Yesterday area religious leaders sent the Portland City Council a letter expressing concern that homeless youth programs might get cut out of the FY 09 budget. That letter received an immediate response from Commissioner Nick Fish. The two of us spent the better part of the day trying to clarify whether or not the funding for the homeless youth system was truly in jeopardy. It came down to an issue of terminology. Yes, the funding is in jeopardy. But the 100% proposed cut in the Bureau of Housing and Community Development was called for not by Commissioner Fish but by the city's mandated ranking system. Confusing? Yes. But Commissioner Fish, a longtime supporter of homeless programs and affordable housing, wants religious leaders to know that he will fight for the youth funding. A letter that he sent late last night underscores his commitment and explains the situation better.
None of the other members of the City Council responded immediately. We need them to continue to hear from community leaders that this funding is important. E-mail each of them and ask that they support Commissioner Fish's budget proposals that would fully fund the homeless youth system.
Here is the text of the letter from Commissioner Fish:
Thank you for contacting me about funding for the Homeless Youth System in the Bureau of Housing and Community Development (BHCD) budget.
My highest priority in these challenging times is to protect the safety net programs that our youth, families, seniors, and people with disabilities depend upon. That is why BHCD's budget request for FY 2009-10 includes an add package seeking continued funding at current levels for the County's Homeless Youth System.
Here are our challenges. The City will have fewer resources than it did last year, and Council will have to make tough budget choices this Spring. BHCD's budget situation is particularly daunting, since approximately 20% of its budget for the current year (FY 2008-09) is made up of 'one-time only' discretionary funding from the City's General Fund. Economic projections prepared by the City's finance office suggest that Council will have little or no discretionary funding to allocate in the FY 2009-10 budget.
To further complicate matters, as part of this budget process, Council required the Bureau to rank all of its programs on two scales: how important the public thinks they are, and how essential they are to carrying out the Bureau's mission. These rankings are on the City's budget website. 'Pass-through' funding to the County for homeless youth system programs received a lower ranking from the Bureau than programs serving homeless adults, because, under Resolution A, the City has primary responsibility for funding the system that serves unaccompanied adults, while the County is the primary sponsor of the systems that serve families with children and youth.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, I will fight to ensure that all safety net programs remain adequately funded next year, and explore every option to identify resources.
BHCD will present its requested budget to City Council on Friday, March 13th. The Mayor will release his proposed budget for the City on or about April 28th. You and other members of the public will have an opportunity to address Council at public hearings before the full City Council on May 20-21. Please watch the City's budget website, www.portlandonline.com/omf/index.cfm?c=26061, for details.
Thank you for your commitment to homeless and at-risk youth. Your participation in the City's budget process helps to ensure that Council's decisions will be sound and well-informed.
Sincerely, Nick Fish
Again, I urge you to contact the other members of the council and impress on them how important it is for Portland to protect programs for vulnerable populations.
Finally, Dr. Kathy Oliver, executive director of Outside In, asked me to share this message with those who signed the letter to the City Council:
Would you please extend my thanks to the leaders in the faith community who signed the letter in support of funding shelter and housing for Portland's homeless youth?
I believe it had an impact. I'm very appreciative.
Kathy Oliver, PhD
Outside In is a longtime provider of services to homeless youth. Check out their website to learn more about their important work.