Senate Housing Committee Pat Farr testimony June 5 2020. by Pat Farr

Senate Housing Comittee virtual meeting June 5, 2020

Chair Fagan, Committee, thank you conducting this public hearing. I am Pat Farr, Lane County Commissioner, North Eugene and former State Representative HD 14. I was Executive Director of FOOD for Lane County for three years. My pronouns are he and his

I am going to give positive news in a tiny snapshot about opportunities that have allowed Lane County to mover forward with our long-term strategies surrounding housing and homelessness. Lane County has developed strong partnerships with adjacent jurisdictions and nonprofits. You have heard from John Van Landingham, Emily Reiman and Jacob Fox, all of whom are significant partners in Lane County efforts.

Lane County’s Health and Human Services divisions began work early in the outset of the COVID 19 spread on the west coast. We are a county that is constrained by the fourth lowest tax rate of all counties in Oregon and the second highest acreage of land owned by the Federal Government. Over the past six years we have paid attention to building strong reserves and a structurally balanced budget

Which allowed the Board of Commissioners at the COVID outset to authorize the County Administrator to spend up to $5,000,000 without separate Board approval to respond to the health and human service needs of the pandemic. The $5m has been drawn from Lane County reserves and we are confident in state and federal assistance to help cover replacement of the reserves.

We have a history of working closely with our partner jurisdictions, the cities of Springfield and Eugene, with Homes for Good as well as our unusually strong coalition of local nonprofit agencies to address needs surrounding poverty and homelessness. Our already-in-place team structure allowed us to act quickly.

Lane County, like other west coast counties, has a high proportion of men and women and families living in homelessness or in housing challenged conditions.

We have been considering sites to locate low barrier shelters and have worked toward that end.

In April one of the sites became a clear choice to be utilized as a temporary respite for people displaying symptoms or actually having been diagnosed with COVID-19.

We spent $1.8 million out of reserves to purchase the former VA Clinic on River Avenue in my district with a very short turn around. This is how it happened: On Sunday a small group of county officials joined the property owners and listing agents along with me, Senator James Manning and Rep Nancy Nathanson to look at the building. It has separate sleeping and sanitary accommodations for a large number of private suites. Steve Mokrohisky acted quickly and prepared a Board Order authorizing the real estate transaction for Lane County to buy the propery at the regular Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday. It took only three days to authorize purchase.

With extensive help from the Corps of Engineers, acting with FEMA authority we fast-tracked renovation and had the facility ready to house as many as 36 patients in separate accommodations within three weeks.

That facility is open now and available for COVID-19 respite.

After the COVID emergency the building will be repurposed as a low barrier shelter and navigation center designed, equipped and staffed to deliver people from homelessness into permanent supportive housing.

On another level, Lane County quickly acted to open a portion of our Fairgrounds and Expo Center to accommodate up to 140 non-symptomatic unhoused people and in a separate building as many as 20 symptomatic quarantined individuals. We also funded a smaller facility in Springfield to house up to 30 individuals who were non symptomatic.

Last week the Board of Commissioners authorized transfer of a portion of our fairgrounds to Homes for Good to develop permanent supportive housing for families, typically single mothers with children. That is coupled with our facility that is under way on Lane County Property adjacent to Autzen Stadium, MLK Commons, that will have 51 housing first apartments with 24-hour wrap around service.

In summary, Lane County is able to move with haste because of the strong partnerships that have been developed with adjacent jurisdictions, private business and nonprofit agencies. We have a long-standing intergovernmental human services commission and a Poverty and Homelessness Board to coordinate application and distribution of grants including the Continuum of Care grant.

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