Works and Days

Ending Homelessness, Reed Winter Externship Program, Savanah Walseth

Sophomore psychology major Savanah Walseth participated in a Reed winter externship at the Multnomah County Commissioner’s office, assisting with public policy work regarding homelessness

For most of January, I had the opportunity to extern at Commissioner Bailey's Office in Multnomah County doing public policy work related to housing and homelessness. Christine Lewis (an awesome former Reedie!) was my supervisor, but overall I got a lot of independence to go to meetings, conduct research and explore housing policy issues facing our county. 

Multnomah County is attempting to reduce their population of people experiencing homelessness by 50% in the next two years. By July 1st of this year, they are attempting to place 430 individuals in permanent supportive housing with all of the essentials a person needs to sustain their housing long-term. It is an exciting time. To go about this endeavor, Multnomah County meets with social service providers, government officials, community members and individuals currently and formerly experiencing homelessness to conduct a plan of action. I had the opportunity to sit in meetings with on-the-ground direct service providers, executive directors, policy-makers, commissioners and even Mayor Hales. Everyone I spoke to really cared about the issue of ending homelessness and were willing to put aside any differences to get the job done. One of the best parts was being part of conversations that were not only seeking to end homelessness, but prevent it. Everyone was willing to look at deep-rooted issues such as our education system, healthcare, criminal justice, foster care, the VA and more to better piece together the complexities that cause homelessness. There was also a lot of talk about what it took to help a person sustain their housing. We discussed strategies to work as a community to help individuals get employment, life-sustaining activities and better support members. Multnomah County not only wants housing for every individual, they also want a better life for every individual.

I had the opportunity to conduct research and use some of my investigation skills to come up with missing pieces to our puzzle of ending homelessness. I took my experience of the last two years working in homeless services in Los Angeles and was able to give advice and suggestions on how another region of the US was going about advocating for the same issues. One of my biggest tasks was putting together a list of individuals that should be part of the larger conversation. This included a wider variety of community members, funders, individuals on boards of non-profits, advocates, etc. Most public policy issues cannot be solved with just a small group of individuals and a few meetings, they take a whole community to act together and advocate for a cause. I was able to add to the community of advocates so that our community can successfully support our most vulnerable neighbors who live on our streets. 

I have had an amazing time learning from Christine Lewis and Commissioner Jules Bailey as well as the individuals at all of the agencies around Portland looking to make housing affordable and a realistic option for every

Tags: public policy, housing, homelessness, social justice, social work