Opinion
January 02, 2020

A Look Ahead to 2020

By: Sonia Worcel
Chief Community Impact Officer

Our mission is to improve the lives of all Oregonians through the power of philanthropy, so when I look ahead to 2020, I ask, “how are we going to do that?” In terms of improving lives for all Oregonians, we're aware of positive economic indicators, such as low unemployment rates. But that isn’t the full story, and we’re looking under the surface to learn more about what’s really going on in communities.

We've been focusing a lot on the opportunity gap facing Oregon's children. Despite our thriving economy, a frightening number of children live in poverty with poor chances of income mobility as they go through life. OCF has been looking at who's not benefiting from economic growth. We publish these findings in our Tracking Oregon’s Progress (TOP) Report series. This year, through a partnership with nationally-recognized Opportunity Insights we will identify neighborhoods and communities in Oregon where kids who grow up in low-income families have a better than expected chance of making it out of poverty.

“These challenges that we want to address cannot be solved with one quick technical fix. These are complex, adaptive challenges that are going to take cross-sector collaboration and some creative thinking.”

Sonia Worcel
OCF Chief Community Impact Officer

We did a deep dive into several different communities to see where people are thriving and where we see challenges and opportunities to improve outcomes, particularly for low-income kids and kids of color.

We are excited to share what we learned in a report that will be released in Spring 2020.

Housing has been an increasing focus for OCF, especially around the opportunity gaps and kids in Oregon. We can't improve lives for kids and families without addressing access to stable and affordable housing. Our interventions in areas such as education or health are only sustainable if families have access to affordable housing.

We commissioned some research this last year from ECONorthwest on housing affordability and homelessness. We conducted one report in Portland and another report statewide. These reports did a great job of outlining the fact that this is a two-pronged challenge.

First, we see visibly homeless people on the street or in camps on a daily basis. That's where we need to address substance abuse and mental illness.

Second, there's a much larger group of people who are invisibly homeless, or are one crisis away from being homeless. We don’t have enough affordable housing for many low-income people and families. A large number of people are paying more than 50% of their income on rent, so these families are one broken down car, one health emergency, one lost paycheck away from becoming homeless. These individuals and families can cycle in and out of multiple homeless episodes. We don't necessarily see these folks because they might be sleeping on a friend's couch while they're trying to find a new place to live, for example.

Guided by our research, we have engaged in a variety of different ways to address these issues, and this will be an increasing focus for us in 2020. We provide grants to support a number of organizations working with the visibly homeless populations such as shelters and substance abuse treatment programs. We started our Oregon Impact Fund several years ago. Through that fund, we make loans to support a variety of causes, including affordable housing. So far, we have made over $6 million in loans to affordable housing projects to increase the stock of affordable housing in the state.

Moving forward, we'll look at more ways to play. One of our sweet spots as a community foundation is to commission research and convene people to learn about issues, share research, educate folks and encourage collaborative efforts. We either are at the table ourselves or have provided funding for a number of collaborative efforts in the state that are looking to address the issue. We're using the multiple tools that we have in our toolbox, including grant dollars, loans, our leadership and our voice, our research capabilities, and our ability to convene people to problem solve around creating more affordable housing.

The challenges that we want to address cannot be solved with one quick technical fix. These are complex, adaptive challenges that are going to take cross-sector collaboration and some creative thinking. To be successful, we also need to engage individuals on the issues that are most impactful for their communities. It’s important people on the ground have meaningful say and leadership roles in addressing those challenges.