Local government

Governor approves county homeless emergency declaration

VALE – Gov. Tina Kotek announced Friday that Malheur County meets the criteria to be included in the statewide Homelessness State of Emergency she declared in January.

“Malheur County has an overwhelming rate of unsheltered homeless people who need a leg up through shelter and services. I am grateful the governor has recognized this need and is answering our call for help in eastern Oregon,” said Dan Joyce, Malheur County judge.

The Malheur County Court signed an emergency declaration regarding the county’s homeless challenge March 8 and forwarded it to the Oregon Department of Emergency Management and the Oregon Housing and Community Services.

Kotek notified the county by letter March 13 the emergency declaration was accepted.

“I want to assure you that I am absolutely committed to addressing homelessness in every corner of the state,” Kotek wrote in her letter to the county.

Kotek wrote she recognized that “unsheltered homelessness is a crisis in communities throughout Oregon, as your recently declared local state of emergency very clearly articulates.”

“That is why I am urging the Legislature to approve an urgent, $155 million investment package, including $27.4 million to rehouse people experiencing homelessness and expand shelter capacity in 26 rural counties that make up the Balance of State Continuum of Care, including Malheur County,” Kotek wrote.

The emergency declaration for Malheur County was granted because of two key reasons. One, the number of unsheltered people in Malheur County was 141 in 2022. That number exceeds the minimum threshold of 30 households that are experiencing homelessness and because the share of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Malheur County is 83%, which exceeds the minimum threshold of a rate of unsheltered homelessness of 80% or greater.

Now, according to Kotek’s letter to the county, the state will “reach out to your local emergency management team very soon to begin work of establishing a multi-agency coordination group to administer the emergency response.”

The declaration will be key to possibly receive funding and other assistance from the state to address the local homeless situation, said Lt. Rich Harriman, Malheur County Emergency Services director.

“We’d never qualify for anything in terms of funding if we didn’t do the declaration,” he said.

Harriman said earlier this week he is already working to form a homeless task force of local agencies.

“My hope is to get the task force together, formalized and then come up with a plan locally,” he said.

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

Previous coverage:

Officials hope emergency declaration will bring in funding to address homelessness

Volunteers, agencies in Malheur County unite to collect homeless tally

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