Voice crying out in the Wilderness*: An Evening with County Chair Kafoury on Homelessness, Part 1

*satirical, describes my afternoon/evening tweet storm with Kafoury & friends in Portland.

The story referenced there was the cover story of Sunday’s The Oregonian, the Pacific Northwest’s largest-audience news publication. Thank you, reporter Nicole Hayden.

So far, a full eight hours later, I am the sole respondent to this tweet by the Chair of Oregon’s most populous county! A place at an epicenter and leading edge of the nation’s extraordinary homelessness condition:

Holy Moly, who IS this malefactor interjecting in our smoothly-onward-sailing great Ship of State, AND our great O Captain, My Captain, the Oregonian? Well, as the only respondent, I must have something significant, at least de facto unique, to say here, so let’s unpack.

I’m referencing recent public statements by Chair Kafoury quite specifically and forcefully spurning proposals of Commisssioner Sharon Meieran (more on/from her below) for immediate and “alternative” (as now known locally) shelter options for the huge and perhaps soon-widening homelessness situation in Portland. For example:

It’s an increasingly public feud which I’ve been following quite closely and somewhat involved in all year. (by the way, sorry for the replied-to tweet appearing again on these, that’s just how Medium handles display of tweets that are replies):

I also reference there, in that #hashtagging method readers everywhere love:

  • S2HC: Shelter to Housing Continuum project, a recently-approved City code reform on which I extensively advocated & organized over the last year.

I mean, who loves ya, Portland? who brings you wit wisdom and wonkery? Your native-born prodigal here, that’s who, lifelong student of Portland ways, son of its first Director of Comprehensive Planning, back from lost dark decades in the East and South and here standing up for the Great NorthWest. With a billion views, no riches, trying to join your club or die tryin’, once again a bit like 50:

I also tactfully and tactically reference in my opening salvo tweet, and that Council testimony, my co-authored op-ed (guest opinion) piece in The Oregonian from the previous week:

Soon after my tweet in the wilderness today, my call was heard, a reply came from A Home For Everyone, (http://ahomeforeveryone.net/). AHFE is the homelessness policy-guiding board for Multnomah County area, and the Federal “Continuum of Care” administering all Federal homelessness funding to area. Self-description from their site:

“In 2013, the city of Portland, Multnomah County and Home Forward (formerly Housing Authority of Portland) convened a special committee that brought together diverse stakeholders to review data, listen to the community and learn from effective practices, locally and nationally.

Together, with other partners, they created A Home for Everyone: A United Community Plan to End Homelessness in Multnomah County.

A Home for Everyone is led by an executive committee made up of elected officials from Portland, Multnomah County and Gresham, Home Forward, along with providers, business leaders, and members of the faith and philanthropic communities.”

Their response, and mine to that:

I reference there my tweet from a few days ago to Mercedes Elizaldes, a colleague who is Policy Director at local Northwest Pilot Project (non-profit serving very low income seniors in Multnomah County), also a member of AHFE’s Coordinating Board.

which itself includes an early tweet from me to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority citing two significant recent research studies on emergency rental assistance programs. I’ve been closely following Los Angeles homelessness issues for a while especially lately, and recently organized a PDX Shelter Forum public event inviting up “The Mayor of [LA] Skid Row,” longtime activist General Jeff, whom I am honored to call a friend, along with Multnomah County Commissioner, Sharon Meieran. Jeff was prominently & extensively quoted in the recent landmark Federal court injunction issued by Judge David Carter requiring the City/County of LA to offer at least safe shelter & service to all LA Skid Row unsheltered residents within 180 days.

I also in that last tweet cite the Oregonian editorial board’s opinion from the previous day, County’s rent assistance program needs transparency, urgency,” which by Oregonian standards lambasts the county’s emergency rental assistance program so far, as being worst-in-state way off schedule, and completely opaque in how and via which organizations they’re distributing this funding. In case you were wondering if I’m making all this us. I defer here to the O Captain of the O Ship, The Oregonian. I quote:

“As The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Jamie Goldberg reported, the county has lagged others around the state in allocating rent assistance given by the state back in February. By mid-April, the county ­– which is relying on a network of community organizations to allocate most of the state funding ­­– had identified recipients for only 12% of the $8 million in funds.

This isn’t the first time the county and its partner organizations have been through this. Last fall, they similarly managed millions of rent assistance — and similarly lagged other counties in getting the funds out.

The county also fails on transparency of the program. Neither the county website nor the 211info.org rent assistance website clearly list the network of community organizations that are handling the majority of applications. Instead, renters who visit the 211info site or call 211 are only able to submit their names for a waiting list — provided the waiting list isn’t closed, as it was last Friday. Another link on the page provides a listing of groups that offer year-round rent assistance, but it’s unclear whether these are the same organizations handling the emergency assistance.

Wait, what? The governments’ primary method of addressing Covid housing emergency response, and its proposed primary approach to addressing homelessness generally, is being administered discretionarily through an unidentified set of community organizations? Two months after money was allocated by the state, the County had only so far as identified recipients for 12% of the funds, that is to say only identified and not disbursed to; and this after going through a similar process with similar results last fall? Also, this is, emphatically according to the County Chair, the obviously best and fastest way to help the unsheltered on our streets?

It’s a bit much to take. Any more of this post or topic at once, I mean, so I’m wrapping this up for the evening and will continue later, presenting more of the still-live and ongoing Twitter thread, with:

Voice crying out in the Wilderness*: An Evening with County Chair Kafoury on Homelessness, Part 2.

Meanwhile all already in the club or not are welcome to join the convo, aka the Twitter reply ‘canoe’, you can do so by replying to the latest tweet in thread, which currently is here, godspeed: https://twitter.com/tmccormick/status/1389449691499175941?s=20

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Tim McCormick

editor, @HousingWiki; lead organizer, @VillageCollaborative; organizer/editor, @PDXshelterforum. Portland, OAK, LDN, nomadic. tmccormick at gmail.