In the community

Local towns will get big funding boost under homeless plan crafted by Oregon mayors

VALE – Each city in Malheur County would receive at least $50,000 to focus on solving the lingering homeless problem under a plan crafted by the Oregon Mayors Association.
The association revealed the plan in a recent letter signed by 25 mayors, including Vale’s Tom Vialpando and addressed to Oregon Legislature and candidates for governor – Republican Christine Drazen, nonaffiliated Betsy Johnson and Democrat Tina Kotek.
The association wants to roll out a two-phase plan to help cities across the state.
First, the association wants the state to directly allocate money to each city equal to $40 per resident.
According to figures from the League of Oregon Cities, the plan would deliver $472,640 to Ontario, $131,040 to Nyssa, $76,560 to Vale and $50,000 to each Adrian and Jordan Valley.
The total spending package, according to the mayors association, would be $123.6 million annually.
The second part of the plan includes a provision to provide funds – between $125 and $175 million – for construction of shelters and transitional housing.
The association also asks that no strings be attached to the funds to allow each city to craft its own plan to assist the homeless.
In the Oct. 15 letter, the association termed the state’s homeless problem a humanitarian crisis affecting every town and city.
“The No. 1 issue throughout Oregon – in both rural and urban communities, large and small – is homelessness,” the mayors wrote.
The state, the letter said, must “partner with cities to fully fund local homelessness response and prevention programs.”
The letter is the work of a special task force created by the mayors association last spring, said Vialpando, one of 25 mayors on the task force.
They met five times between May and October, including two virtual sessions.
“The hope was to speak in a common voice and present a unified message,” said Vialpando, who was a member of the task force.
He said the situation in Oregon is complex.
“Homelessness will probably never be eliminated but what we can do is try to combat it. So, we are just trying to get unified and go to the Legislature and the three governor candidates so we can get proper funding,” said Vialpando.
Vialpando said the letter was prompted, in part, by frustration.
“I think mayors across the state are tired of kicking the can. A lot of people have solutions to combat homelessness but, you know, it’s time for action,” he said.
Vale doesn’t necessarily face a homeless problem but a “houselessness” challenge ­– “families living with other families or people couch surfing. Homelessness has many faces,” he said.
Vialpando said an important part of the association proposal is pushing decisions on how to use the money to the local level.
“What we are really asking for is the flexibility in how to spend the money,” he said.
The investment for construction, he said, will be crucial.
“That is what would build a shelter and I do want a homeless shelter,” said Vialpando.
He isn’t sure about the best location for a homeless shelter in the county.
“I’ve been putting feelers out there with area agencies about that because I’d like to see us all come together on this and be in partnership so we can all make a big push and be on the same page,” said Vialpando.
He said he’d like to see “someone take the lead.”
Ontario Mayor Riley Hill said he and the Ontario City Council endorsed the letter.
Homelessness is the top concern for Oregonians, according to a recent press release from the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, a Portland nonprofit public opinion research organization.
An April survey found 35% of Oregonians said homelessness needs to be addressed, according to press release. The survey found that nearly six out of ten Oregonians want local leaders to earmark money to reduce homelessness.
A majority of Oregonians ­– 64% – also believe permanent housing or a shelter should be a guaranteed as a basic human right.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

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