Clown and Out in Portland

Portland’s Behavioral Health Resource Center is a”low barrier” service center for the homeless “geared toward people experiencing severe and ongoing mental health and/or substance use disorders”, staffed by “peer mentors” possessing “lived experience” with drugs and mental illness. Not a shelter but a “walk in” clinic with minimal rules, there are no drugs or guns allowed, “self defense tools” must be checked in a locker. Not everyone was happy when it opened last December in Portland’s struggling downtown retail core, a few blocks from Portland’s almost completed Ritz Carlton, which will feature the city’s most expensive condominiums and hotel rooms and the city’s first five star restaurant.

Ritz Carlton,

The multi-use tower is on schedule to open in summer 2023. It broke ground in the optimistic days of 2019. Needless to say the odds developer Walt Bowen assumed when placing his 600 million dollar bet on downtown Portland have diminished significantly since then.

This is the year the Portland real estate developer is to deliver his Ritz-Carlton building, a massive $600 million gamble that some have come to view as a high-stakes referendum on downtown Portland itself.

Bowen and his team have managed to keep construction on track — city building officials say they expect the tower at 900 S.W. Washington St. will be ready to partially open as soon as May — and his lenders on the team. That’s no small achievement given the historic events out of his control that have sapped the vitality of downtown Portland since construction began in 2019.

Now comes the really hard part – selling the building’s 138 condos at price tags never before seen in Portland, attracting guests to stay in the city’s first five-star hotel, and finding tenants for the building’s five stories of office space…

Stephen Fitzmaurice, a Portland Realtor and condo specialist, predicts Bowen could pull it off precisely because of the uber-exclusive target market.

“The upper half of the top 1% have more money than they ever have,” Fitzmaurice said. “I actually wouldn’t be surprised if the condos sell out because they are targeting that niche.”

Fitzmaurice is cynically counting on the killing the wealthy few made as a result of Covid lockdowns–the “one percent” increased their wealth by an estimated 6.5 trillion dollars in 2021–to counter the current economic collapse resulting from the same lockdowns and another elite-funded disaster, the BLM riots of 2020. The raft of legislation that rode the BLM terror campaign into law included Measure 110’s legalization of drugs. The streets around the project gradually declined as the building rose, as if the massive tower was draining the surrounding landscape of life to grow up out of it, gleaming and indifferent.

But it remains to be seen if the filthy rich will accept our increasingly filthy streets. Mayor Ted Wheeler has been trying to reclaim downtown for months by declaring his intention to re-institute the long-lapsed ban on street camping and transferring the homeless into large tent camps in outlying neighborhoods. The enforcement part appears to be waiting on the first of Ted’s new Wheelervilles to open–this summer, in time for the Ritz’ grand opening. The city is following a 9th Circuit Court ruling as precedent, Martin v Boise, requiring a municipality to have an available shelter bed to offer anyone as an alternative to arrest or citation.

The city just signed a 50 million dollar contract with a Bay Area non-profit called Urban Alchemy, staffed by ex-cons (some predictable results) to manage the city’s new mega-camps. Using contacts in San Francisco government Urban Alchemy seemingly came out of nowhere in 2019 to tap into the largesse California and San Francisco were suddenly dumping on their growing homelessness problem, winning a series of no-bid contracts. UA had no serious competition for the Portland contract. Covid mandates didn’t only enrich the wealthiest, they seem to have been a boon for Urban Alchemy as well.

The nonprofit plunged in to help address homelessness and the filth of the Tenderloin streets during COVID-19. And it is employing felons, some convicted of murder, who might get no other chance to rejoin society. Its alchemy is hiring the unemployable to do the work few want to do. Los Angeles and other cities are hiring Urban Alchemy based on its performance in the Tenderloin, and the National Science Foundation praised its impact on neighborhoods after a study.

On the other hand, close relationships with City Hall have raised questions about no-bid contracts that are part of the $41 million San Francisco taxpayers will send to Urban Alchemy. Yet because the nonprofit was granted reporting extensions by the Internal Revenue Service, much of the bookkeeping of its boom has not been visible. Its CEO, Lena Miller, declined to disclose her salary, while her relationships with City Hall power brokers has played a key part in the nonprofit’s growth…

The shooting of an Urban Alchemy worker in February raised questions about the nonprofit’s approach of building relationships in dangerous neighborhoods without security training or support.

Yet despite the challenges, Urban Alchemy has experienced the kind of growth that could make a budding Silicon Valley startup jealous. It has grown to 1,000 workers in just three years, and is branching out elsewhere while it deepens its responsibilities in San Francisco. Its budget increased by more than 500% over the last two years, it says. And while its prominence has risen at breakneck speed, that growth has made financial disclosures and training employees for future roles a challenge.

Meanwhile downtown Portland has only grown worse in recent months. Which brings me back to the Behavioral Health Resource Center (BHRC). Willamette Week:

Every morning, a line stretches for a block before the center opens at 8 am, down-and-out Portlanders awaiting entrance to a squat building located among the Dossier, the Hyatt and, soon, the 35-story Ritz-Carlton, by far the most expensive hotel Portland has ever seen.

And those business owners are asking the county to do more to keep the neighborhood around the center free from some of what its clients bring with them, including threats of violence and drug use. They’ve requested security patrols, police drug stings, and a fundamental alteration of the center’s operating model.

The tensions underlie a more complicated question: How do officials serve homeless Portlanders in the heart of downtown without deterring the customers businesses desperately need?

