Problems with how we help our homeless

By Cascade Policy Institute

Metro Council Must Reject Multnomah County’s Homelessness Plan
County’s current plan squanders millions of dollars with no accountability or measures of success

Metro will consider a resolution approving Multnomah County’s plan to spend $52 million over the next year to address homelessness in the county. Cascade Policy Institute has submitted testimony urging the Metro Council to reject the county’s plan and to order the county to develop a new plan that actually delivers services to our homeless residents and provides clear measures of success or failure.

The money comes from two new voter-approved income taxes imposed by the Metro regional government and is earmarked for “supportive housing services” throughout the region. Metro’s management of the program and Multnomah County’s “Local Implementation Plan” risk squandering the money with half-baked ideas.

A recent Oregonian/OregonLive editorial criticizes Metro’s lack of “vision” in implementing the measure (“Metro lacks vision for homeless services measure,” Feb. 21). In particular, the editorial questions what the measure will achieve and what “success” will look like. This should not be a surprise. Metro never had a vision for the measure. Neither does Multnomah County.

Last week, in an interview with Willamette Week, Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran condemned the region’s plans, concluding “we don’t have a plan or even a kernel of a plan” for spending billions of taxpayer dollars to get unsheltered residents into stable housing.

“If Metro Council really cared about delivering services to its community, it should vote no on Multnomah County’s plan, and tell the county to come up with a plan that has well-defined measures of success,” says Eric Fruits, Cascade Policy Institute’s research director. “It’s not Metro’s job to make a bad plan better.”

In his testimony to Metro, Dr. Fruits notes, “Portland’s unsheltered homeless population is overwhelmingly white, male, and working age. Metro and Multnomah County’s overwhelming emphasis on delivering services to Communities of Color effectively tells the majority of the region’s homeless population, ‘You’re on your own.’”

Instead, the main focus of homeless policy must be on reducing the overall number of unsheltered homeless in the region. This is the population that is front-and-center in the minds of Metro voters. It’s this population that’s blamed for assaults, stolen bikes, car prowls, shoplifting, fires (both accidental and arson).

Cascade also opposes Multnomah County’s plan because it makes no promises of how or where nearly 90% of the first years’ money will be spent. Some of it might go to rent assistance, but much of it is going to “building system capacity.” This includes hiring 13 full-time equivalent employees at the Joint Office of Homeless Services, as well as spending on “technical assistance, training, and financial support” for the organizations tasked with delivering services. It also includes spending on “data collection, sharing, and evaluation infrastructure.”

There’s another word for all this spending: overhead. Overhead that does virtually nothing to deliver dollars and services to the thousands of unsheltered residents of our region. Overhead that seems designed to bloat the county’s bureaucracy. Overhead that shovels funds to the so-called “community based organizations” that campaigned so hard to get their hands on residents’ and businesses’ tax dollars, with no promises of accountability and no measures of success.

Portland-area governments have spent hundreds of millions on homeless services throughout past decades, yet the problem continues or worsens. If Multnomah County’s plan is approved, the region will once again be spending hundreds of millions of dollars with no assurances that the region’s homelessness crisis will improve.

About Cascade Policy Institute: Founded in 1991, Cascade Policy Institute is Oregon’s free-market public policy research center. Cascade’s mission is to explore and promote public policy alternatives that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity. For more information, visit

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