A Home for Everyone: Board briefed on progress of community-wide housing effort

A Home for Everyone Initiative Director Marc Jolin addresses the board on Tuesday.

A Home for Everyone Initiative Director Marc Jolin addresses the board on Tuesday.

A regional partnership of local governments and community nonprofits is on track to meet a lofty goal of securing housing for nearly 700 veterans by years end. And that’s just one thing A Home for Everyone can be proud of this year, director Marc Jolin told the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners Tuesday during an update on the initiative.

The county’s Family Mobile Housing Unit has helped almost 400 families secure a place to live, Home Forward is supporting the effort with 200 Section 8 vouchers for homeless families, and the board of commissioners committed to opening a permanent year-round shelter.

“This is really comprehensive and systematic work,” Jolin said. “We have more of a plan today than we’ve had before. This is really the first time we’re doing planning on a community-wide scale.”

A Home for Everyone launched in 2012 by Multnomah County, the City of Portland and Home Forward. Today its Executive Committee includes representatives from the City of Gresham, Home Forward, the Meyer Memorial Trust and the Portland Leadership Foundation.

Six subcommittees including housing, health and employment, developed action plans in March to sharply reduce the number of homeless men, women and children in the area. Those recommendations informed the budget process for each member of the Executive Committee.

The plans were based in part on a homeless count conducted in January that showed the number of homeless remained steady from two years earlier.

But two numbers gave experts pause. There was a slight uptick in the number of people using shelters, and a big hike in the numbers for African American and other vulnerable populations.

That suggested the community might see a future rise in homelessness. 

Sally Erickson of the Portland Housing Bureau at Tuesday's board briefing.

Sally Erickson of the Portland Housing Bureau at Tuesday's board briefing.

Then in August, A Home for Everyone got a startling figure. The number of people using temporary shelters had soared by 42 percent over the previous year.

“We had a planning goal to reduce homelessness by half. But if we kept doing what we were doing, we wouldn’t meet that goal,” Jolin said. “Based on what we have seen in the data we had to recalibrate projections.”

Coupling that with a 30-percent rise in rental rates over five years - and by some accounts a 15-percent rise this year alone - A Home for Everyone decided a drastic and immediate action was necessary if they wanted to meet their goal.

After the updated analysis made its way to the City of Portland, Mayor Charlie Hales declared a State of Emergency, and A Home for Everyone recommended a significant increase in funding for its action plan strategies. Portland and Multnomah County pledged $30 million next year to assuring the Home for Everyone action plan could continue to meet its goal.

During the past two weeks, the six Home for Everyone subcommittees have worked to develop recommendations on how to allocate that money in the next fiscal year. Those committees will meet with the Home for Everyone Coordinating Board Nov. 4, which will in turn make final recommendations to the Executive Committee.

The recommendations will likely include scaling up housing placements, identifying more affordable rental units and creative options for temporary shelters. But they will also surely include recommendations on prevention.

“It’s much more cost effective to look at prevention” much more aggressively, Jolin told the board Tuesday. “If we start to invest in prevention, we can dramatically reduce the number we’re placing. It’s much less expensive to do prevention.”

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury applauded the sweeping collaboration of “not just government and nonprofits, but the faith community, philanthropy and businesses.”

“You guys have done so much work and moved so far from the original, how do we cut homelessness by half, in two years, to getting really specific plans in place,” she said. “Some are shell shocked by the dollar figure behind this, but this is really what it’s going to take to make a dent in our community, to give people access to safe affordable housing, which is ultimately our goal.”