Photo by Multnomah County
Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury spoke at the City Club of Portland “Friday Forum” today to present her annual “State of the County” address.
This was Kafoury’s seventh “State of the County” address. After a long career in public service, Kafoury was elected as Chair of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners in 2014. She was elected to a second term in 2018.
The State of the County event started with a prepared video address from Kafoury, followed by a conversation moderated by Dr. Rachel Solotaroff, the president and CEO of Central City Concern.
Kafoury was joined on the video by her colleagues on the County board, which includes Commissioners Sharon Meieran, Susheela Jayapal, Jessica Vega Pederson, and Lori Stegman. It was the first time that other County commissioners spoke during a “State of the County” address.
Kafoury started her pre-recorded remarks noting that “the state of the county is a state of emergency” due to the worldwide pandemic. Kafoury also noted the challenges of widespread social justice demonstrations, the impacts of statewide wildfires, and the ongoing homeless crisis.
Pandemic response, and the long-term impacts of the pandemic, was an ongoing theme of Kafoury's remarks.
Kafoury discussed the County’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that the County Health Department has worked hard this year to create an appropriate response. But she noted that the work will not be done with the pandemic ends.
“Health isn’t just keeping people safe from viruses and wounds,” Kafoury noted. “As we look forward, that means Multnomah County Public Health will be a crucial pillar in our work of confronting the community’s biggest challenges, like housing instability, climate change, gun violence, and racism itself.”
Kafoury also spotlighted several upcoming County initiatives including the new earthquake-proof Burnside Bridge, the creation of a new downtown mental health center, implementation of the voter-approved Permanent Supportive Housing measure for individuals experiencing chronic homelessness, and addressing structural racism.
The presentation also discussed the County’s “Pre-School for All” project, criminal justice reform, and the County’s efforts to address systemic racism.
Following Kafoury's video presentation, each of the four commissioners appeared.
Commissioner Sharon Meieran shared her efforts to look at people who come into contact with multiple systems, such as jails, homeless shelters, and emergency departments. She reported that she is looking to create new ways to address the root causes of people’s challenges, in order to look for new ways to serve people more comprehensively.
"We need to address critical deficits in our system of behavioral healthcare," Meieran noted. "It’s a matter of better systems.” Meieran, who is also an emergency room physician in Portland, has been a long-time advocate of improving the mental health system in Portland and throughout the state.
Commissioner Susheela Jayapal discussed her commitment to continuing to address racial inequalities, while Commissioner Vega Pederson discussed the implementation of the Pre-School for All” program.
Commissioner Lori Stegman, who represents East Multnomah County, discussed her work on economic mobility initiatives. “I believe that poverty is at the root of many of our social and economic challenges,” Stegman noted.
The presentation was followed by a Q&A session. Viewers were also invited to submit questions for Kafoury online via Twitter or e-mail.
Moderator Rachel Solotaroff started the Q&A by asking Kafoury to talk more about the County’s extensive efforts to address homelessness.
“We know that housing ends people’s homelessness,” Kafoury noted. “But for so many people it’s not just getting a key to an apartment, they also need services”. She noted regional efforts to implement the Metro Housing Bond, which will help fund supportive services for people who need support to remain stably housed.
Multnomah County’s Implementation Plan for the Housing Bond was approved by the Metro board last week. Kafoury stressed the importance of accountability and data as the region starts moving forward with the implementation of Housing Bond programs.
Multnomah County is the largest county in the state of Oregon and includes the cities of Portland, Gresham, Wood Village, Fairview, Troutdale, and Maywood Park.
The event was hosted by the City Club of Portland, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan civic organization. City Club offers a series of events including Friday Forums and conducts community-based research and advocacy.
The State of the County was virtual this year in light of COVID-19 restrictions and included sign language interpretation. Normally the event occurs as part of a lunchtime meeting of the Portland City Club.
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