As part of the ongoing discussion of the present housing and homelessness crises, the Herald has been
talking with Washington County about their programs and actions. Hillsboro is just one of many cities the County has to try and provide funding to and we were referred more than a few times to the County by frustrated and rightfully concerned City staff. After all, Hillsboro is the end of the line for the MAX light rail and there is growing proof that many in the unhoused population have headed West from Portland in search of better digs.
We reached out to Washington County for comments regarding matters surrounding the funding and responsibilities that the County has for assisting with matters that affect the unhoused and the cities that they live in. Calling us back was Julie McCloud who is the Public Affairs & Communications coordinator. She had a wealth of knowledge and information on these matters and had some direct involvement with the population at Camp Hope/McKay that has been the subject of our previous stories. Here is what Julie shared with us.
Hillsboro officials and others we have interviewed have asked us to look at the money that Washington County controls. They received over $104,000,000 dollars of CARES ACT money from the Federal Government and here is how it has been spent so far. Those two little specs on the right of where we highlighted are Homeless Population Services and Mental Health & Community Psyche. This infographic was presented to us 2 days ago and it shows $58,000,000 left to spend but Julie assures us it is all spent and the new graphics will be coming out soon. We will be looking at where all this money went and what Hillsboro’s share was. But we can already see not much was spent on the matter at hand. Hillsboro’s frustrations appear to be rightfully placed.
A few assistance programs ended at (or shortly before) the end of 2020 due to funding expiration. The
Federal CARES Act played a big part in funding the County’s responses to both COVID-19 and
homelessness. The programs that have ended include the Safe Sleep Village Program, Safe Sleep RV
Parking Program, and the Hotel Cares Voucher Program.
The Safe Sleep Village was a temporary, managed outdoor camping location for houseless adults that
operated from August to November 2020 at the Westside Commons (formerly known as the
Washington County Fair Complex). The Safe Sleep RV Program was launched in October 2020 as a
temporary, emergency public health response to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among vulnerable
homeless populations. The fenced area hosted RV’s and was situated on County-owned land near NE 25th Avenue and Veterans Drive in Hillsboro. That project had on-site management, 24-hour security, access to hygiene supplies, handwashing stations, and portable restrooms. Funding ended on December 30.
The County’s Winter Shelter Program, on the other hand, is ongoing. This program makes available 150
beds operating at six different locations in the county and will run through March. One of the sites
consists of ten beds dedicated to referrals from patient discharge offices at hospitals. Another of the
locations is 20 hotel rooms for adult-only households being operated in partnership with the Salvation
Army in Hillsboro. 529 people have registered for the Winter Shelter Program and 86 other people are on what is known as the Master shelter waiting list It should be noted that applicants and registrants are from places across Washington County and some even from beyond the county’s borders.
Look at the number of unhoused people that have applied to the County for shelter. Hillsboro led the entire County for those waiting and while improvement was made in December those numbers are likely on the rise.
Family Promise of Beaverton and Family Promise of Tualatin Valley (south county) are also operating
shelters. Due to the pandemic environment, a non-congregate model utilizing hotel rooms is being
employed. Family Promise reports that their waiting list continues to balloon, largely due to elderly,
adult-only households who are living in vehicles due to high rental rates surpassing their fixed incomes.
Family Promise has applied for a grant to help sustain the program. A decision is expected in February.
More grant application opportunities will follow.
Additionally, wheels are in motion to further address the problems pursuant to the voters’ May 19, 2020 approval of Measure 26-210, a tax levy for supportive housing services. The purpose is to fund services for people experiencing homelessness or at risk of experiencing homelessness. Work has been underway to draft a Local
Implementation Plan (LIP) which, once completed, will be forwarded to the Board of County Commissioners. A public comment period will be announced at that time. It is expected that tax collection revenues will be made available for implementing priorities identified in the LIP at some point during summer 2021. We HIGHLY recommend that the good people of the Hillsboro Community insist on getting involved to get funds from this measure spent here in our community on the issues we need the most help with; like helping the unhoused. Visit this link to get involved.
Editors Note: The interactions we have had with Hillsboro staff have been on point in regards to these issues. The Camp Hope stories raised a number of concerns, generated phone calls, and emails to City Hall. All positions have been expressed when the issues of what to do have arisen. Many locals express the harsh attitude that we must put them on the train or bus and send them off forever; no programs or concerns are needed. Others feel we have done nothing and need to provide housing for all. That will likely never ever happen. The best path forward is likely to be somewhere in the middle. What we all might want to do and are going to be able to do are much different things.
Caught in the middle are the people of Hillsboro and the City is trying to respond. This AM tents showed up on Main Street in downtown Hillsboro set up on the sidewalks in front of US Bank and LaHaies. Campers are being asked to leave Camp Hope over the coming days as the City has to clear the site (according to the City Manager’s office) as a result of a complaint filed by the landowner before he died. And who gets that difficult heart-wrenching job? Hillsboro Police Department. They are hard-working officers and I had a tense interchange with one. He did not like our stories and believed the stories made things worse. We disagree with him but we can not have more respect for him and his partners who are going tent to tent and tarp to tarp asking the unhoused to move along. There are criminals in that population. There are many that need mental help. And there are even more who just do not have anywhere to go. How hard is this on those officers? It is terrible- they are good people and yet they have to deal with this and all of the very real and horrible realities that come along with it. We have put them in this position because we as a people and as a City have not stayed ahead of this problem. We do not even have one campsite that they can send these folks to for safe haven and a legal place to lay their head. Not yet at least.
Tents are showing up on the sidewalks in downtown Hillsboro. Some stay up for days and others just at night.
Sitting on his make shift bed today when we visited was Danny, a middle-aged man we reported on last week. With total defeat in his eyes, he is waiting. Neatly organized in crates and carts are his things and he is waiting. He has nowhere to go and there are no solutions. Not in the City, not in the County, and not in this part of Oregon most likely. These officers do not deserve this duty and this job. They are trained to enforce the laws and to protect the people of our City. Danny does not want to be homeless. We do not want to write about this. But as we all struggle to make sense of this the wheels of change are turning. We believe you all will see new laws and policies and new programs in our City. Possible locations for a legal camp, for those willing to neet guidelines and maintain laws, is now a possibility. That will be covered in our next story. And all sides are working their tails off to make a better path forward happen.
People are coming in from Portland folks. Lots of them. If you see the rise of this population and do not like it ask to assist. Do that by reaching out to Operation Homeless Connect in Hillsboro who are leading in many areas and Hillsboro’s partner in the 2035 plan. You can also donate and help out at Open Door Counseling, a leader in the fight against homelessness since 1984 located just West of Hillsboro.
This is an issued for 2021 that can help bring us all back together. We can not fix it but we can make it better and in the Hillsboro Way we can address it head-on, unafraid, and make it better.