By Amanda Waldroupe, Contributing Writer
Now in the autumn of its life, the region’s 10-year plan to
end homelessness is getting a makeover, of sorts.
The yearlong effort by Portland and Multnomah County is
referred to as the 10-year reset. More than 40 people representing
social-service agencies and a wide variety of other organizations are involved
in identifying programs and services that have been effective, areas of need
and refocusing service dollars and energy.
The reset plan is expected to be presented to the Portland
City Council, Multnomah County Commission and the board of directors of the
area’s housing authority, Home Forward, in the coming months.
The original 10-year plan is in its final two years, and
service providers say it needs to adapt to reflect the changing demographics of
the area’s homeless population, the lingering impacts of the recession and
ever-dwindling budgets at the federal, state and local level for social
At stake, they say, is the ability to end homelessness —
whether for an individual or family — as quickly and efficiently as possible.
There is also hope the reset plan will reinvigorate political and public support
for ending homelessness, and attract more money from local organizations and
the federal government.
Discussions about the reset plan began approximately a year
ago when County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury and City Commissioner Nick Fish,
the two elected officials most involved in homeless issues, convened a group
now known as the Reset Committee to look at refreshing the 10-year plan’s goals
“It seemed to me a perfect and opportune time to take a look
at … successes, new and creative ideas that might work better than ways we’ve
been doing it in the past,” Kafoury says. “With any strategic plan, you don’t
do it once and never look at it again.”
The 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness was created in 2004
when the administration of former President George W. Bush directed major
cities with large homeless populations to develop a plan with policies and
strategies to end homelessness within 10 years. In the Portland area, the plan
is a collaborative effort among Multnomah County, the City of Portland and the
county’s housing authority, Home Forward.
The plan emphasizes ending the homelessness of the
“chronically homeless,” people who have been homeless for at least a year. To
do that, it focused on the creation of permanent supportive housing: housing
connected with wrap-around services such as mental health and substance abuse
treatment, health care, disability services, employment training, access to
services assisting with benefit applications, among other programs.
“The reset process reflects a new approach to ending
homelessness. Eight years into the first plan we are hitting the refresh
button,” Fish said.
“We need to be clear about our expectations. We have much to
be proud of during the first eight years. (Former City Commissioner) Erik Sten,
(Former County Commissioner) Serena Cruz and others deserve much credit for
designing this system. But the truth is that we never expected to “end”
homelessness in 10 years. I never liked the concept of a “10-year” plan — it
was a requirement of federal funding, but was inherently misleading.”
The plan’s philosophical driver is quickly getting a
homeless person into permanent housing. This “housing first” model assumes that
once a person is housed, it is easier to solve the issues compromising their
ability to stay in housing.
The plan’s most prominent manifestation is the resource
access center in Old Town Chinatown. The Bud Clark Commons, as the building was
named, houses a large day center and a 90-bed men’s shelter, operated by
Transition Projects. Its upper levels hold 175 units of affordable housing
reserved for housing the unhealthiest and most vulnerable homeless people,
managed by Home Forward.
“I think that (the 10-year plan) has been successful in what
it set out to achieve in terms of using things we and our partners knew worked
to end people’s homelessness,” says Traci Manning, the director of the Portland
Housing Bureau. “In terms of the chronically homeless, supportive housing was
very successful. A lot of the targets that we set for ourselves …have played
In many ways, by the time the recession began in the fall of
2008, the 10-year plan might as well have been on autopilot. The city and
county were meeting or exceeding the vast majority of the plan’s goals, and
while it’s debatable whether homelessness is something that can be completely
eradicated, people were getting into housing. But the recession threw the
social safety net for a loop. Suddenly, providers found themselves dealing with
Within months, Oregon’s unemployment shot up to 11.6 percent
by the summer of 2009, from 6 percent one year earlier. Oregon still has the
grim distinction of being one of the hungriest states in the country, with one
of the highest employment rates, and high rates of homelessness.
The recession’s most notable impact is a sharp increase in
family homelessness. “We’ve seen a notable increase,” says Marc Jolin, the
executive director of the outreach agency JOIN.
