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Safety net funding fares well in city budget

Safety net services for Portland’s poor and homeless faced down another season of funding cuts and emerge virtually intact in Mayor Charlie Hale’s budget, released this morning in City Hall.

While federal cuts are still going to hit the city’s housing and homeless services, Hales has fully funded a span of vital programs, preserving $1.04 million for emergency shelter, mental health outreach, at risk students and teens, addiction services and housing retention, among other services.

At the start of his term, Hales asked all bureaus to cut 10 percent from their submitted budgets. For the Portland Housing Bureau — which provides homeless and housing services for Portland’s poorest individuals — that meant $2.3 million in cuts when combined with federal reductions. The PHB had requested the city restore the city portion, just over $1 million. Without that funding, the city was looking at closing a 90-bed shelter for men, ending emergency shelter and losing immediate funding to prevent foreclosures.

“The entire safety net is back in this budget,” said City Commissioner Nick Fish, who has headed the Portland Housing Bureau. “This is the fifth year in a row, during a recession, that a mayor has stepped up to fund the safety net ... I am pleased that the mayor has recognized that with this fragile economy and so many working families struggling, that he continued to invest in safety net services.”

Preserving the safety net was the focus of a campaign by supporters and users of the myriad programs that address the needs of the city’s most vulnerable populations.

At the start of the budget process, Hales put all of the city bureaus under the control of the mayor’s office, and has yet to redistribute them to the individual commissioners.

Funding for the safety net was made possible in part by a $500,000 funding shift between the city and Multnomah County. The city cut it from its Short Term Rent Assistance program, and the county is filling the gap with a one-time increase on its end.

The county was also helping ease the city’s pain with some funding for school meals and centers for low-income seniors.

Some cuts, however, are not likely to be restored. In February, the housing bureau had proposed more than $460,000 in permanent cuts across several programs. That included discontinuing funding for the Community Warehouse which helps provide used household furnishings to people in need. Funding was also reduced for some permanent supportive housing programs, shelter services, renters’ assistance, some basic homeless services and foreclosure prevention. Also left out of the budget was Outside In’s needle exchange program.  

While many of the safety net programs were preserved, the budget still cuts $21.5 million in funding, and among the biggest hit is the Portland Police Bureau.

“There were no sacred cows,” Hales told members of the press during the budget unveiling. Hales called it a back-to-the-basics budget, with “an eye on the future and a heart in the community.”

The police bureau is taking unprecedented cuts, losing funding for the mounted patrol, and taking a significant reduction in staffing. Overall, the budget trims more than 180 full time staff from city bureaus, with 55 of them expected to come from the police bureau. However, that mayor included more than $700,000 in bridge funding to delay those layoffs until next year when a wave of retirements is expected. Without the bridge funding, layoffs this year would disproportionately impact minority and female employees with less seniority.

Also hit was the Portland Development Commission, which is taking a $782,000 cut, with none of its nearly $600,000 in add-back requests approved by the mayor.

“This is not a happy day,” Hales noted during the conference. “I think we’ve done it in a way that’s both collaborative and thoughtful and positions the city well for the years ahead”

Look for a more comprehensive rundown of the mayor’s proposed budget in the upcoming edition of Street Roots.