With homelessness on the rise in Portland, an Oregon nonprofit that claims to combat the issue wants local leaders to spend nearly $1 million in taxpayer funds to maintain a controversial "equity and inclusion" office, money it says will help address the city's "homeless crisis."
HereTogether Oregon last week spearheaded an effort to "continue funding" an "Office of Equity and Inclusion" in Clackamas County, which sits just southeast of downtown Portland. While local leaders have considered slashing the more than $828,000 it will take to run that office in the upcoming fiscal year, arguing that the spending is wasteful, HereTogether Oregon disagrees. It rallied hundreds of other local groups to voice support for the equity office in a July 6 letter, arguing that the office is "essential" for the Portland area's "continued progress, unity, and success."
HereTogether Oregon's stated mission is to address the "Portland region's homeless crisis." That crisis has spiraled this year—in Multnomah County, which includes downtown Portland, the homeless count jumped 20 percent in 2023, and Oregon as a whole saw one of the nation's largest spikes in homelessness from 2020 to 2022.
HereTogether Oregon acknowledges that increased homelessness in Portland has created a "crisis on our streets," a crisis it hopes to combat through "inclusion." Its website boasts that the group places "equity at the center of our work," given that it says the homelessness crisis "is exacerbated by racism, homophobia and transphobia, sexism, ableism, classism, and xenophobia." It also pledges to "bring diverse voices to this work and create a culture of inclusion." Local groups that signed the HereTogether Oregon letter in defense of DEI spending include a climate change nonprofit, a guitar retailer, and a local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.
Clackamas County commissioner Mark Shull, who first proposed the motion to strike down the funding for the county's equity office, said HereTogether Oregon "should be focusing its efforts on building their ability to alleviate the dire homeless situation in Oregon."
"The woke ideology is about gaining political power, and [equity] is a tool for them to gain that power," Shull told the Washington Free Beacon. "The words equity, inclusion, and diversity are friendly words that naïve people are attracted to, but for the woke, the words really mean one thing: applying unequal standards to ensure preferential outcomes for individuals and groups based on race, color of skin, sex, or gender identity."
HereTogether Oregon defended its decision to rally local groups behind the equity office funding, insisting that the office would help "effectively address homelessness and housing insecurity."
"HereTogether's work is in line with the Office of Equity and Inclusion's vision: a Clackamas County that is healthy, safe, and welcoming for all," the nonprofit told the Free Beacon.
Oregon's homelessness population grew nearly 23 percent from 2020 to 2022, a figure that massively outpaces the national average of less than 1 percent, according to an assessment from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Oregon also outpaced many other West Coast states, the report showed, including California, which saw just a 6 percent increase in homeless individuals over the same two-year period.
While HereTogether Oregon says the local equity office will help solve this problem, its letter arguing in favor of the office does not mention the word "homeless."
Shull and other county commissioners are set to further discuss the equity funding during an August 1 policy session. Shull insisted that HereTogether Oregon's letter would not impact that process.
"In the past, Clackamas County has done a fine job in supporting the needs of its residents … without an 'equality department,'" Shull said. "The letter we received from HereTogether Oregon, with the many signatures, is nothing more than progressive left political pressure [from] a minority with a loud mouth."