Tina Kotek pauses her speech for a moment to take in the crowd as she prepares to introduce the special guest of the rally, Senator Bernie Sanders. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders joined Oregon’s Democratic party leaders at the University of Oregon’s Erb Memorial Union for a rally in support of Oregon Democrat Gubernatorial candidate Tina Kotek, on Thursday, Oct., 27th, 2022. (Maddie Stellingwerf/ Emerald)

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 Tuesday.

This money comes from Gov. Tina Kotek’s Jan. 10 emergency homeless declaration. The exact amount of funds still has to be determined by the state and comes with three goals for the county: prevent between 1,578 and 1,753 households from becoming homeless, increase emergency shelter capacity by 111 to 124 beds and rehouse between 223 to 247 unsheltered households. The draft plan for achieving these goals is outlined on the county website.

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 come with the requirements that they not supplement or be combined with existing funding, and that they be spent by Jan. 31, 2024, a timeline commissioners raised concerns around.

“I do 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.”  

Kate Budd, the interim human services division manager at Lane County, presented information about the funds to commissioners. One area of concern she brought up was tension between funding for increasing emergency shelter capacity, which she’s seen local leaders emphasize, and for permanent rehousing, which is the governor’s priority.

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 and 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.

On Friday, the MAC Group will submit its plan to the state for approval. The state said it plans to review and approve or deny it by March 17.

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