3/10/2023 News Roundup


<<Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has confirmed that the first of six planned large-scale sanctioned homeless camping sites will be located in inner Southeast Portland on a vacant lot near Powell Boulevard and 13th Avenue.

Wheeler detailed the site selection at a news conference Thursday morning, and he also announced that the city has partnered with a California-based nonprofit called Urban Alchemy to run the first site.>>

<<Wheeler said Thursday that his goal was to have the Gideon Street site up and running by the summer. The site will initially have up to 100 tents with room for up to 150 people, he said, with access to basic services like food, restrooms, showers, electricity and storage.

There will be regular trash collection, and hazardous waste removal services both at the site and in a 1,000-foot area surrounding it, Wheeler said. It will also have a perimeter fence and security, accompanied by a ban on unsanctioned camping within 1,000 feet of the site.

No fires or cooking will be allowed, he said, and no alcohol or drug use will be allowed in public spaces. Weapons will need to be checked at the entrance. Urban Alchemy will also engage with neighboring residents and businesses, he said, and staff a 24-hour hotline to resolve issues.

The city does not yet have a signed lease on the site, he said, but has reached an agreement in principle on all the major pieces like duration, price and a timeline for the current owners to vacate.>>

<<Several staff from Urban Alchemy joined Wheeler at the news conference to discuss how the nonprofit will approach running the site. Urban Alchemy currently operates homeless service sites or shelters in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Austin, Texas.>>

<<Kirkpatrick Tyler from Urban Alchemy talked about the nonprofit’s Safe Sleep villages in San Francisco, which focus on creating places where homeless residents can feel secure and not in danger of being swept or having their belongings stolen.

The site will be staffed 24 hours a day and will be a weapons-free zone, he said, but the goal is not to take a policing approach. When Urban Alchemy took over a shelter site in Austin, he said, they removed metal detectors and bag scanners in favor of a voluntary bag search policy, with secure storage for weapons.

Many homeless residents have been traumatized by bad experiences in traditional shelters, he said, and have preferred the sense of independence and ownership that they get from being in their tents.

Urban Alchemy’s approach tries to be mindful of those experiences, he said. “It has allowed people, on their terms, to choose an option,” he said.

“So often, we kind of try to show and tell unhoused residents what’s best for them. Safe Sleeps allows an option that can be selected by residents to engage on their terms, not to be lorded over or parented by an organization or by a city, but to be welcomed indoors in an environment that will keep them safe, an environment where they have people that are invested and engaged in their well-being and helping them to move forward.”>>


<<“Our collective goal should be to eliminate unsanctioned homeless camping anywhere in the city of Portland,” Wheeler said. “We can’t wait any longer, and the action starts today on this new strategy.”>>

<<“I appreciate the holistic approach and great ambition of these resolutions,” Andy Miller, director of housing and shelter provider Our Just Future, said during a City Council meeting about the plan last year. “But I ultimately believe they are going to fall short and they do not fully account for the root causes of homelessness.”>>

<<Urban Alchemy has also been subject to some controversy. The fast-growing nonprofit has been sued for allegedly violating labor laws, and accused of not paying its employees—the majority of whom are formerly incarcerated or have experienced homelessness—a living wage.

Three unhoused people have also sued Urban Alchemy for civil rights violations. The organization has denied those allegations.>>

<<Unhoused Portlanders have raised concerns about the size of the camps, noting that many people choose to avoid mass shelters and camps for personal safety concerns. The city’s initial plan also seemingly criminalized homelessness, threatening criminal penalties against people who declined to move into a sanctioned camp or shelter. During the press conference Thursday, Wheeler indicated that the city is moving away from legal punishment and is looking to create an incentive program where homeless Portlanders could have old warrants or fines expunged in exchange for moving into the outdoor camp, a safe rest village, or other transitional shelter model that would move people off the street. It’s unclear if there will be additional incentives for Portlanders without criminal records who don’t feel comfortable moving into a camp or shelter.>>


<<Urban Alchemy has been running outdoor homeless encampments for the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco since 2020. The nonprofit touts its employees’ lived experience with homelessness and incarceration as key to running these communities in a humane and trauma-informed way.

However, the nonprofit is facing several lawsuits, both for alleged labor violations and accusations of sexual abuse from an unhoused resident. Urban Alchemy leaders have denied all accusations.

