Jessica Vega Pederson, Multnomah County Chair candidate for Multennomoh county, discusses the importance of Jessica Vea Peterson's homelessness strategy
Given that the countys approach to homelessness is such a vital issue, I wanted to ask you (as well as the other candidates) if you support the direction Chair Kafoury has taken; s/he would push for the same priorities IF elected, especially in combining permanent housing with reducing temporary shelter, or idk w/o changing course in any way. What do you think might voters expect from a commission that you lead versus what theyre seeing now on homelessness?
Jessica Vega Pederson response
Our streets are in a state of crisis. Local voters, understanding this crisis, have generously increased their contributions to provide affordable housing, shelters, and supportive services for our houseless neighbors. As elected leaders, we must ensure that we put these dollars to good use and that people are moved into shelter, housing, or safe rest sites as quickly as possible.
As county chair, I will treat our homeless situation as the emergency that it is.
That means assisting in the establishment and expansion of safe rest villages in our community, to move people off of our streets and into dedicated shelter sites. It also means buying more hotels to use immediately and often at lower costs. It includes providing behavioral health and addiction treatment services at our shelters to ensure that people receive the support they need to stabilize their lives and move into permanent housing.
As a tangible sign of our commitment to making progress, we'll have the mayor, county chair, and other partners meet monthly. It requires being results-driven and accountable: bringing online a new database to track real-time shelter, housing, and safe rest site availability.
That means extending the outreach teams that visit homeless encampments, inform occupants of upcoming cleanups, and provide the opportunity to live in shelters and receive other critical services. It also means hiring peer support specialists, trained and certified professionals with real-life experience who provide assistance and encouragement for those living in shelters. These specialists are effective in assisting people in staying positive and obtaining the help they need.
It means providing long-term transitional housing for people in early recovery from addiction and expanding models like the Oxford House, where a democratically run, self-supporting, and drug-free home gives those recovering from drug addiction an opportunity to get back on their feet. These homes are generally located in a neighborhood and can be acquired relatively quickly. They instill a sense of responsibility among tenants and stretch taxpayer dollars by asking tenants to pay modest rent.
It also includes developing and improving our mental health system: providing a single point of contact for all mental illness needs, centering the patients needs when providing care, improving customer service, and coordinating the variety of outreach teams, while also increasing accountability across the system. A better mental health system is directly related to a better situation on our streets.
It also includes ensuring strong community engagement, outreach, and responsiveness in neighborhoods with shelters and alternative camping sites, as I did when the county announced it had leased land in the Foster-Powell neighborhood for what would become the Laurelwood Shelter. After hearing from frustrated residents, I convened neighborhood leaders, local businesses, the County, City, Joint Office of Homeless Services, and our shelter provider to discuss concerns, expectations, goals, & expectations for the shelter and neighborhood.
After months of negotiations, our efforts culminated in a Good Neighbor Agreement between the Laurelwood Shelter and the four adjacent neighborhood associations. Open communication, clear expectations, and newfound trust between businesses, residents, & the newly situated shelter were the key outcomes.
More than 250 individuals have come into stable housing since last month, according to the shelter. On Thursday, members of a nearby church dropped off move-in kits, which included pillows, linens, and cookingware, for shelter residents moving into permanent housing.
If we are to tackle this difficult issue, this is the kind of collaboration, compassion, communication, and hard work we need.
This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for our community, but one that calls for flexibility and adaptations. I will never be afraid to change course, try something new, and work with anyone who is willing to share ideas, energy, or resources, whether theyre community groups, faith organizations, businesses, cultural organizations or philanthropy. Policies that are working will be followed, while those that dont deliver as wed hoped will go unnoticed.
Yet, we must also recognize that this crisis has been in the making for years, and that the answers won't be quick. Anyone who promises you quick solutions to this problem is either not being honest or unaware of the complexity of this issue.
Many of the people living on our streets are affected by significant trauma and have mental health and/or substance abuse issues. It is not easy to establish relationships, build confidence, and develop the ability to assist these ill-equipped individuals in our community. If we are to stabilize their lives and assist them in accessing safe, sanitary living conditions, we must listen to and center the experience of those living on our streets. Thats the role that our outreach workers and peer support specialists can play, and that is why we need more of them.
I have a proven track record of bringing people together to accomplish things, both at the state and local level. Ive formed coalitions to pass Preschool for All, our communitys universal preschool program, and the groundbreaking Coal to Clean legislation, which took our state off of coal as an energy source. I led the fight for statewide paid sick leave, as well as for increased transit, electric buses, and safer roads in our region.
What Portland needs right now isnt rhetoric. We need results. We dont need posturing. We need a proven track record of success.
Im proud to run for county chair on my previous record, and to put my expertise to use in tackling homelessness, gun violence, climate change, transportation, as well as the other pressing issues facing our community.
Working together, we can accomplish amazing things.