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Council spends money to prevent more Portlanders from becoming homeless

PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - The city is paying for fences and other services at some homeless camps, like this one in North Portland.Responding to ever-increasing Portland housing costs, the City Council approved an $2.75 million on Wednesday to fund additional homeless services.

The money is in addition to $2.26 million the council approved when it declared a Housing State of Emergency last October.

Mayor Charlie Hales said some of the additional money will be spent on "deliberate experimentation" to help determine the best ways to reduce homelessness. A number of the services are modeled after those in other cities.

"We are trying some thing out that we're learning from other cities. Some of them are going to work, some of them aren't," said Hales.

Much of the new money, slightly more than $1 million, will be spent on a service that was not discussed much when the council declare the housing emergency — preventing more low-income Portlanders from becoming homeless because of late rents and the high cost of moving to new rental housing.

Although the Portland Housing Bureau (PHB) has long operated a short term rental assistance program, all of the money in its current budget is already spent. The funds were used to help 3,200 people avoid eviction and another $1,000 afford new housing.

"The demand is so high and the cost of housing is going up so fast all the resources were allocated in the first six months of the fiscal year," Marc Jolin, the executive director of A Home for Everyone (AHFE), told the council during the morning hearing on the funding request. AHFE is a collaboration between Portland, Gresham, Multnomah County and Home Forward, formerly known as the Portland Housing Authority, to cut homelessness in half by 2019.

Most of the original appropriation went to open two temporary homeless shelters, one in Southwest Portland and one in downtown. The largest portion of the additional funds approved Wednesday, $1.286 million, will go to pay some of their opening and operating costs. Both required improvements to open and need ongoing staffing, maintenance and repairs to function.

Another $139,248 will be spent to hire a property broker to help find locations to replace and expand the number of shelter beds when they close.

Some of the money, $70,707, will pay to continue providing services to both city-approved and unauthorized homeless camps. The city is providing portable toilets, garbage collection and day storage for two camps in North Portland and one under the west end of the Steel Bridge.

Josh Alpert, Hales' chief of staff and point person on homeless issues, testified the camp services are helping to keep the surrounding neighborhoods cleaner.

And some of the money, $30,000, will be available to send homeless people in Portland to other cities where they have better support networks. Only those who request such trips will receive them.

The money to pay for the services will come from a recent legal settlement with online travel companies over unpaid hotel/motel taxes and changes in property management agreements with the Portland Development Commission.

You can read the request

The Multnomah County Commission is scheduled to consider spending $5.7 million on homeless and affordable housing services Thursday. Of that amount, $1 million is requested for housing assistance for homeless families, domestic violence survivors, homeless youth, homeless veterans and related service systems.

The remaining $4.7 million will help fulfill County Chair Deborah Kafoury's promise to appropriate $10 million to AHFE next year to help. The request before the commission says all of the money will come from the county's recent $6.121 million Mortgage Electronic Registration Service lawsuit settlement.

The county request can be read at http://multnomah.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=3&event_id=523&meta_id=86217.

Hales has promised $20 million in city funds for AHFE and has asked all general fund agencies to propose 5 percent budget reductions to help free up the money.

A recent analysis by the City Budget Office (CBO) questioned whether the AHFE goal of cutting homelessness in half by 2019 is realistic. In a review of the PHB's next budget request, the CBO said the actual cost of such a reduction is not the $30 million Hales and Kafoury promised to spend next year, but $73 million over three years. And the analysis said the homeless population is probably increasing faster than expected because of the increasing housing costs the council is trying to address.

A previous Portland Tribune story on the analysis can be read at http://portlandtribune.com/pt/9-news/297781-174665-city-report-casts-doubt-on-goals-for-homeless-