Urban Alchemy government affairs representative Kirkpatrick Tyler explained Wednesday that Urban Alchemy will enforce a number of rules at the encampments, including a ban on weapons, fires, and alcohol and drug use in public spaces. Staff will search all residents’ bags before they’re allowed to enter the encampment, and will turn those away who don’t consent to the search.

Ian Clark-Johnson, another Urban Alchemy staffer, said Wednesday that any violence or crime on the property will be addressed by Urban Alchemy staff building relationships with residents and using de-escalation techniques — not by calling the police.>>

<<The encampments are expected to stay open for about three years. Tyler said there will be no required move-out date for residents, but the intention is for each stay to be a temporary step toward more permanent housing. At other camps run by Urban Alchemy, Tyler said, people stay on average between three and nine months.>>


<<The mayor’s office intends for the new shelters to be a “safe, secure, and hygienic place for residents to meaningfully connect with services to access housing, mental health support, substance use disorder treatment and other critical resources.” Wheeler said, to start, each site will have up to 100 tents (for up to 150 people). City Council must approve an additional 100 people (for up to 250 people), after the first phase is developed.

Site Services:

    Meals: Two per day, plus snack

    Restrooms and showers

    Laundry access

    Community space

    Pet area



    Electricity (i.e., for phone charging)


    Perimeter fencing

    Regular trash collection and hazardous waste removal

Service Provider:

These sites will be managed by a professional service provider with experience in managing large shelters.

    Service provider will manage 24/7 with approximately 15/1 staff/client ratio.

    Using a Built For Zero client-centered public health approach to guide clients through the continuum of care.

    Referral-based system through the City of Portland, no walk-ins allowed.

    To start, there will be no strict time limit regarding length of stay.

    Service provider will coordinate (with designated City staff) physical, behavioral, and mental health visits from Multnomah County staff and other partners.

Key site rules:

    Alcohol and drugs cannot be consumed in common areas/public spaces.

    No cooking or fires are allowed.


    Weapons must be checked at the entrance (zero tolerance policy).

    If an individual needs to be excluded from a site because a person is a clear / present danger to themselves or others, removal options will include the PPB Behavioral Health Unit and Portland Street Response.

Perimeter Area:

    24/7 hotline staffed by service provider for complaints or questions about the site or perimeter issues.

    On-site service provider will patrol a 1,000 ft. perimeter surrounding the site 16 hours a day, every day – no drugs or camping.

    Trash cleanup in the 1,000 ft. perimeter (at least weekly; hazardous material removed immediately).

    Service provider will engage regularly with surrounding residents, clients, businesses, neighborhood associations, and Enhanced Service Districts.>>

<<The mayor’s office said affordable housing is the end goal but the shelters are a necessary first step in that process.

Portland currently has a housing gap of 20,000 units. The mayor’s plan calls for greatly increasing the production of affordable housing and he said the city is working on various projects to meet this goal and will also be working in partnership with the State on the potential resources that will support affordable housing development.>>


<<Portland has chosen Urban Alchemy, a California-based nonprofit, to manage its first city-run mass tent encampment, Mayor Ted Wheeler announced Thursday morning.

The Central Eastside encampment will be the first of what Wheeler eventually hopes will grow into six large encampments aimed at combating unsheltered homelessness. It is slated to open by this summer, Wheeler said.

The encampments are part of a controversial homelessness plan first announced by Wheeler and Commissioner Dan Ryan in November that could eventually lead the city to ban street camping.

Under Urban Alchemy’s management, the 100-tent site will be able to provide a place to sleep for up to 150 residents. The site could grow to include more tents, if approved by the City Council.

The city did not say how much the site will cost to build and operate, though in its bid for the project, Urban Alchemy said it would cost $5.1 million a year to operate a 150-person site and an additional $400,000 for startup costs. That estimate did not include the cost of meals, utilities or the construction of the site, which the city has committed to cover, according to city documents.

“Safe sleep sites are really groundbreaking in terms of an approach to ending homelessness,” said Kirkpatrick Tyler, Urban Alchemy’s chief of government and community affairs, at a press conference Thursday. “So many people have been traumatized … and had bad experienced in traditional shelters. We found people found a sense of independence and ownership in their tents. It is an introduction to what it means to be part of the community.”

Wheeler said that the city will be able to better provide outreach and follow-up case management to people at the encampment than they can currently with people living spread out across the city in many tiny encampments.