Many homeless families, Jolin and others say, are homeless
simply because a member lost his or her job. According to the city’s 2011
street count, which provides a snapshot of how many people are sleeping outside
on a January night, the number of homeless families increased by 35 percent
since 2010. That year, the social service agency Human Solutions opened a new
family shelter with a capacity of 80 families.
“It was packed,” Kafoury says of a recent visit to a family
Identifying and serving the changing demographics of the
Portland area’s homeless population is the main reason for the 10-year plan’s
“I think there was a desire to broaden the scope of who was
being served under the 10-year plan,” Jolin says. “It’s been fairly narrowly
focused on chronic homelessness.”
The revised plan is still in draft form and subject to
change as the reset committee meets for the last time in January. But a
recommendation unlikely to change is naming four subpopulations within the
homeless population as priorities for services: families with children, people
with disabilities, racial and ethnical minorities, and youth.
“There was a lot of discussion,” says Sally Erickson, the
Portland Housing Bureau’s manager of homeless programs. “Our resources are
insufficient to meet the need. We kept landing on vulnerability.”
The reset plan does not explicitly name chronically homeless
people as a priority population. But its authors say that does not mean that
subset of the homeless population will receive fewer services.
“The chronically homeless are still a priority population in
the plan,” Jolin says. “It calls out individuals with disabilities, and that
will really capture those folks.”
But Jolin says it is important for the new 10-year plan to
have strategies and goals for ending homelessness “that are appropriate across”
different populations of homeless people. “Calling out chronically homeless
people doesn’t address what we’re doing already and what we should be doing
with the other populations,” he says. “It’s too limiting.”
“We have a robust network and system for the chronically
homeless,” Kafoury says. “We just haven’t spent as much time, energy or dollars
on homeless families.”
Increasing the emphasis on flexibility and nimbleness of
programs and services is also emphasized in the reset plan. The 10-year plan
has focused on providing permanent supportive housing just as heavily as it has
focused on housing chronically homeless people. But the people involving in
writing the reset plan say one size does not fit all.
“We don’t need to have every program be that comprehensive.
Many of these families that we see don’t need that high level of services,”
Kafoury says. “We need to have a range.”
Many who have become homeless because of the recession,
including families, need little else than help paying a security deposit, a few
months of utility bills, or a few month’s rent through the short-term rent
“They tend to not be outside as long. They have a more
recent work history, more recent residential history,” Jolin says. “That, in
some respects, makes it easier.”
The reset plan also recommends beefing up the safety net’s
programs related to helping homeless or formerly homeless people get jobs and
make their own income. In general, the reset plan emphasizes building
collaborative partnerships with a wide variety of groups that have a stake in
ending homelessness — including faith-based groups, private business,
education, health care agencies, and particularly the new coordinated care
organizations — Oregon’s revamped Medicaid delivery system.
“It isn’t just a housing plan,” Manning says. “It’s also
about health care, education, (and) income attainment. Technically we knew
that, but it’s a lot more explicit about having those people at the table.”
Related to developing that big tent of partnerships is the
creation of a new governing body that will oversee efforts to end homelessness.
Manning says identifying what the governance body will be, exactly, is the last
piece the reset committee has to hammer out.
“It’s about tapping the intellectual and maybe the financial
resources of the whole community,” Manning says.
In general, Kafoury hopes the reset plan will “really
quantify what services are needed, so we can give the public an idea of how
much we spend now, and how much it would ultimately cost if we want to
The reset plan will also reflect the federal government’s
new plan for ending homelessness, enacted under the Obama administration.
Simply called the Federal Strategic Plan, it calls for ending chronic
homelessness and homelessness among veterans in five years, preventing and
ending family homelessness in ten years, and creating a way to end all types of
The federal plan says that “high-performing communities,” or
areas that meet targets for ending homelessness, may be more competitive for
additional federal funds. These communities would have to show that
homelessness was reduced by 10 percent from the previous year, that less than 5
percent of formerly homeless people become homeless again, or that 85 percent
of housed families remained housed within two years.
“There are new opportunities we can leverage there,” Manning