Breaking: Safety net funding prevails in city budget hearing

By Joanne Zuhl
Staff Writer

After months of speculation over budget cuts and service reductions, Portland’s safety net for the homeless and poor has tentatively been restored in this morning’s City Council meeting with the pending passage of the city’s 2012-13 draft budget.

City Commissioner Nick Fish pushed forward two amendments to Mayor Sam Adams’ budget proposal before the final vote. The first was a request for $250,000 to fully restore the city’s one-time funding for services to the current level of $4.8 million. The bulk of the funding pays for emergency shelter and short-term rent assistance to keep families in their homes, and quickly restore housing to people who become homeless. It also includes funding for overnight shelter and supportive housing at the Bud Clark Commons, and referral and information resources.

Staffing vacancies from retirements were credited with freeing up the money, which is earmarked for foreclosure prevention and homeownership support.

As one-time allocations, the funding for these services come up for renewal with each budget cycle, and were subject to reductions at the mayor’s discretion — this, despite the services’ priority status by city’s Office of Management Finance.

Fish’s second amendment changes all that, reclassifying the serial one-time request to ongoing funding.

“The direction will be over the next two years to fold in $4.6 million of safety net funding into the ongoing budget, so we don’t have to go over this exercise each year,” Fish said. “The Office of Management Finance has identified this as a priority but the city was using an unstable source of funding. My job is to hold the council’s feet to the fire.”

Both amendments passed unanimously.

Fish credited the momentum to preserve the safety net to a months-long campaign featuring images of citizens and civic leaders holding a sign stating, “I support the Portland Safety Net.” The campaign was organized by a coalition of organizations and individuals, including Street Roots, JOIN, Oregon Opportunity Network, and the Community Alliance of Tenants. “It made a difference,” Fish said.

Shifting those services from one-time to ongoing funding streams has been a goal of Fish since he took office. “It really completes for me a four-year journey in what may end up being one of the toughest budget cycles we go through.”

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