If You Lived Here You Would Be Homeless Now

Depression-era Hooverville, Seattle

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler recently announced he’s found a site for the first of six planned large-scale camps for the homeless.

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, alongside other city leaders, announced the first possible location of a temporary alternative shelter site during a Thursday press conference, as part of his plan to build six mass homeless camps across the city.

Wheeler says his five-resolution plan is now in the implementation phase, noting his goal is to phase out unsanctioned camping.

“I know people are tired of hearing us talk about addressing this issue, they expect action and today is about direct action we are taking to move this project forward,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler announced the first site will likely be at 1490 Southeast Gideon Street in Portland’s central eastside. He said the city does not have a signed lease on the property at this time but does have an agreement in principle. Wheeler said he is confident the city will secure the lease soon and plans to have the site running by summer.

“Initially, this site will have up to 100 tenants, they can hold up to 150 individuals. This location will help provide safe designated camping locations for homeless Portlanders who then can access basic services like food, restrooms, showers, laundry, electricity and storage facilities,” Wheeler said.

His plan originally envisioned sites for up to 500 campers and was lowered to 250 after pushback from various quarters. This first attempt will attempt to support 100 people with basic services.

The city has picked a San Francisco outfit called Urban Alchemy to run the first Wheelerville. Urban Alchemy, a “workforce development agency”, employs ex-cons to manage homeless shelters.

Urban Alchemy was created in 2018 and expanded quickly from humble origins to capture some of the 1.2 billion dollars San Francisco allotted for homelessness in 2021, through controversial no-bid contracts. Urban Alchemy was the contractor at the center of a scandal involving their management of the Ansonia Hotel as a homeless shelter. The Center for Health Journalism:

The city has more money than ever to combat its homelessness crisis — a $1.2 billion two-year budget bolstered by federal and state funds — yet there’s skepticism about that money being put to good use…

[A] corruption scandal continues to take down City Hall officials like a slow-moving cascade of dominoes, all tied to donations from and relationships with city contractors. Neither the homelessness department nor their contractors have been involved or implicated, but as The Frisc has reported, the six-year-old department has been taken to task for lack of oversight, shoddy contract management, and personnel turnover. It is the only major city department that doesn’t have a formal oversight commission.

At a February hearing about the Ansonia and the $18.7 million contract, Sup. Ahsha Safaí asked Emily Cohen, a top city homelessness official, this question: “If things aren’t going well or are mismanaged, how does the department handle this?”

On one level, the supervisor was voicing concerns that others, from his board colleagues to nearby residents and businesses, were also asking: Is the nonprofit getting this contract — a no-bid contract, no less — ready for this high-profile job?

If no-bid contracts are an indicator, the homeless advocacy industry is being consolidated by a few players:

At the same time, he was addressing recent history. Since 2019, SF’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) has leaned heavily on no-bid contracts to create housing and services, part of a strategy to treat homelessness as an emergency. In this era, no-bid contracts awarded by HSH have jumped, as a percentage of total contracts, from 1 percent to more than 40 percent.

Urban Alchemy, the SF nonprofit at the heart of Safaí’s query, is among the organizations benefiting the most from this new era. The group hires people who have experienced homelessness, substance abuse, or incarceration. Its first job in the city, handed off from a parent organization, was in 2018 managing and cleaning portable toilets.

On its website, the group uses a saltier description of its approach: ‘No fuckery.’ It has even applied to trademark it. 

But it seems there has been a bit of fuckery. In February one of the cons working at a shelter in San Francisco shot someone on his break before returning to work.

An Urban Alchemy worker allegedly shot a person while on a break during a shift outside a San Francisco homeless shelter run by the nonprofit in November. 

Joseph Perry was arrested and has been in custody since December. He was charged with attempted murder, great bodily injury, assault with a semiautomatic firearm, discharge of a firearm at an occupied motor vehicle, and possession of a firearm by a felon, among other felonies, in January…

Perry was working a shift at the shelter and was on an unpaid 15-minute break when the incident occurred nearby. He returned for the resumption of his shift, but not for work the next day, the organization said.

Urban Alchemy’s “practitioners” have caught some fire as well:

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — The latest victim of crime in San Francisco is a city ambassador from the nonprofit Urban Alchemy.

He is recovering after being shot in the shoulder in broad daylight, in the same alley where a 16-year-old girl was found dead last week of an apparent drug overdose.

“It’s terrible. I was over there on the plaza and I hear maybe three to four shots. Other people said it’s a shooting. It’s not good, but in San Francisco it happens almost every day here. People having guns and shooting over here,” said Vladimir Ivanov, a Tenderloin resident…

The Urban Alchemy ambassadors were not allowed to speak on camera, but could be seen walking down the site in a small group.

Another Wheeler initiative for a car park for the homeless is proposed for an old RV dealership on a major thoroughfare on the east side. Residents are predictably wary.

Oregon today passed a $200 million Affordable Housing and Emergency Homelessness Response Package, so more is on the way. As are more homeless. Here a newcomer says Montana put him on a bus to Portland:

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