what the county does next, was part of the $27 million funding package, and therefore passed with it.)
Kafoury wrote that, if the cut was sustained for years, it could result in a loss of hundreds of shelter beds, outreach workers and rent assistance to those in need.
“As you can see, any ongoing budget reductions to shelter, street outreach and housing programs could be devastating and counterproductive for our shared goal of urgently ending homelessness,” Kafoury wrote.
This morning, WW reported on how the Joint Office of Homeless Services spent its homeless tax money over the past year. The county spent only $9.7 million on shelter and outreach, even though it had initially budgeted $19 million for that purpose. The county spent $18.5 million on short-term rent assistance, but had initially budgeted only $9.4 million toward that purpose.
At any rate, the three City Council members that voted on the package this morning made no mention of Kafoury’s letter.
“This is not a perfect solution, but it is a solution responsive to the situation that we face,” Wheeler said at the Wednesday morning council session. “Doing what is right is not always popular.”