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Rehousing efforts yield results as city looks to implement homelessness task force’s proposals

As the city works on implementing the recommendations of a task force that looked at the issue of homelessness in Portland, city staff members say a parallel program to the group’s work has already shown some results.4-10-homeless-1
Doug Gardner, the city’s director of the Department of Health and Human Services, told the City Council’s Public Safety, Health and Human Services Committee that a policy was put in place that required clients of emergency shelters to work with staff to map out a housing plan and take the steps to meet the goal of finding a place to live. Gardner said that policy has seen an increase in the number of people who were able to find housing last month.
Fifty-two clients were able to find housing by working with the shelter’s staff, said Josh O’Brien, director of the Oxford Street Shelter, and many more are on the verge of finding a place to live. He said people are finding housing in market rate apartments, through the Section 8 program and both in and out of the city.
O’Brien said the policy is a more efficient use of staff time because people are required to come to them to develop a housing plan.
“It’s a much more efficient use of time,” he said. “… And we’re able to produce better results.”
Gardner said he’d like to see the council fully implement that policy.
The Public Safety, Health and Human Services Committee took a look at the draft implementation plan put together by city staff after the receipt of the Homelessness Task Force’s report last year. The report recommended the city retool the emergency shelter system, improve case management, focus on rapid rehousing and look at report monitoring.
Gardner said the implementation plan includes hiring a case manager, creating a support team that will lead to better collaboration between different agencies, allocate HOME funds for rapid rehousing and fill gaps in special needs housing — specifically sober housing and medical respite. He said many of those goals can be accomplished through a regional approach.
City Councilor Cheryl Leeman asked that if some of the other programs like outreach can lead to integrating people into the community by finding housing, is it still necessary to build more housing units.
“It’s not an either or solution,” said Mark Swann, executive director of the Preble Street Resource Center. He said finding housing through the private market or transitional housing units both work.
“I think it’s a heavy burden for Portland to take on itself,” Leeman said, and the city ought to find additional partners to help.
City Councilor Ed Suslovic said a regional approach to implementing the task force recommendations is already a part of the discussion among a group of neighboring communities.
Swann said there is already a regional approach and at Preble Street, there aren’t geographic boundaries.

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