02-06-2023  5:56 pm   •   PDX and SEA Weather
Saundra Sorenson
Published: 20 April 2022

As Multnomah County Board of Commissioners Chair Deborah Kafoury is termed out, three current commissioners are running to serve as the next chief executive officer for the county. They are joined in the race by employment discrimination lawyer Sharia Mayfield, truck driver Joe Demers and talk show host Bruce Broussard.

In anticipation of the May 17 election, The Skanner spoke with the three County Commissioners running for the leadership position about the most urgent issues facing the county.

LORI STEGMANN

Lori Stegmann currently serves as Multnomah County Commissioner for District 4. She was adopted from South Korea when she was six months old and now works as an insurance agent who has owned her own business in East County, where she also grew up, for 30 years.

 

What about your time as a county commissioner inspired you to run for chair?

I want to build community resilience. In this campaign, we get so hyper-focused on single issues, whether you’re talking about homelessness or the drug crisis or the number of homicides that we’re having. But in my mind, all of these issues are deeply connected to one another. And we must address the economic stability and mobility of people that’s entwined with racism, trauma, shame, poverty, generational poverty, all of those things produce the negative outcomes that we’re living. And so instead of just saying, ‘I’m just going to work on homelessness,’ you have to have a strategic plan and a vision that’s going to address these systemic problems that our community is faced with. I think we can get so laser-focused on one single issue that we forget to look at the broader picture and look at what the drivers are, and all of these things that we’re experiencing, I believe, are symptoms. Homelessness is a symptom. Crime and violence, those are a symptom of our lack of community resilience.

If you go to my county website, I’ve been working on something called the economic marginalization index. I’m a small business owner, I’ve been an insurance agent for 30 years, so I’m very pragmatic, I’m very evidence-based centered, I look at the numbers, and things have to make sense and calculate, and we have to do the math on things, especially when we’re investing millions of dollars. The economic marginalization index is where you can do a deep dive by census tract.

Here’s an example: We’re getting a Gresham flagship library, and I’m the library liaison. I live in East County, and we know that this part of the county has not historically received the same amount of investments that the rest of the county has. So by looking at this kind of data, we

found out that per capita, there’s not an equal amount of (library) square footage space in East Multnomah County compared to the rest of the county. And so we can look at that data and say, That’s inequitable, And so we’re getting a 95,000-square-foot library that will be similar to the downtown library, in Gresham. What’s crazy is the economic development that will sprout out around that library. I want to say it’s $16 million net economic activity when Seattle built theirs. And it’s just the right thing to do. We’re going to serve people, be so much more than a library – it’ll be a community space, it’ll be a place for teenagers to come and learn.

I also cleared the way to get a school-based health center at Reynolds High School. Again, the data showed that we have some of the most low-income youth in East Multnomah County who don’t have access to healthcare. So when we look at that data we can say, where should we put our student health centers?

And that’s what we do. We’re the largest safety net provider in the state of Oregon. The county’s so big that it’s hard for people to understand what we do because we have such a broad book of business – animal services to bridges to running 32 health clinics, a behavioral health department, we manage the budget for the sheriff’s office and the district attorney’s office. We do human services, we do criminal justice, we do vector control, we’re the local public health authority.

I have great respect for my fellow colleagues and challengers, but what we need is somebody who has business management skills and organizational experience, and that’s what I’ve done for the last 30 years. I’m really good at systems. We have nearly a $3 billion budget, and right around 6,000 employees. At the end of the day, Multnomah County is a business, and it has to be run well.

 

How will your leadership be different from your predecessor’s?

I have great respect for Chair Kafoury, so this isn’t a slight to her in any way, but I’m a different person. I’m a very bottom-up kind of leader. I’ve had deep conversations with leadership who are experts in their fields, and I’ve asked ‘If you could do one thing that would make a significant difference in the work Multnomah County is delivering, what would it be?’ And they tell me.

