City Government, Lane County

County to receive $20M for unhoused

Correction: In an earlier edition of this story, The Chronicle reported incorrectly that 200M was being shared.

Oregon is on track to spend $20 million to help homeless residents move into houses, give people who have fallen behind on rent more time to pay, and create new goals for cities to build homes under. 

This money comes from Gov. Tina Kotek’s Jan. 10 emergency homeless declaration, which urged local leaders to address homelessness in three key areas: prevention, increasing emergency shelter capacity, and rehousing efforts. 

“We are hearing loud and clear from the state that the governor’s focus is on moving people from unsheltered houselessness into permanent housing, also keeping people from houselessness,” said Kate Budd, program manager at Lane County Health and Human Services, during a March Lane County Commissioners meeting. “We are proposing to actually double the number of beds that the state recommended.” 

The county is expected to meet certain targets by accepting money from the state, including preventing 1,578 to 1,753 households from becoming homeless, building 111 to 124 emergency shelter beds, and rehousing 223 to 247 households out of homelessness. 

Budd said that Lane County received a “verbal” offer of about $19M to $22.2M, depending on available funding. “The state expects these dollars to not supplant, or supplement existing funding,” she said. “That makes things a bit more difficult because there are needs within our existing programs.” 

The county’s programs would offer wraparound funding — including money for rent assistance and case management referrals to various support services.

Budd said that a strategy of spending the money is to look at ways to improve what the county and cities have. “That’s where the bulk of the emergency shelter funding would be going,” she said, as opposed to building new emergency shelter beds that the county would have to pay for when the one-time funding runs out Jan. 31, 2024. 

Commissioner Pat Farr said that the money, which would go to the county and then shared with community and nonprofits, would be a way to build stronger relationships with other organizations and municipalities. 

“Solidifying those partnerships and making sure that we’re pulling in the same direction,” he said. 

The Lane County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to accept between $19.9 million and $22.2 million in emergency funds from the state to address homelessness this month. 

The state directed regional governments to form Multi-Agency Coordination Groups, made up of people inside and outside the government to outline plans for how to spend the money. Lane County’s MAC Group includes 22 people representing county and city governments, nonprofits and current and formerly unhoused people. The funds cannot not supplement or be combined with existing funding, and that they be spent by Jan. 31, 2024, a timeline commissioners raised concerns around.

“I wonder if we’re able to actually execute all that funding within the one year timeline,” Commissioner Heather Buch said. “Are we able to spend it all? Is the MAC group responsible for assisting to spend it all? Because, ultimately, Lane County is the one that’s on the hook for making sure that we meet these targets.”   

The MAC Group has outlined its priorities for how the county should spend the money. It’s broken into the three categories of emergency shelter, homeless prevention and re-housing.

Emergency shelter

The MAC hopes to expand emergency shelter capacities, particularly for youth and families without housing since that population has increased within the county, according to Budd.

Budd also said the county plans to increase the number of medical respite beds at shelters so unhoused people discharged from the hospital can recover in shelter and off of the streets. 

There are some shelters within the county that don’t meet the state and federal definitions of emergency shelters for various reasons, such as lacking bathrooms or heating, Budd said. Part of the funding would go toward improving infrastructure at these shelters so that they do qualify. The county plans to increase the number of shelters in rural areas that are built to protect homeless people from extreme weather events.

Homelessness prevention

The county plans to create a diversion program fund that would give people money for move-in assistance, rent assistance and targeted rent subsidies to keep rural residents housed in the same community.

The MAC Group wants to bring more people onto its street outreach team, especially in rural parts of the county, and give them money to help people move into shelters or permanent housing.

Rehousing, street outreach

Budd similarly emphasized the need for more flexible funding to help homeless people move into permanent housing.

The MAC group has plans to create several programs to encourage rehousing. This includes an incentive program to encourage landlords to expand capacity and rehouse more people, a program to rehouse people who are older or have young children or disabilities and programs to help people who are homeless navigate the housing system and move into permanent housing.

“Rural communities don’t always have the funding to have a seat at the table and keep up with the state’s programs,” Buch said. “We need to be on the ball — but Lane County is in the process of meeting those requirements and aligning ourselves with the Governor’s Priorities on this issue.”