The Behavioral Health Resource Center in downtown Portland, opened by Multnomah County one year ago, is facing a $3.3 million funding gap next fiscal year, WW has learned.
The downtown center opened in December 2022, offering homeless Portlanders respite from the weather, showers and laundry services, and information about behavioral health assistance, should they seek it.
But one year in, the center has drawn blowback from downtown business owners, developers and even Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. (Wheeler wrote in a text this fall to his chief of police, obtained by WW: “Is there any proof that this facility is actually helping anybody? How on earth could people be receiving meaningful treatment in a facility that has drug dealers outside 24 seven.”) It also had to shut down for a month after the county launched an investigation into allegations that contractors inside the building were having sex with one another and harboring drugs.
Its latest trouble: The center doesn’t have enough money to support all the services it offers.
The projected funding gap is not dissimilar to shortfalls the center has experienced in its first and second years’ budgets, but in years past the county has found contingency plans to buoy the center’s operations, which this year will cost $9.9 million. In its first year of operation, the county had applied for Measure 110 funds, which flow through the Oregon Health Authority. The state did not grant the county that money, leaving the county bristling at the state’s decision-making process. In the current fiscal year, the county was able to fund the center from its general budget.
But costs for the center’s operations will have grown by next summer, when the next fiscal year begins; that’s because all of the center’s services will be available by then. The center includes a 19-bed residential program on the fourth floor and a 33-bed overnight shelter on the third floor.
County officials say next year’s funding gap is due to an “issue related to one-time-only funds from our partners at the state.” It’s unclear which state funds the county believes may be “unavailable” for the BHRC next year. But chief budget officer Christian Elkin told the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners at last week’s briefing that the jeopardized funds flow through the Oregon Health Authority.
“In a lot of these programs, we’re in partnership with the state. We need to make assumptions about their commitments based on what they’re telling us,” Elkin said last week. “The piece that is still one time only in nature and presenting a risk for us is the funding from the Oregon Health Authority. We hope we can continue to negotiate with our partners and they’ll see the value and really find the funds for these really important programs, but we would not be doing our job as the [Multnomah County] Budget Office if we weren’t raising where some of these bigger risks and uncertainty are around some of these funding sources.”
County spokesman Ryan Yambra says that if the county doesn’t find $3.3 million in funding, the BHRC will be forced to reduce its services.
County officials tell WW they are currently in conversations with their partners “to bridge the gap before the adoption of the next budget” but declined to say who those parties were. “We’re not ready to publicly disclose the parties that we’re communicating with, but we’ll share more information as soon as we’re able,” Yambra says.
For those who do use the downtown center, Yambra says, the resource is a critical one. “The BHRC provides resources that previously didn’t exist for a population that desperately needs them. Since opening, the program has recorded more than 35,000 visits,” Yambra says. “That’s thousands of people who are accessing restrooms, getting a shower, eating a meal, or connecting with a peer counselor.”