I want to create an Office of Reentry Services. And because I’ve seen a need for it, I want to create an Economic Development and Workforce Stability Department. I’m really proud of the fact that we prevented so many people from being evicted. We will have gotten about $100 million in rental assistance during Covid. But we never ask, ‘Do you have a family wage job?’ What I worry about is six months to a year from now, are these folks that I was thrilled that we could help going to be right back in the same situation? I’m worried that they are. My history is, I’ve experienced poverty. I have an understanding of generational poverty. And I want to try to break that cycle.

 

What do you see as the most urgent issues the county will face in the coming four years?

The drug crises of fentanyl and meth, but also the quality of life for so many of our residents. I think about the poor mom that gets her catalytic converter stolen. So you’re barely hanging on, and then that happens. Where do you get $500, and oh, by the way, you don’t have a car for the next week or month, and you’ve got to take your kids to daycare and you’ve got to get to work.

And anecdotally, I’ve noticed more people who are experiencing homelessness who are in a state of psychosis. They are not coherent. And so how do you interact, how do you help, how do you get services to someone who is incoherent? I think we need to review our civil commitment laws, because I don’t think that it is humane to leave somebody living on the street who’s not capable of caring for themselves and who is also extremely vulnerable. Houseless individuals are being murdered and are often victims of crime. And what I fear is that the individuals that I’m talking about that are impacted by fentanyl and meth, that if we don’t intervene, they will become a statistic on the domicile unknown report.

I have lots of ideas about what those interventions are, from having a 24/7 first responder drop-off site where people can get triaged, whether it’s mental health or drug services they need, and one of the models that I’m really excited about is one from Portugal. What they do is if you’re in possession of less than a 10-day supply of drugs, then you are mandated to go through medical treatment. If you have over that, then more than likely you are a drug dealer. I’ve read that fentanyl is the number one cause of death for people between ages 18 and 45.

But it’s like we’re not connecting the dots of homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction and mental health.

And yes, while we need to work on each one of those individually, we have to ask, what are the drivers? Why are people making those choices? And I think it’s because they don’t have any other choice, and we have to offer those choices, and we can do that through economic mobility, stability, addressing institutional racism, building more affordable housing, giving people access to jobs.

That’s the other thing: We have family wage jobs at the county. So why aren’t we connecting people to those jobs? We could also work with the trades, we could have more of a streamline and say, ‘We’re going to help you get signed up for SNAP or WIC, do you also need employment and career opportunities?’

I’m trying to tie all of these things, the symptoms, to the root cause. I think if we can get at the root cause, then the symptoms will be lessened.

 

What will you do to advance equity at the county level?

We have the Workforce Equity Strategic Plan, and I am really grateful that we started this initiative a couple years back and we’ve made some good strides. But we’ve also taken a few steps backwards. As a woman of color, as an immigrant, I’m deeply familiar with some of the challenges that people of color face. I know that my lived experience will really be able to inform and help lead and prioritize the strategies that we need to implement to address the institutional

racism that exists at the county. And it does. A lot of people don’t understand, they sometimes become defensive because when we say we have institutional racism, and sometimes they take that as meaning personal racism. And while obviously that does occur, what I'm talking about is what systems and processes do we have that prevent Black and Brown people from having the same access that the dominant culture has? And there’s a lot.

 

How do you think the county can more effectively work to solve the local homelessness and housing insecurity crises?

Here’s what I’ve been doing: In my district, which is East County, I cleared the way for 334 units for affordable housing. At the county level, that’s not our job to build housing, but we can land bank, we can donate land – and that’s exactly what we did. In Troutdale I led the charge to transfer about four acres to Home Forward, where they will be building 100 units of affordable housing.

The other thing I’m working on is I want to create a plug-and-play master lease program. The 3,000 Challenge, that was one of the recommendations. There are thousands of vacant units. How can we connect? Yes, we need to build more, but how about we fill up the vacant units that already exist? That’s rapid re-housing.

We need to work more closely with our property management companies and landlords, we have to have a partnership, and if we can show them ‘Look, we are going to make sure that your unit is going to be well taken care of, and if it’s not, we are going to cover those costs and we are also going to make sure that those individuals have the support that they need that if they have a crisis, that you are not the social service provider.’

