It Takes All of Us – A Community-Centric Approach to Solving Homelessness
By Tootie Smith
Chair, Clackamas County Commission
We all agree communities face the monumental task of addressing homelessness, drug addiction, and mental health across Oregon. While we did not create this crisis, as elected leaders it is our responsibility to try to solve the problem and do the work to get results.
I changed my vote on Project Turnkey after listening to the growing opposition, not only from the businesses and residents who live in the Quality Inn area but also those opposing the proposed model as well. Our residents have witnessed the failed attempts in housing and shelter experiments of our Portland neighbors while also watching the homeless population continue to grow.
While other counties have opened many Turnkey operations, most all of those are inside larger cities with larger homeless populations. The difference with Clackamas County is, we have 16 smaller cities scattered throughout the county. All cities turned down offers to locate Turnkey in their area, leaving the county to bear the brunt of the responsibility. The only hotels available were in unincorporated Clackamas County. Residents tend to be very protective of these rural urbanized areas as they have no representative form of government except for the county commission. In the end, resident and business opposition to Project Turnkey outweighed the support.
Additionally, Clackamas County voters turned down Metro’s Supportive Housing Services Measure 26-10 in 2020, yet because of the affirmative vote by Washington and Multnomah Counties, our residents were taxed against their will. Added on top of an unwanted tax is Governor Tina Kotek’s emergency declaration on homeless creating another layer of unnecessary compliance and burden on precious staff time.
It’s time we look at the cause of homelessness and structure programs that lead to recovery while holding people accountable along their path. My decision was not about one hotel, but about seeking solutions that will benefit our county and all its residents.
As Commissioners, we will start a discussion around my proposed three-point plan, which is not limited to the following points but will include a universal discussion considering all our commissioners’ opinions.
1. The Clackamas County Board of Commissioners will hold a series of Homelessness, Causation and Accountability Summits focusing on the cause and solutions for the problems we face. The business community, faith leaders, nonprofit safety net providers, local elected officials, community volunteers and members of the public will be included.
2. The board of County Commissioners will convene a Blue-Ribbon Committee of thought-provoking leaders at the national, state, and local level to bring best practices and solutions to the table to resolve and treat homelessness issues at the community level.
3. With the approval of BCC, we will bring a referral to the voters on the question of whether the legislature should overturn Measure 110, which legalized drugs and is a major factor in the growing scourge of homelessness and addiction users.
While some believe Project Turnkey would have addressed many of these issues, I believe its acceptance in our community was premature. Now, the public can weigh in on these matters and participate in the decision-making process.