Tuesday, May 6, 2008

All hell breaks loose on the homeless front

The new Street Roots is on the beat. This issue explores the new documentary film being put together on the life of James P. Chasse Jr., we report on tighter identification requirements, and offer Q & A's with the outgoing homelessness program manager Heather Lyons and council candidate Nick Fish.

Lots of things happening on the homeless front. The latest editorial from Street Roots outlines it all right here.

It seems that in the few weeks since Erik Sten, the former housing commissioner, left City Hall, all hell has broken loose on the homelessness and affordable housing front. From the elections to the city budget to talk of a possible merger of the city and county’s housing agencies to backdoor dealings and the implosion of the state’s largest mental health provider (Cascadia) — the phones at Street Roots have been ringing off the hook.

While Street Roots will be covering many of these issues in future editions, it’s clear that with no coherent leadership at City Hall on the issue, a myriad of players and institutions, for better or worse, are making power plays that will ultimately guide us into uncharted waters.

Less than a week after Sten left the building, funding for the 10-year plan to end homelessness had been cut, and the city’s popular Homeless Connect, a program that offers homeless clients one-stop support services four times a year, was completely zeroed out in next year’s budget.

The machinations run deeper: A report is in the works to determine if the Bureau of Housing and Community Development (the city agency responsible for the 10-year plan to end homelessness and housing and economic development programs), Multnomah County’s homeless programs and the Housing Authority of Portland (which works to provide affordable housing) would be better suited merged under one roof. The reasoning behind this would be the consolidation of housing dollars. Problem is, from our vantage point, it wouldn’t create any new funds, it would just rearrange the chairs on the deck and create one large bureaucracy that would be harder to manage.

Then there’s the Portland Development Commission’s recent move to hand over its multi-million dollar housing programs to another agency — most likely to the Housing Authority of Portland. Advocates, and many City Hall insiders, are scrambling to figure out exactly what it all means. What’s at stake? Possibly the PDC’s 0-30 percent set aside that goes to low-income people that took advocates and City Hall years to develop.

We haven’t even mentioned the 30 individuals experiencing homelessness that are camped out in front of City Hall demanding a safe place to sleep from police harassment or that the sit-lie ordinance is only targeting homeless people, or that we still haven’t seen the Mayor’s office move on oversight for private police.

What we are getting at is that whoever takes over housing and homelessness issues at City Hall, and programs at the county, had better be prepared to hit the ground running.

Over the past few years housing leaders were able to weave large systems, grassroots advocacy, law enforcement and non-profits together in a way that gave each group, including the homeless themselves, space to do good work and to be heard. We can see dark clouds on the horizon, and it’s going to take real leadership to make sure the fleet that Sten and others assembled isn’t led astray and we find ourselves lost at sea.

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