Landlords, the only tool that they have is to call the police. But if we can say ‘We can guarantee you rents for x amount of time, we’re going to handle any challenges’ it’s actually a great benefit for the landlord, knowing that they’re going to have a stable renter, the rent is going to come in on time, and if there’s any challenges, there’s a third party who can intervene.

It’s all of the above. And it’s building more shelters. We also have $3 million set aside to build an East County Homeless Service site. We’re not sure exactly what that will look like, but we want to be able to offer services for houseless individuals to get connected to housing. But we’re also going to build a 50-bed alternative shelter. So it’s everything from actually building housing to providing more emergency shelter, to providing more services, and then we also have the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, it’s called the HOPE team, Homeless Outreach Program Engagement. It’s a great model of community policing, and I have fought for funding and got funding the last five years. And more recently, we got additional funding to add a navigation team. So now we’ll have direct service providers that will also be working with that HOPE team to get people connected to services and housing.

Everybody has a story, a reason, a challenge, and the solution is different. What’s great about the HOPE team is they know these individuals, and they have the flexibility to say what is it that you need? How can we help? Instead of, okay, we only have emergency shelter, that’s all we can offer.

It’s just kind of that human touch. We talk about Built For Zero, which is a platform that we’re going to be adopting. It’s really about following individuals as they receive services. Collecting specific data about individuals, there’s fear around that and respectfully I understand that. But by the same token, like the HOPE team, they know the individuals and so if you’re needing a driver’s license or birth certificate, that they can help you with that. But more importantly, they know how to get a hold of you when that document comes in.

 

How do you think the county can learn from the pandemic?

I’ve never lived through a pandemic. We have one of the lowest Covid rates, so my hat and gratitude is off to our public health employees and the county, our emergency operations center. But I do understand the pain. I’m a small business owner. Small businesses, low-income folks, BIPOC folks, we all know that we bear the brunt of Covid.

I think it goes back to having that community resilience. Covid just exacerbated everything that was already deeply affecting our communities, and we’re seeing that in violence, in poverty. People are angry, people are traumatized, so it’s really hard to think about that next step or the next level if you can’t even think about where your next meal is coming or where you’re going to sleep.

The other lessons I think are we have to work in better partnership with our counties, Washington, Clackamas, with our state government, with our federal government and with our jurisdictional partners. In my district I have not only part of Portland, I have Gresham, Troutdale, Fairview, Wood Village and the incorporated areas like Corbett. And so I do know how to do that, and this side of the county, it’s not a dominantly progressive community. It is a mixed community, and it’s important to acknowledge everyone’s perspective.

And so I think we could have worked better with businesses and we could have supported frontline workers better. But on the other hand, I led the charge to get out a million dollars in small business grants specific to East County that prioritized BIPOC business owners and women business owners. And overall, the county got out $14 million in business grants, and that was done through culturally specific chambers that we partnered with. But we can always do better and we must do better, and it can’t just be when there’s an emergency. This has to be something we need to work on now, so that the next time – and there will be a next time – we have more resilience to withstand the storm.

SHARON MEIERAN

Sharon Meieran is the current Multnomah County Commissioner for District 1. She is an emergency room doctor who previously practiced as an attorney with a background in civil litigation and intellectual property law before enrolling in medical school. She currently volunteers with Portland Street Medicine.

 

What about your time as a county commissioner inspired you to run for chair?

There has been so much in my work as a county commissioner that I have found inspiring in terms of what the county does, its role in the community, its core mission, and seeing the vast potential to expand and ensure that services in our core work support and reach even more people – primarily in the areas of houslessness and behavioral health, which is mental health and addiction services, and in our public safety system. And really seeing the intersections with all of that and how we can build so much more.

When I’m talking about my campaign or what I do, I always have to remember to take that step back because so many people don’t know what the county does and why it is so crucial. I think of it as, we’re the heart and soul of local government – the health, human services, all of that work to support people who are either marginalized or underserved or vulnerable in some way, and we lift them up and that is our core, core work.