Those living at the site will be connected to caseworkers who will help residents work towards moving into affordable housing, Wheeler said.

“There is no limit to how long people can stay in camps,” Wheeler said at Thursday’s press conference. “The whole point of this is to connect people to services, this is not a permanent living solution for anyone, but it will take time and patience to connect people to services and be successful.”

Urban Alchemy hasn’t been particularly successful at helping people transition to permanent housing at other sites. As of Feb, 6, fewer than 2% of people – five out of 261 – served at the Los Angeles tent site run by Urban Alchemy had transitioned to permanent housing, while 11 had moved to different shelters, seven had been reunited with family, three had moved to short-term housing, 115 had returned to the street and 35 had left to unknown places, according to data provided by the nonprofit.

Tyler said part of what can delay people from transitioning to housing is the lack of available affordable units.

“You can’t expect people to move into housing that we don’t have,” Tyler said.>>

<<No local nonprofits submitted a bid to operate the site, citing concerns that tents were not adequate shelter and that a possible camping ban would be inhumane. Just one other organization, Vancouver-based Simply Human Project, submitted a bid, though its application largely failed to provide specifics on how it would shelter people.>>

<<A poll of city residents conducted in late October by Portland-based firm DHM Research found widespread support for the city’s efforts.

Eighty-two percent of city voters surveyed said they favored the mayor’s plan to create large outdoor camps. Another 79% said they approved of a citywide camping ban.>>

<<Local homelessness nonprofit leaders, however, have expressed concerns about the potential to criminalize homelessness and the lack of weather appropriate shelter at the sites.

Wheeler said he is trying to create a non-law enforcement approach to incentivize people to move off the streets and to get help they need once the tent sites are built. He said the goal is to eliminate people’s past sanctions, old warrants and old fines in exchange for their willingness to move to the sites or to other places such as detox centers.

Wheeler, via spokesperson Cody Bowman, backed away in early February from his earlier pledges to ban camping and issue citations after opening the sites, saying “planned city actions” are “still under discussion.”>>


<<Following Mayor Ted Wheeler revealing the potential location for the first of 6 large-scale city-wide sanctioned campsites on Thursday, FOX 12 spoke to those currently experiencing homelessness and those who have been homeless. They say the money that’s been used so far to tackle homelessness hasn’t helped much and don’t think the city’s newest plan will do much either.

“They’re fixing nothing,” said Tim. “They are just putting band-aids on it. What’s the use of spending that money, $27 million. For what? Just to move people around? How many people are going to abide by the rules when they go in? They have to follow rules if they don’t, they’ll be kicked by out.”>>

<<“These people are good people,” said one man experiencing homelessness. “Some might be addicted, but they are still good people. They don’t want to be controlled though, they like to be able to control their own lives.”

Some, like Tim, say the money should go towards more permanent affordable housing.

“For the money they are spending on this, they are only making it worse,” said Tim. “Think Mayor! You need to stop and think about what you’re doing when you’re spending this money. If you’ve never been homeless, you don’t know what it’s like.”

Others say they just want to be left alone.>>

“These people are free here,” said one man experiencing homelessness. “You try to put them in those little houses or apartments and they’ll last what? A week? They’ll be back out on the street, but this time, they’ll be without their tent and they’ll be harassed on the street. That’s out of pocket. Why are you harassing homeless people? It’s already miserable out here, dying.”>>


The Merc comments:

<<While the city is backpedaling on their terrible idea of actually criminalizing homelessness, instead they hope to entice houseless folks to live in the camp by wiping away old warrants or fines… which kind of insinuates that homeless people are already criminals. 😑 As you can see, there’s a LOT that hasn’t been thought out about this plan.>>

<<Related: Firefighters were surprised to find a blaze had broken out inside a walled off section of the eastbound onramp to the Steel Bridge, and a person who had been living inside was seriously injured. Questions remain as to how the person got in, but there’s no question as to why:

The mayor’s homeless sweeps (in addition to Commissioner Rene Gonzalez’ new asinine and cruel tent ban) is forcing the houseless to become more creative in ways to stay alive, and as we can see, the city’s efforts to push them out of the view of the public is putting lives at risk.>>



<<The Washington County Sheriff’s Office released footage Thursday of a 28-year-old murder suspect escaping the county courthouse on Feb. 27 during a break in his trial, causing a two-hour hunt for him in downtown Hillsboro.

