A Strategic Plan to Address Chronic Homelessness

My time in the Portland Metro Area came to an end last Friday. I turned in my final report with my policy recommendations and several charts and a flow-chart that detailed how to implement my recommended plan.

My implementation roadmap in flow-chart form!

My implementation plan in flow-chart form!

So how did I get there? In my previous blog posts I discussed two very important steps. The first being getting acclimated to the community and the second of learning about the conditions of homeless communities in the specific geographic area of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest more broadly.

After completing these steps I had to make an important decision regarding how to proceed in my project by defining the problem. I was brought to Gresham due to a rise in complaints regarding public nuisances related to homelessness. These include: panhandling, camping on trails, congregating at public parks, and urinating on lawns.

Rather than focus simply on how to minimize these public nuisances in the short-term I decided to craft a longer term plan aimed at decreasing the root cause of these actions — chronic homelessness.

I thought this was appropriate for two reasons. First, there is little evidence that a narrow focus on public nuisances is effective. Secondly, poverty in Multnomah County is moving increasingly eastward from central city Portland towards Gresham.

This phenomenon will lead to a higher number of people at risk of homelessness. Ergo, the issue I was working on this summer isn’t going away. I believed the City needed to shift away from responding to individual crises and have a strategic plan.

Poverty is increasing in East County. Gresham needed a strategic plan to address how this would affect homelessness.

Poverty is increasing in East County. Gresham needed a strategic plan to address how this would affect homelessness.

With this in mind I presented three policy recommendations:

  1. Convene a Homeless Taskforce
  2. Initiate Two Key Personnel Adjustments
  3. Obtain Accurate Data on Demographics of Homeless in Gresham

The homeless task force is designed to address the tension between various stakeholders in the Gresham community. While there are not many services for the homeless in Gresham there is a network of churches and faith-based groups that run day shelters and food kitchens. Some citizens of Gresham blamed the churches for attracting homelessness. I thought the tension needed to be diffused, so it did not derail implementation.

The personnel adjustments I suggested were for the City of Gresham to appoint a homelessness point person and a faith community contact. These positions would help implementation be more efficient.

Finally, the City of Gresham needed accurate data. Multnomah County is often very Portland-centric so communities in East County are, at times, less engaged with county efforts. This was the case with the biennial Point-in-Time Count (PIT). The PIT is a HUD mandated count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons.

Multnomah County did not have the necessary relationships to access accurate data in Gresham and E. County.

Multnomah County did not have the necessary relationships to access accurate data in Gresham.


The Multnomah County PIT had severely undercounted the homeless community in Gresham and East County. By building relationships with key people (service providers on the homeless taskforce and the two new contact people from recommendation #2 for example) Gresham will be prepared to engage more fully in the 2015 PIT.

Ultimately, I believe that I helped the City of Gresham build a solid foundation for addressing homelessness. I was able to leverage my status as an outsider to broker conversations between individuals and groups that typically do not talk. Though, we were unable to end homelessness in 10 weeks I trust the work we did these past 2.5 months is a set up for future success.

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Why We Need a National STEM Competition Just for Girls

When I was in the third grade, I invented a refrigerator. It was fancy for the time – it kept an inventory of everything inside, suggested recipes, and (gasp!) connected to the internet so you could order groceries from home. But two things were even cooler about this fridge. First, it came straight out of the minds of four little girls. Second, it won a national science competition.

This awkward gem of a photo shows our all-girl inventor team with our “Refrigerator with a Brain.” The competition was sponsored by Toshiba (thanks, Toshiba!), and still exists today!

Fast forward twenty years and you’ll find that I am not a scientist. Not even close. I’m a writer and an advocate and a public policy student. But not once since the third grade have I donned a lab coat.

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My car flooded in NOLA, but it was kind of fun

New Orleans, My car in the deluge.Louisiana has a unique relationship with water. Lake Ponchartrain borders the city to the north and the Mississippi River presses in underneath. Canals and bayous zig-zag through most neighborhoods. Summer is stiflingly humid. And—as it turns out—North Robertson Continue reading

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Coal Ash, Water Quality Standards and Solar Bees

My internship with the Sierra Club is winding down now, with only a couple days left. The legislature is still in session, with no end in sight.

Since my last post, the Coal Ash bill was debated in the House. It was a long, heated debate. The Second Reading on the floor lasted over 4 hours and there were over 20 amendments proposed.There was a big controversy when one of the amendments passed, which would have added the Cape Fear Plant to the list of high priority coal ash sites to be cleaned up. Continue reading

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Healthcare and Innovation

It is unbelievable how fast this summer has gone and how much I have learned at Gallup. In my last post, I gushed over how much I love living in Chicago (still do!). For my second post – and because it’s all I think about every day – I am going to get a little bit more into the specifics of what I’m doing at Gallup.

My client is a medical device company and I’m working on a project looking at how to improve their innovative services and programs. Continue reading

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Pacific Northwest Style Homelessness

Greetings from Oregon!

My last blog post ended with a statement that I was tasked with interviewing a variety of people that have a stake in addressing homelessness here in Gresham. Since then I have had conversations, meetings, and planning sessions with over fifty people.


My Meeting Tracker…I know it’s not the sexiest picture, but at least it’s colorful!

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Final Internship Thoughts

For my last blog post of the summer, I thought that I should recount some of the major projects that I worked on at the CA Tobacco Control Department, state where California stands in terms of policy on e-cigarettes, and of course list some of my great adventures in the Golden State.

Next week is my last week at Tobacco Control. In these next two weeks (and in the months to follow), my office will continue to plan a press conference to release public health documents to the public and a seminar to inform Department of Public Health workers of the dangers associated with e-cigarettes. Continue reading

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From Dirt to Shirt: Cotton as a Case Study in Sustainability

Sustainability claims in textile marketing

A few weeks ago, Chip Bergh, the CEO of Levi Strauss & Co., urged customers to stop washing their jeans as a way to conserve water in the laundering process. Not surprisingly, Mr. Bergh’s call to action (or, rather, inaction) was met with a chorus of “ew’s” across the nation. Levi’s efforts and the resulting backlash bring up some interesting questions. Does “green” living really have to be dirty, laundry-less living? Who should bear the burden of sustainability: consumers or companies? Continue reading

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How Norway Has us Beat on Women in Corporate Leadership

In the U.S., we’ve heard the dismal figures on women in corporate leadership positions time and again. Among Fortune 500 companies, women make up less than 5 percent of CEOs. Within boardrooms in these companies, women hold only 17 percent of seats.

We’re not alone in this poor performance. As of 2010, women held a similar 15 percent of corporate board seats in France, 13 percent in Germany, and 12 percent in Britain. Continue reading

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This is the time, Memphis is the Place

When I first came to Memphis as a TFA corps member over four years ago the executive director of TFA told the incoming corps, “This is the time, Memphis is the Place.” After being back for about two months I could not agree with that statement more, especially informally known as Memphis City Schools. This palpable feeling pervades the city but is especially potent at the office here I work, which is affectionately known as TeacherTown. In an open concept office around 10 school based organizations have chosen to locate their offices in one place.   Continue reading

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