 

How will your leadership be different from your predecessor’s?

My leadership style would be very open and collaborative. I really try to focus on communication, transparency, having an open door and really building relationships with the people I interact with.

I would be regularly meeting with employees and community stakeholders and hearing from them directly, so that they know who I am, I know who they are, and we are able to communicate in that direct way. I would have various councils of the people in the community and leaders and others I respect for different subject matter areas, experts who have their own experience to drive my policy and get feedback on ideas I have in a number of arenas. So a healthcare council and different community councils.

Basically it would be leadership based on collaboration, openness, communication and engagement, both internally at the county and externally with the community. I do hear some people say that we don’t walk the walk sometimes, or even that we pay lip service to certain fundamental work that we should be doing, for example with regard to the Workforce Equity Strategic Plan at the county. I will be working very diligently to walk the walk in doing the work we do at the county with full engagement, collaboration and teamwork from all of those that I work with.

 

What do you see as the most urgent issues the county will face in the coming four years?

They are the issues that I have really been dedicated to for all of my work in public service since long before I came to the county and at the county: houselessness and housing, behavioral health – mental health and addiction issues and our systems there – and public safety and how that all intersects at the county. I would add public health to that as well.

I truly feel that those issues are at the core of every single thing that we do, and if we are able to align our systems, get them to function effectively and expand them and meet the needs there, that we will address so many of the issues that we are facing in our community. There are some underlying, more foundational structures and issues that need to be addressed at the same time: the root causes of poverty, the structural and institutional racism that is so pervasive throughout all of our institutions and systems, and that work goes beyond issues per se.

 

What will you do to advance equity at the county level?

There are things that I would do both internally within the county itself and for and with our county employees, and then externally and how that intersects with the community as a whole. Ideally those things need to be integrated in essentially working on the same page, because if we’re not doing the work in our own institution then it’s difficult to be able to do the work externally with all of our partners and the community members we serve.

Several years ago we instituted a Workforce Equity Strategic Plan at the county that was an incredible process, and it elevated some long-standing real tensions and challenges and trauma that had been experienced in our own institution for long before any of us got there but which were continuing. And we heard loud and clear through many individuals I spoke with, also through hearings and in a number of ways, about the history and people’s current experiences who were Black, Indigenous, other people of color. And we heard what we could do to move through and address some of those issues at the deep structural level.

We began that work, and we have since put some individual programs into place, but we need to be doing it pervasively and with the impacted community, with the impacted employees at the table. And I am hearing that they do not feel that they have been involved, nor that there is a meaningful impact. So let’s start with direct engagement, hearing what people need, what people are experiencing, and then acting on that in a very intentional way.

And then externally, it would involve having deep relationships with community, and that is in a large part through many of our community-based organizations which have trusted relationships with community, as well as through individuals. And in particular it will be relying on our partner organizations, but I would add two things to that in terms of community relationships: We don’t know what we don’t know, and through my outreach I do hear from so many people about organizations that maybe the county does not know of or engage with. So I would try to do that expanding work, and also meet not just with organizational leaders, but convene members and the people in the community served by these organizations, so I can meet with them directly as chair to engage and hear from them directly, which is so important. I recognize this – I’m an ER doctor, so I meet thousands and thousands of people from all different backgrounds. And what strikes me is very few of them have any idea some of the organizations out there exist. We need to be serving these individuals as well, and so I think about, how can I connect? How can I make that difference?

 

How do you think the county can more effectively work to solve the local homelessness and housing insecurity crises?

There are a number of levels, and many things have to be happening concurrently. The first thing is to address what I consider truly to be a humanitarian crisis of people living unsheltered outside in horrific conditions and dying in increasing numbers. I do not feel that we have been addressing that with the urgency it requires for figuring out how to get people into safer and healthier conditions where they can live with more dignity while we are working toward the larger-scale problems.

