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City council taking closer look at homeless task force proposals

While a report on how to address homelessness in Portland is still being finalized, the City Council is already looking at the steps that are necessary to implement the suggestions.
Representatives from the city's Task Force on Homelessness met with the council Monday night to discuss the recommendations the group has developed. Much like when the recommendations were presented at a public hearing last week, the council both lauded the work but cited some areas for improvement.
Mayor Michael Brennan said that once the report's been received by the council, it will be referred to various committees for review and recommendations on how to implement the task force's ideas.
The task force — which was created by the council last November — focused on looking at the causes of homelessness, the challenges and needs of the homeless population and what changes are required to meet the needs of that population. The two primary functions of the task force's recommendations are to relieve the overcrowding in Portland's shelter system and create long-term goals to better transition people from the shelter system to other housing options.
The task force developed recommendations that include creating a centralized intake system, improving rapid rehousing through additional units and providing increased case management services.
The centralized intake system would screen all clients, according to the report, and be able to better refer them to the services that best meet their needs. The new intake system would ideally create efficiencies and increase the level of service and reassignment of clients.
With the rapid rehousing reforms, the task force recommended that three new housing complexes — with a total of 35 units each — be constructed to meet the demand, according to the report.
The final piece of the recommendations aims to increase case management services that encompasses a larger population and follows clients through the system.
Monday night's meeting was once of the first chances the council has had to talk about the task force's work, and members had a few questions about their draft report.
Councilor Ed Suslvovic asked if any consideration was given to creating housing options in other municipalities so that people aren't forced to come to Portland for services since they'd be offered in their own communities.
Suzanne McCormick, executive director of the United Way of Greater Portland and a co-chair of the task force, said the task force agreed that a regional solution is necessary but the data they looked at show that people access services where they are most readily accessible and residency requirements for services have little impact on the number of people seeking help.
Councilor Kevin Donoghue asked if the idea of a centralized intake is the best method to relieve the overflow issues in the city's shelters.
Doug Gardner, the city's director of Health and Human Services, said the goal of a central intake system is to offer a thorough evaluation of the clients coming into the shelter system and match their needs with the best form of assistance.
"It's more of an appropriate referral option," he said.

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