Compassion without limits: Multnomah County wants more money to address homelessness

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It looks like Multnomah County has a vested interest in sustaining homeless problems.

On Thursday, Dec. 5, the Multnomah County Commission is scheduled to vote on whether to send a steadily increasing amount of hotel, motel and motor vehicle rental taxes intended for spurring tourism in the Portland metro area to programs aimed at addressing homeless problems in the the county.

Portland’s City Council and the Metro Council have already given their OK to the plan. It would involve amending a Visitor Facilities Intergovernmental Agreement (VFIA) originally signed in 2001.

If you just looked at the agenda for the Dec. 5 Commission meeting, you probably wouldn’t know what’s going on. Agenda item R.6 says:

“Resolution approving the Second Amended and Restated Visitor Facilities Intergovernmental Agreement (Second Amended and Restated VFIGA) between the City of Portland, Multnomah County, and Metro Regional Government. Presenters: William Glasson and Eric Arellano. (10 min)”

What does homelessness have to do with tourism, you might ask.  Bureaucrats and politicians have an answer. The resolution says dealing with homeless problems will “improve the visitor experience”. Specifically, it says:

“The Parties recognize that the area’s economic success has not been uniformly shared by the community and a vulnerable portion of the population has been negatively impacted by rapid increases in housing costs. An increased allocation from the (Visitor Facilities Trust Account ) VFTA as an additive source of funds to support the significant existing regional investments in affordable housing and supportive services to address the root causes of homelessness and its associated livability and safety concerns is appropriate, and will (i) improve conditions for the community and people experiencing homelessness, (ii) improve the visitor experience, and (iii) help Portland remain a desirable travel and tourism destination.”

And without saying so directly, the resolution seems to assume the homeless problem won’t get better with the additional money because the amount going to Multnomah County would steadily increase, more than doubling by 2022. In other words, it looks like the county does better if homelessness persists.

An analysis of the resolution prepared by the Department of County Management says:

“This funding will pay for livability and supportive services, and related operations costs, supporting programs and projects funded by proceeds of the City and Metro bonds approved by voters in 2016 ($258.4 million) and 2018 ($652.8 million)  affordable housing bond measure , respectively, to create affordable homes for low-income individuals.”

Multnomah County already gets $750,000 a year. If the resolution is approved, that would significantly increase to:

  • $2,500,000 in fiscal year (FY) 2019-20 and FY 2020-21,
  • $3,250,000 in FY 2021-22
  • $3,775,000 in FY 2022-23
  • $5,250,000 for FY 2023-24 and beyond.

In other words, the Portland Metro Area is already stressed spending millions every year fighting homelessness, recent bond measures promise much more, and now Multnomah County wants to grab even more (from tourism revenue, no less) to grow its homelessness bureaucracy, feed social-services providers and hype its compassion.

Is this really necessary?

Today may be “Giving Tuesday,” but do we really need to starve other community priorities, bastardize the meaning of tourism promotion, and embrace compassion without limits by endorsing measures like this?

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