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.
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.
With this in mind I presented three policy recommendations:
- Convene a Homeless Taskforce
- Initiate Two Key Personnel Adjustments
- 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.
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.