I have a proposal planned for how we can do that which builds on our existing system and includes increasing the scale at which we’re doing things, but with small sites and a variety of options to meet people’s needs. I’m a volunteer with Portland Street Medicine, and I go out to the encampments providing medical care, hearing from people, seeing what is going on. And we need to do so much better.

Then we also need to also be engaging in the aspects of the long-term housing work that prevent people from becoming houseless in the first place. One of the main tenets of that is long-term rent assistance. We need to be really optimizing our work in that area so we prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place, and we need to provide what they need to avoid losing their homes. So often rent is the biggest issue, but also are unable to pay utilities, people are getting older and are having difficulty with mobility and just want to age in place – whatever the issue, we can help them.

And then, if people do lose their housing, we need to be stepping in as quickly as possible to shelter them so they’re safe, and connect them to the resources that will get them into permanent housing. And we need housing structures of different kinds, and we need to be thinking differently and using facilities differently and repurposing, so there’s so much work there. But on top of all of it, we need a system. We need a functional system with a vision and a plan so it can move people through the system as effectively as possible. I think that’s one of the main things that we’re lacking and that I would bring in the role of chair: a vision of a holistic, functioning ecosystem that has a healthy pathway for people to get from houselessness for whatever caused that and whatever’s maintaining it, get them the supports they need to move through a pathway to getting the housing they need.

We need meaningful data, we need accountability and we all need to have a shared collective vision moving forward.

 

How do you think the county can learn from the pandemic?

There are a number of lessons to be taken from the pandemic, and I’ve heard those described as the silver lining. The pandemic was so horrific and tragic and impacted so many people in profound ways, so there’s no getting away from that. What we can do, and the best way to honor the lives that were lost and the people that were impacted, is to look at what we’ve learned addressing the pandemic crisis – what systems have we put in place, how have we seen that we can do things better, or do things at all. We can do things much faster than we have seen them done before.

One of the aspects I’d want to put into play is, okay, how can we do things more efficiently to get people the services they need?

How can we meet more people where they’re at? One of the things that’s been beautiful in terms of the COVID response is we are able to provide virtual appointments, telemedicine, counseling over the phone, all of these different supports that people can get to in different ways, and that’s made people show up in different ways. And more people use services, and so how can we optimize that to understand what people need and how we can best get the services to them?

Even with our workforce, it’s important to say maybe not everyone has to come in every day to the office to do what it is they need to do, and how can we support people and their families in doing the work at the county to support our clients and what they and their families need?

So I’m excited about a lot of the processes we can put into place that we’ve learned from COVID, and taking that further – again, as a healthcare provider, I see a lot of opportunities for preparing even further for sadly whatever our next health crisis is.

JESSICA VEGA PEDERSON

Jessica Vega Pederson, Multnomah County Commissioner for District 3, previously served in the Oregon House of Representatives (D-Portland) from 2013 to 2017.

 

What about your time as a county commissioner inspired you to run for chair?

Before I was on the county commission I was a state representative. I was the first Latina to serve in the Oregon House, and I love the work that I was able to do there. But what I realized is that for the people I was elected to serve, the people in my East Portland neighborhood, the people in my community, a lot of the issues they were facing were being worked on at the local level. The county commission plays such a huge role in helping people when they need it the most, whether it’s with a health issue, whether it’s an issue with a senior, with someone experiencing homelessness.

I’ve been so grateful for the last five years to be able to really work at that level and see how government can help with community, especially in COVID.

As county commissioner, the thing that I have put so much time into over the last five years was working on preschool for all and getting quality, universal, free preschool for three- and four-year-olds in Multnomah County passed. It was actually started because of work I had done with culturally specific organizations, with Black and Brown parents of color, with a lot of moms of color talking about what they needed for their kids and what they needed to get access to preschool.

I worked on that for a couple of years, putting together a policy with community on what we needed in Multnomah County. And then we got it put on the ballot and we talked to voters and we got in passed in November of 2020 overwhelmingly, with 64% of the vote.

That experience showed me that when we come together and we work on a solution that’s right for Multnomah County, we can get big things done.

 

How will your leadership be different from your predecessor’s?

