<<At least one Portland Street Response worker has resigned since Portland Fire Chief Sara Boone announced a controversial change to the city’s mental health crisis response team last week.
On April 11, Boone announced the team must respond to homeless sweeps to assist campers when asked by city contractors or leaders at Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s new emergency command center. Prior to Boone’s move, the team’s protocol advised crisis workers not to respond to sweeps.
At least one Portland Street Response employee, the union representing those employees and the authors of a study evaluating its work are pushing back, saying the team’s mission is to help people in crisis – not create it.
Jenni Lovell, who submitted her two-week notice on April 16, said she could not live with herself if she were to cause unhoused Portlanders additional trauma.
“You are forcing mental health crisis responders to create trauma and then turn around and solve the trauma we caused,” Lovell said. She said that the sweeps directive on top of Commissioner Rene Gonzalez’s decision to withhold tents from unhoused people just days before a February snowstorm pushed her over the edge.
An independent research team from Portland State University paid to evaluate the program’s effectiveness cautioned that integrating Portland Street Response’s mental health workers into sweeps is “antithetical” to its success. But experts and mental health workers were not involved in the decision to change the team’s strategy.
Following Boone’s directive, Lovell told her supervisor she would refuse to respond to sweeps. Lovell was told that would be an act of insubordination and she would be terminated if she did that – so she decided to leave.
Boone said since Portland Street Response is a city program, it must align with city direction.
“In November 2022, the city council established its intention to end unsanctioned camping and transition those…to temporary alternative shelter sites,” Boone said in a statement. “The directive issued from my office will not ‘involve’ Portland Street Response in sweeps … Rather, my directive ensures that, when a member of the city’s (sweeps team) recognizes someone in crisis that would benefit from PSR’s services, PSR will provide its services to that individual.”
But Lovell said that even if Portland Street Response workers aren’t the ones initiating the sweeps, their visual presence acts as another layer of enforcement. And in numerous interviews as the program has grown, the team’s members say they take great pains to separate themselves from enforcement to build trust and allow people to feel safe asking the team for help.
“We were always told to tell dispatch, to tell law enforcement that ‘No, Portland Street Response does not participate or assist in tent sweeps,’” Lovell said. “Now the program is heading in the opposite direction it was intended for.”
The union representing the team’s workers echoed that sentiment.
“Responding to a person in crisis requires establishing trust, through a careful and respectful approach. It takes time and space that may not be inherent or easily accommodated in a sweep environment,” Rachel Whiteside, a representative with the PROTEC17 union, wrote in an email on Friday. “Union members welcome the opportunity to partner with the city in developing policy that ensures workers are safe and the Portland Street Response program is not derailed off its mission and into enforcement roles.”
Lovell said she was disappointed that Boone and Gonzalez, who oversees the fire bureau, did not include Portland Street Response staff or supervisors in discussions prior to the announcement.
The Oregonian/OregonLive sent questions to Portland Street Response manager Robyn Burek and communications director Caryn Brooks asking if they felt the program was moving in the right direction, if they were included in the decision-making process, if these changes align with the program’s initial intent and how the overworked team would handle the additional work.
But Brooks said they had to defer to Gonzalez. Gonzalez’s spokesperson Ben DuPree deferred to Boone “who issued the directive.”
Lovell said that other team members are also disappointed by the change, but that they’re afraid they’ll be fired if they speak up.
The tent ban and sweeps demand might not be the only change coming. On Tuesday, Ryan Gillespie, Portland Fire & Rescue’s community health division chief, emailed staff to say continued orders of food, clothing and sleeping bags — that Portland Street Response distributes – will be halted until they receive approval from Gonzalez.
Portland Street Response hands out such supplies to both build relationships with the most vulnerable community members and to help them survive. Some people they connect with might be waiting for housing or fearful of shelter based on prior negative experiences.>>
<<In a February interview, City Commissioner Rene Gonzalez told WW that he received no pushback from Portland Street Response leaders over his order that its crisis response teams stop distributing tents and tarps to homeless Portlanders. If any concerns were voiced by the program, Gonzalez said, they were “not [expressed] to us.”
But an email obtained by WW shows that Portland Street Response director Robyn Burek took issue with earlier instructions from Portland Fire & Rescue that bureaus bring tent distribution policies into line with city goals to end unsanctioned camping—more or less a directive to stop handing such supplies out.