Business reps painted a bleak picture.

“Staff members have been held at gunpoint, clients that we’ve relied on for years have turned away from downtown,” Matthew Skelton, manager of Hotel Lucia, a block east on Southwest Broadway, told the board Feb. 16. “Clients have been robbed.”

The Mayor’s office in Portland isn’t vested with a lot of power–he’s essentially a privileged council member–and Wheeler’s efforts to clean up downtown are often checked by his own city and county government, which administers most of the programs.

The county says it won’t change the center’s walk-in model because it’s meant for Portlanders for whom even a phone call to schedule an appointment can pose an impossible barrier…

The county hired Mental Health & Addiction Association of Oregon to run the center. It’s staffed by more than two dozen peer specialists who themselves once struggled with addiction or homelessness.

In Portland everything done on behalf of the homeless, mentally ill or drug addicted follows the “harm reduction” and “trauma”-informed model, the latter being the reason for all the reformed drug users administering to unreformed drug users (what could go wrong?).

By March a long abandoned retail mall near the BHRC became an open air drug market; day and night the sidewalks around the building were dominated by fentanyl users getting high, passing out, overdosing.

April 7
March 17, across from Washington Center

On April 1 the city recorded eleven overdoses, three of them fatalities, in and around the Washington Center drug market. The next day Willamette Week reported the BHRC had abruptly closed, with only a notice posted to the center’s website late on a Friday. BHRC cited “building improvements and staff training”.

When the BHRC re-opened on April 17, no doubt to the chagrin of its neighbors who’d hoped to see the last of it, we learned the reason for the closing.

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Multnomah County’s Behavioral Health Resource Center in downtown Portland reopened on Monday after a two-week closure to train staff — as well as investigate allegations of “inappropriate relationships” and on-site drug use from contracted employees, the county announced.

The internal investigations looked into allegations of inappropriate behavior at the center among security staff and other contract employees, the county said. Officials clarified that the investigations did not involve county employees or clients…

Based on the allegations of “inappropriate relations” and on-site drug use, the county directed DPI Security to replace all of its center staff. However, DPI Security claimed it did not have enough staff for the replacement, so the county switched to Northwest Enforcement Inc., which will provide security moving forward, officials said…

The center is a peer-led model employed by others with lived experience to help those experiencing chronic homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse. Peer Support Specialists use trauma-informed practices and have certification requirements, the county said.

Washington Center, downtown Portland, Menache Properties promotional material
Washington Center, April 2021 pdxccura
Washington Center today, untethered

On April 12 police cleared out Washington Center and it was boarded up, again.

Washington Center April 14, untethered

And the beat goes on.

update April 27

Willamette Week reporter Sophie Peel with more on the alleged shenanigans going on at the Behavioral Resource Center:

Emails obtained by WW from the two weeks leading up the center’s abrupt closure show that a tangle of allegations from multiple employees and managers—and an especially extensive set of allegations by a departing worker relayed in a March 29 evening phone call—prompted the county to temporarily shut the center’s doors the next day.

The staffer’s “report suggests that the work environment may be unsafe and toxic, particularly on the 3rd floor,” wrote one county manager hours before the center’s closure.

Indeed, the dynamics alleged in county correspondence include employees of the three contractors trading drugs, sleeping with each other, and blackmailing each other by threatening to reveal each other’s behavior.

The Center’s trauma informed care seems to come with a lot of drama-induced cares. Trauma-informed care and constant companion harm reduction are basically the precepts everyone is a victim of trauma (so don’t re-traumatize by asking anything of them) and just give them the clean needles, respectively.

According to Appleton’s notes, the disgruntled employee alleged sexual triangles between contractors, the use of “powder” at the center, and trysts taking place between staffers on the third floor. “The county doesn’t know what is going on in the facility, and if they knew, then MHAAO would not be the provider,” Appleton wrote based on what the employee had said to her over the phone.

The county abruptly shuttered the center the next day. It remained closed until April 17…

The records provided by the county also show just how intense the needs are of those who frequent the BHRC. Incident reports spanning just two weeks describe a man who slept overnight at the center in an electrical closet; a man hitting a sleeping woman with a chair; clients getting in fights or near-fights; and a participant who was asked to leave the center throwing an e-scooter and batteries at its windows.

The incident reports also tell of a client who would be dead had it not been for staff using six doses of Narcan to revive him, and tell of staff calling an ambulance to pick up a man who said he was feeling deeply suicidal.

In one two-week period in the latter half of March, center staff wrote reports for 45 incidents.

3 thoughts on “Clown and Out in Portland

  1. Regarding the upmarket hotel/condo/office development. Regardless of how much spare cash you have , why would you want to spend anytime at all in the environment. What is the point of being there? the place is destroyed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m wondering that if real estate prices – which are described as very high in the Wall Street Journal – are going up is because whites, or wealthy non-whites, are being cordoned into smaller areas. It takes a lot of money to escape the social/spiritual destruction. Society can be collapsing within a few blocks of very desirable property. It might add a certain bohemian frisson; where the rich enjoy the thrill of slumming, or a righteous sense of surreptitiously sharing the danger. It’s a kind of voyeurism. If these same people don’t mind child sexual mutilation for the masses, why not?


  3. I would add that the real attraction is that the majority of the damaged protoplasm is white. It wouldn’t work with cities with majority blacks, such as Baltimore or Detroit.

    Liked by 1 person

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