I’m a different person from Deborah Kafoury. My family and I have lived for the last 16 years in East Portland, and I got into office in the first place because I was just so angry and upset at the fact that people drive at such crazy speeds in East Portland neighborhoods that I couldn’t take my kids for a walk around the block in their stroller. That, along with where I come from, means I’m coming from a perspective of really working for the community that I come from, and taking on issues that I know make a difference, like economic justice issues, like educational issues, and making sure that the people who are impacted by the decisions we’re making, by the policies we’re creating, are always at the table.

I think we’re just coming from different places. I also think I’m a very collaborative person, and I have been able to get things done at the state level working across the aisle. I have been able to work with different people and bring people from different sides of the coalition together to get things done like I did with preschool for all, and we need that kind of collaboration now. As community chair, I’m really dedicated to working with the Portland mayor, with the Metro president, with the governor, with our legislators, to work together to address these issues, and not be too worried about, ‘This isn’t or job’ or ‘that’s really somebody else’s responsibility,’ but really working together with the goal of solving the problem. That’s really the hallmark of how I work and what I’ll bring to the Multnomah County chair.

 

What do you see as the most urgent issues the county will face in the coming four years?

First of all, we have an urgency with the housing and the homelessness crises that we’re seeing in Multnomah County and on our streets. We have to put the supportive housing services measures dollars to work in a way that gets people safe and gets people stable and gets people into the shelter or the housing situation that’s right for them, and that we’re working together with the city, with Metro to address the trash issues and the safety issues that we’re seeing on our streets. This is something that I hear about from people in my district from East Portland, I hear about it from people downtown. I think no matter where you go, people are really concerned about that.

Living in Hazelwood, which has the highest (incidence) of gun violence in the city in the past couple years, I’m really concerned about community safety and the way that we need to make sure that we’re working with community to address this problem. I’ve done a lot of work with folks who have been impacted by gun violence, either because they had been associated with gun violence or that they had been victims of gun violence or that their business or homes had been impacted. I have put dollars into the community through budget allocations, asking how we do really good intervention metric programs.

In working collaboratively with not just our public safety partners like the DA or the sheriffs but also with community is going to be a big focus of mine. And I think underlying both of those issues and a whole lot more is just the issue of economic justice and the generational poverty that we see in the county. We have a huge divide (between West County and East County) in terms of people’s experience that they’re living, their opportunity for work, for starting their own business, the opportunity for a great educational experience. And that’s something that if we don’t address that head-on, we’re going to continue to have generational differences, and we’re not going to move the dial in big ways, and that all has impact on the things that people are concerned about, whether it’s homelessness, whether it’s public safety, even climate. When we’re looking at people who are impacted by the heat dome, it was people who were living in mobile homes, it was people in affordable housing developments, where we saw the biggest harm.

So that is also going to be a focus of mine. Multnomah County is a safety net provider, and that is really important work that we do. But if we’re also not working to give people a path out of poverty, a job opportunity, educational opportunity, then we’re really not doing all the work that Multnomah County needs to be doing.

 

What will you do to advance equity at the county level?

I look at advancing equity as Multnomah County chair both internally and externally. Internally, the county chair is the person who leads our 6,000-employee organization, and we have work to do to make sure that all our employees at Multnomah County feel valued, feel respected, feel that who they are is welcomed at the county.

We have a workplace equity strategic plan that was started a few years ago, and that work, unfortunately, didn’t move forward during COVID, with much-needed attention on other issues. I’m going to be committed to being the executive sponsor of that work at the county chair by making sure it’s so deeply ingrained at the county that even if we have a crisis happen, it’s just going to be part of our work. So we know that people who are coming in as new employees, whether they are BIPOC community, whether they are LGBTQIA, whether they have a disability, that they feel like Multnomah County is a place where they can do their best work and it’s going to be valued. That we’re keeping people, that we’re promoting people, that we are giving people the professional development that they need to thrive.