Burek expressed concern in a Jan. 10 email to Gonzalez after Portland Fire & Rescue advised her to bring PSR’s practices in line with the city’s crackdown on unsanctioned camping and its goals to set up six large sanctioned encampments across the city.
“Given that the city has not set up the sanctioned campsites yet, and that there is a severe shortage of shelter beds available, would it be acceptable for PSR and [the Community Health Assess & Treat program] to provide these basic supplies to individuals until those resources are made available?” Burek asked Gonzalez. “Our biggest concern centers on the fact that it’s winter and we’re concerned about an individual’s ability to stay medically and physically safe.”
One month later, Gonzalez formally banned PSR’s tent distribution.
In a phone call with WW, Gonzalez says he stands by what he said in February. In fact, Gonzalez adds, Burek’s Jan. 10 email triggered the tent and tarp ban Gonzalez implemented the following month: “There was no policy to even discuss when she sent me the email. It was not a response to a tent or tarp policy. Her email was in response to us asking our bureaus, how are you supporting the move to sanctioned or unsanctioned camping?”
He says he is “not aware of her pushing back” on the policy but also says he handed over the policy process to his chief of staff, Shah Smith.>>
<<Burek’s email to Gonzalez was not the first time she had advocated for distributing tents. It followed an email Burek sent to Mayor Ted Wheeler’s top aides on Dec. 22, outlining why she believed her program should continue handing out tents and tarps to homeless Portlanders. It appears, according to the email, Burek had emailed the mayor’s staff to get approval on a refined tent and tarp policy written by PSR. (This was before Gonzalez took office, and before he implemented the tent and tarp ban.)
In the email, Burek mentions the risk of hypothermia, the lack of shelter beds across the city, particularly for disabled people, and the privacy offered by a tent.>>
<<Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law Thursday Substitute House Bill 1177, establishing a cold case unit specifically for missing and murdered Indigenous women and people or MMIWP in the state.>>
<<There are at least 113 missing Indigenous people cold cases in the state right now>>
<<As recommended by the MMIWP Task Force, the unit will provide additional resources to investigating agencies across the state and has the authority to investigate the full scope of MMIWP cases, including missing persons, unidentified remains and homicide cases. The task force wrote in its interim report from 2022 that the unit should be able to work directly with families of missing and murdered Indigenous people.
The permanent unit will be housed in the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. The unit will provide more capacity to the AGO’s work and bring closure to families, Lekanoff said.>>
<<Chief Chuck Lovell and Mayor Ted Wheeler have announced that Rebecca Arredondo Yazzie, Ph.D., MSW, LCSW, has been selected to be the new Civilian Dean of Training at the Portland Police Bureau.
Yazzie has most recently served as the Director of the MSW Program for George Fox University, School of Social Work in Portland. She is also an Associate Professor at George Fox University, School of Social Work.
Yazzie has a Ph.D. in Social Work and Social Research from Portland State University; a Master of Social Work from the School of Social Work, Arizona State University; and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Justice Studies from Arizona State University.>>
<<PPB’s Training Division is responsible for ongoing training delivered through the Learning Management System, as well as annual in-service training for Bureau members, Advanced Academy, Sergeant’s Academy and the Community Academy. It is also responsible for all recruits and their training during their probationary period. Adding a Civilian Dean of Training was proposed internally a few years ago, but it became a reality recently when the appropriate funding was granted, and it was incorporated into the City’s agreement with the Department of Justice.
The Training Dean will facilitate the design, development, and delivery of training programs for the Portland Police Bureau’s Training Division.
They will provide professional development and continuing education to Training Division instructors to ensure that all personnel are highly qualified and well equipped to perform their duties in and provide expertise in developing engaging and effective programs for adult learners through classroom instruction, interactive exercises, role-playing scenarios and on-demand, web-based modules.>>
<<After years of delays, Portland Police will finally get body cameras after the city and the police union reached an agreement approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The decision comes after the city and police union came to an agreement on a challenging issue: whether officers could review the footage before writing up their statements on what happened.
In situations where there’s an officer involved in a deadly shooting or in-custody death, officers must first provide a recorded statement before they can review the video. Their statement must include details such as what they saw and what they did – from de-escalation to use of force.
When they are interviewed by Internal Affairs, after an initial statement, there can be a break where the investigator and the involved officer view the video in separate rooms, then continue with the interview.>>
<<The first two divisions that will get training and cameras are 100 Central Precinct, with more than 100 officers, and the Focused Intervention Team, which are officers working to stop gun violence.>>