Edi Villalobos Jr., the defendant, sprinted out of the first-floor courtroom around 11:15 a.m. after one of the two sheriff’s deputies assigned to guard him removed his ankle shackles. Deputies arrested him around 1:45 p.m. when they found him hiding underneath a blanket in a child’s bedroom of a nearby unoccupied apartment, sheriff’s officials said.

Footage from inside the courthouse during the escape begins with two sheriff’s deputies, both with their faces blurred, walking Villalobos down a hallway toward courtroom 102. After they enter the courtroom, Villalobos is shown sitting in a chair at the front of the room as one of the deputies removes the shackles from his ankles.

Villalobos appears to stand up and reach toward the back of another chair, as if to sit down. But he abruptly lets go of the chair and sprints down the center aisle and out of the courtroom door, according to the video.

Two prosecutors appear to stare at the two deputies who race after Villalobos, knocking a chair out of their way as they race out of the courtroom.

The footage shifts to different cameras that show Villalobos speeding down two hallways and eventually out of a door leading out of the courthouse as the deputies chase him. A final clip shows the exterior of the building, where Villalobos appears to burst out of a door that reads “Staff only.” A moment after the door swings closed, the first deputy is shown pushing it open again and running after him, followed quickly by the second deputy.

The deputies eventually lost sight of Villalobos during the chase, said Sgt. Danny DiPietro, a sheriff’s office spokesperson.

Authorities used dogs and drones to search for Villaobos until a person living in an apartment complex on Southeast Fourth Avenue called police to report a person breaking into the apartment below theirs.

Villalobos had entered that empty apartment through an unlocked sliding door. Officials called the apartment owner who confirmed no one else was home, sheriff’s officials said.

Officials put the Hillsboro courthouse on lockdown and county staff and nearby residents were ordered to shelter in place as authorities searched for Villabos, who is accused of killing his stepfather — Artemio Guzman-Olvera, 35 — by repeatedly stabbing him in the neck, jaw and shoulder during an argument inside a Cornelius home on April 10, 2021.

Villalobos also faces an attempted murder charge for allegedly stabbing another man at the Carriage Estates Apartments in Wilsonville a couple of hours later.

After deputies arrested Villalobos, a grand jury indicted him on additional charges of first-degree burglary and second-degree escape.>>


<<Surveillance video shows a murder suspect’s bold escape from a Washington County courthouse last month.

28-year-old Edi Villalobos was in court in late February for allegedly stabbing a Cornelius man to death in 2021 and stabbing another man in Clackamas County.

The video shows a deputy escorting him into court and removing his handcuffs and leg restraints, as required by Oregon law. Then Villalobos makes a dash for the door. The deputy chases him but he’s no match for Villalobos who is much faster. Another angle shows him make it outside through a door.

Villalobos was on the run for several hours before police eventually tracked him down and found him hiding under a blanket in the closet of a nearby apartment.>>



<<A Multnomah County Sheriff’s deputy who resigned last month after he was arrested on allegations of domestic violence has been sentenced to 35 days in jail as part of a plea deal.

Corrections Deputy Larry D. Wenzel was “heavily intoxicated” when Gladstone police arrested him at his home Jan. 31, according to Clackamas County prosecutors, who charged the 53-year-old with strangulation, fourth-degree assault, coercion, menacing and harassment.

“He pushed her to the ground, hit her in the face multiple times, and then got on top of her and put his hands on her neck, squeezing,” Deputy District Attorney Benjamin Haines said in circuit court.

Haines said the woman eventually escaped and called 911, but Wenzel threatened to shoot himself with a gun inside the home.

Wenzel, a corrections deputy for 26 years with an annual salary of $108,000 when he resigned in lieu of firing Feb. 16, entered guilty pleas to the first two charges and saw the remaining three dismissed as part of a plea deal.

With credit for time served, Wenzel has already been released from the Clackamas County jail.>>

<<Wenzel will remain on supervision for two years while undergoing drug and domestic violence treatment, with no contact with the victim without prior approval from his parole officer, the judge ordered.

He had previously gone through a diversion program for DUII in 2020.>>

<<In an unsigned statement, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office said it was committed to holding itself accountable.

“The actions of this individual were not only criminal, they are not reflective of our agency’s values,” the sheriff’s office said.>>