Externally, I think we did a good job during COVID of really saying ‘Our public health response is going to center Black, Indigenous, people of color communities, Latinx population, seniors who are struggling to access care and are the most vulnerable – we are going to be focusing our work on that population.’ I think we have to continue to do that as we’re looking at our programs and our services, how we do our contracting, the organizations that we’re partnering with, what their staff and boards look like, to make sure we’re reaching people who need it the most.

I believe in targeted universalism; we have to be responding to the inequities we’re seeing in how we’re providing those services, whether that’s income or race, gender or sexual orientation or gender identity – it’s all the things together, we have to be making sure when we’re putting policies in place, when we’re putting programs in place, it is accessible to the people who need it the most and that we’re giving avenues to folks to work with the county and have those opportunities available to them in ways I think it’s been harder for people, especially people who have small businesses and emerging businesses, to do in the past.

 

How do you think the county can more effectively work to solve the local homelessness and housing insecurity crises?

I think it’s the role of the county chair to be working proactively and in cooperation with the other regional leaders to get to solutions and not just passing the buck. I also think there are many things that are happening right now that are really positive: We have folks from organizations in the nonprofit sector who are stepping into this and saying, ‘We have resources now, we have ways of doing things that we can really address this problem.’ I would point to 3000 Challenge PDX, a movement to connect landlords who have vacancies with people who are experiencing homelessness and need homes, and saying that we as these organizations are going to be working with you to make sure that we’re providing the resources, that we’re kind of wrapping around services for people so that they can be successful in housing and you as the landlord can have some faith and some confidence in having this person have a home in your building.

I think that is an amazing thing. Voters have invested in housing bonds, both the Portland housing bond and the Metro housing bond. We need to be developing even more housing, but that takes years to do.

So right now we have to be looking at ways that we can give people safety off the streets.

I think the 3,000 Challenge is a great way to do that, and continuing to look at master leasing hotels and motels. It was really effective during COVID; the state has given money to Project Turnkey for that. There’s actually a Portland company that has this studio apartment in a box, where they have a kitchen kit and some other things so they can turn a hotel room into basically a studio apartment. I’m really excited about the idea of doing that – we can get people into a couple floors in a hotel or motel, and then have staff on site so that they do have resources, they do have somebody who’s there as outreach for them.

I’m excited about those kinds of ideas, and I think that we can continue to do that as we’re looking at getting people into permanent housing with the wraparound services they need. We can be doing those kinds of things in the meantime to address the issue that we have.

I think, finally, we really do need to look at the issues of trash, look at the issues of safety in our community. As county chair I’m committed to working both with the state in true partnership. How can we make sure we’re addressing that so people feel good about living in Multnomah County, they feel proud of the place that we’re all living?

 

How do you think the county can learn from the pandemic?

One thing I think we all learned is how important childcare is. I think for the county specifically we learned how we can better work with Black, Latinx, Indigenous, people of color communities to make sure that we’re working with the right partners, we have the right messengers, we are getting necessary information out in the right ways to really reach the folks that need it. I think we had to learn that across the board for our emergency response and our communications teams. That’s something that we need to keep as a practice for the county for all of the work that we’re doing, so we can better communicate that to folks.

I think that we also had set up several links where we had staff serve as the liaison for small businesses during the pandemic to make sure they knew what the county was doing, where they could get the resources, whether it was PPE, if it was dollars to help keep their businesses open, during the pandemic. We need to continue to have those relationships. As county chair I would dedicate staff to have a permanent liaison with the business community so that we are keeping that door open and making sure that relationship doesn’t go away once the pandemic is done.

I also think that ultimately what we learned is that whether it is a pandemic or re-envisioning our community safety or trying to figure out how we can fight generational poverty, all of the things are so interconnected in that the people who are the most vulnerable during the pandemic are still vulnerable during non-pandemic times, and we have to be keeping that at the forefront as the county serves its mission to provide services, to be there for seniors, to be there for children, to provide healthcare, to provide community justice in all the ways that we do. We have to remember and center those who are most vulnerable in our work, because they’re going to continue to be vulnerable.

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MLK Breakfast 2023

Photos from The Skanner Foundation's 37th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast.