The number 716 is important to understand. It represents the 600 adults, 69 children, and 47 youth who are unhoused in Washington County.
It’s a conservative estimate. Based on a snapshot from one day in January 2021, it represents a 14% increase since 2020.
Many of my recent conversations with community members and business owners have centered around the city’s response to houselessness.
Community members are worried about an uptick in trash, needles, and human waste as well as related environmental impacts. They are also concerned about their favorite parks and trails becoming large encampments for the houseless.
Business owners are concerned about customers being driven away, increased costs if they are forced to intervene in human crises, and damage near their buildings every week.
The city recognizes these very real issues related to houselessness. Addressing homelessness is not an impossible task, but it is also not as simple to solve as some people may believe. Solutions require both immediate and long-term strategies, and partnerships with County agencies, community organizations, and individuals within the community. With this in mind, we created our current Council goal in March 2021 to “implement an actionable, person-centric, and regional response to homelessness.”
Our work has begun.
Recently, the City Council allocated $250,000 for a third round of funding for the Resident Aid Funding of Tigard (RAFT) program. Community Partners for Affordable Housing and Just Compassion, which are organizations focused on housing and shelter, are examples of previous RAFT recipients. We are hopeful that future RAFT recipients will share a similar commitment to supporting our unhoused community.
In September, the City’s Houseless Assessment Team completed its initial outreach and assessment phase. The team talked with businesses about their concerns – excessive trash, vandalism, and blocked sidewalks. Unhoused individuals were also part of the conversation. They shared the realities of being unhoused – a lack of restrooms, a lack of storage for belongings, and limited places to seek shelter. We will respond to what we heard by considering recommendations from the team in the coming weeks.
We have immediately addressed the issue of excessive trash through a unique partnership with Metro. We are distributing empty garbage bags to those with limited access to trash disposal and will then collect them when full.
These steps represent a beginning, not an end, to addressing the issue.
We will continue to listen.
We will listen by empowering a community-based team. The team – including representatives from businesses, the City Council, the houseless community, nonprofits, and the Tigard Downtown Association – will begin meeting to discuss and collaborate on meaningful action in addressing houselessness.
We will also listen by being present. The City Council and staff already have visited, and will continue to proactively visit, businesses and individuals to deepen our understanding of the realities of houselessness in the community and to listen for creative solutions. We also invite you to communicate with us. You can reach the entire council by emailing [email protected].
We will continue to act.
By participating in the Washington County Encampment Pilot Program, our actions will be part of a regional solution. We will work with our partners to address immediate challenges like encampments, which tend to move from city to city around Washington County. Everyone will benefit from a centralized point of contact to which you can report encampments in the community.
We will consider using American Rescue Plan funds to address houselessness. Our hope is to maximize the impact of these funds through working with regional partners, including Washington County, community-based organizations, and the business community.
Though we have seen some successes, there are still at least 716 unhoused community members in Washington County. And there is still frustration among community members and businesses about the realities and effects of houselessness.
We know we have more work to do.
As always, we will be transparent in this work. You will know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We will seek to answer every question from you on this topic. My next Fireside Chat – on Thursday, October 7, at 6:30 p.m. on Facebook Live – is an easy way to join the conversation. If you have any questions or comments about any city-related issue, I’d also like to hear from you. I can be reached via email at [email protected] or via phone at 503-810-0269.