5/27/23 News Roundup part 2


<<The number of people experiencing homelessness of all kinds in Multnomah County—unsheltered, in shelters, and in transitional housing—rose 20% in 2023, an increase that county officials attributed to “ongoing use of increasingly robust by-name lists and services data.”

Put another way: County officials claim they got much better at looking for unhoused people, muddying the year-to-year comparison.>>

<<The total number of people experiencing homelessness totaled 6,297, Multnomah County said, up from 5,228 in 2022. The number who were unsheltered—living on the street—totaled 3,944 in 2023, up 29% from 3,057 in 2022. Of that number, 2,340 were found through enhanced methods in 2023, up 65% from the 1,416 found through enhanced methods in 2022.

In a six-page press release that included data for all three metro-area counties—Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington—county officials emphasized the improvement in data collection and a 17% decline in “chronic homelessness” across the region. Under the federal definition, chronic homelessness is defined as being homeless for at least a year or repeatedly while struggling with a disability.

Multnomah County said chronic homelessness across the Portland metro area fell 16% to 2,610 in 2023 from 3,120 in 2022.>>

<<Washington County had just 773 people experiencing homelessness in the Point-in-Time count, down 4% from 808 in 2022.>>

<<Homelessness plunged in Clackamas County, albeit from a small base. Clackamas counted 410 people experiencing some kind of homelessness, down 31% from 597.>>

<<Patricia Rojas, director of housing for the Metro regional government, had a less rosy take on the Point-in-Time count data than officials from individual counties did.

“It’s clear that there are too many people leaving housing and going onto our streets,” Rojas said in a statement. “In Multnomah County alone, more than 6,600 people faced eviction in 2022. The Supportive Housing Services fund helped keep that number from being higher, offering eviction protection and emergency rent assistance for 8,104 people regionwide, and we are working to try to increase that so we can get ahead of homelessness before it starts, while still trying to end the chronic homelessness we see on our streets every day.”>>


<<The Joint Office of Homeless Services spent only about half the money that voters approved in 2020 to reduce chronic homelessness in Multnomah County, according to its latest quarterly report.

For the period Jan. 1 through March 31, the agency spent $18 million that the Metro supportive housing services measure generated. That sounds like a lot, but its budget was double that: about $36 million for the period.>>

<<Through three-quarters of fiscal 2023, the agency’s new report shows, the Joint Office planned to spend $83.4 million, but it has actually spent only about $40 million, or less than half.>>

<<Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson, to whom the Joint Office reports, issued a strong statement about the new numbers.

“These metrics reflect a significant amount of underspent dollars, money that desperately needs to be put to good use,” Vega Pederson said. “The underspending is simply unacceptable.”>>

<<The Joint Office’s new report shows the three greatest areas of underspending in percentage terms are long-term rent assistance (just 15% of the annual budget of $9.5 million has been spent); short-term housing assistance (23% of $32.7 million budgeted); and permanent supportive housing services (29% of $15.5 million has been spent).>>


<<The Portland City Council lambasted Multnomah County’s Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS) Wednesday, May 24, calling for a six-month evaluation of the city’s partnership agreement with JOHS. The council tentatively approved a contract amendment that will either extend the city’s partnership with JOHS in 2024, or dissolve the agreement altogether.

City commissioners suggested the county has been ineffective in its expenditure of money and opaque about the outcomes of its spending on homeless services. >>

<<“I am dissatisfied with this contract. I don’t understand why we keep extending it,” Commissioner Mingus Mapps said Wednesday. “We give them $43 million and we have no influence in how it gets spent.”

Mapps called the contract between the city and the county “crazy and unsustainable.”>>

<<County leaders say they agree with the city’s assessment that JOHS needs better internal governance and accountability.

JOHS has $46.6 million in revenue from the measure that has yet to be spent and is expected to get an extra $25 million from the Metro tax, beyond what was initially forecasted. >>

<<The city also included a clause that won’t let the county spend any of its JOHS funds without first getting approval from the city on the county’s annual budget.

“I think it’s honest to say that Portlanders would agree that we are failing in our mission to reduce homelessness in our city and most would say that we are not doing enough for mental and behavioral health and drug addiction,” City Commissioner Dan Ryan, who proposed the contract amendment, said Wednesday. “We cannot continue to fund an office that isn’t delivering on the needs of our homeless community.”

Despite the heavy scrutiny, the council cited recent leadership changes within JOHS and a desire from county leaders to work with the city in its decision to continue the partnership, at least for now.>>


<<A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit over homeless camping on city sidewalks, according to the law firm representing the Portlanders with disabilities.

Last September, the federal lawsuit asked for a court order to clear all city sidewalks, blocked by tents, with a 10-foot buffer on either side.

The goal was to provide access for people with mobility issues.

As part of the settlement, the law firm says the city agreed to prioritize the removal of campsites that obstruct sidewalks. It would also extend the ban on city employees and contractors handing out tents and tarps, with a few exceptions.>>


The Merc comments:

<<So while it’s fine for clubs in Old Town to offer VIP parking in the city’s bike lanes and shut down major corners like W Burnside and NW 3rd for months, the City of Portland has decided to settle a bad faith class action lawsuit which argued that failure to sweep tents on sidewalks downtown was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.>>



<<Starting June 1, Multnomah County will keep adult defendants that have been convicted of, or have pending cases related to, three or more property-related crimes in jail until arraignment.

That’s because Presiding Judge Judith Matarazzo signed an order May 22 that changed the county’s policy on holding repeat offenders until they face a judge. The order supersedes an earlier policy established following the passage of Senate Bill 48, which ordered local courts to adopt a set of statewide guidelines and create a list of overriding circumstances.

That policy had to be rewritten because the county is shifting to a new risk assessment tool in June that will evaluate whether defendants should be released prior to arraignment. According to its designers, the new Public Safety Assessment results in more people being released and less use of bail—while not increasing the likelihood of someone reoffending or skipping a court date.

But the new policy also introduces a few more “overriding circumstances” in which a defendant may be kept behind bars.

The order will “allow judges more flexibility in making pretrial release decisions,” Matarazzo tells WW. “It allows for overriding circumstances that will allow people to be held in custody pending a hearing in front of a judge as opposed to being released under the terms of Senate Bill 48,” Matarazzo says. “Both the [district attorney’s] office and the Defense Bar had input.”

Matarazzo’s order is the first time the county has changed its pretrial release standards since first laying them out after the law went into effect. It’s also a soft admission that the pretrial release standards created by the law were perhaps too lenient.

Shoplifting, which would be covered under this new exception, has proven particularly problematic for Portland businesses in recent years. The city and county announced the joint funding of a task force within the Multnomah District Attorney’s Office to crack down on the problem earlier this month.>>



<<Atkinson Elementary School in Southeast Portland canceled a Pride festival scheduled for Friday after several conservative social media sites circulated word of the event, sparking administrative concerns about protesters.

“Given the fact that the event’s guiding purpose has been overshadowed by manufactured controversy and anti-Queer bias, the event is canceled,” wrote the school’s interim principal, Beth Essex, in a May 2 email to parents. “Inaccurate rumors about this event have been shared on social media, leading to sensationalized media inquiries and shameful, hate-infused vitriol aimed at some of the most vulnerable members of our community.”>>


<<Timber Unity, the coalition of loggers, truckers and other rural businesses that formed in 2019 to oppose climate legislation, called upon Rep. Brian Stout (R-Columbia City) to resign after a circuit court judge upheld a five-year sexual abuse protective order against him on Monday.

The group had endorsed Stout in the 2022 election because of his “pro natural resource stance and thoughtful answers to our questionnaire,” Timber Unity said on its Facebook page yesterday.

“However, Timber Unity also respects the rule of law,” the group said in the post. “We will not and cannot tolerate any behavior that was deemed to make others feel unsafe, which is what the Columbia County judge determined in her ruling. Timber Unity is a community of men and women that deserve representation in Salem. Rep. Stout cannot be that voice.”

Timber Unity’s move means that Stout is under pressure from the right and left. Leaders of the Oregon House of Representatives, both Democrats, called on Stout to resign on Tuesday.

“I’ve been deeply troubled by the allegations of sexual abuse and abusive behavior since they surfaced,” House Speaker Dan Rayfield of Corvallis said in a statement. “The behavior described in the judge’s order does not align with the values of the House of Representatives. I no longer believe he can effectively serve and should therefore resign.”

Rayfield removed Stout from committee assignments soon after Stout took his seat in January. If Stout chooses to stay in the House, he will still be denied committee membership, Rayfield said. House Majority Leader Julie Fahey (D-Eugene) joined Rayfield in calling for Stout to resign.>>

<<“Female staff, lobbyists, guests and elected officials deserve to feel safe,” Timber Unity said on Facebook. “We will hold our own accountable just as we hold others accountable. We are calling on Representative Stout to step down. HD 31 deserves a voice in Salem.”

Among Stout’s other endorsers, according to his campaign website:

Oregonians for Food & Shelter, Oregon State Police Officers Association, Oregon Right to Life, Oregon Association of Nurseries, Oregon Family Farm Association, and Oregon Business & Industry.>>

<<Stout’s legal woes began late last year after a female campaign volunteer was granted a sexual abuse protective order, alleging a series of abusive, threatening encounters with Stout, including one in which he threatened to throw her off a cliff at Multnomah Falls if she said anything about their relationship.>>



<<Washington County prosecutors are attempting a noteworthy legal maneuver to stop Oregon State Hospital from releasing an alleged murderer back to the county. In a motion filed yesterday, they argue a court-ordered release deadline doesn’t apply because the hospital delayed treating the patient.

The locked psychiatric hospital began releasing patients early last year in an effort to free up beds and trim its lengthening waitlist, a result of a compromise between the state and advocates brokered by U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman. The “Mosman Order” infuriated local officials, who say counties lack the treatment beds and resources to care for patients who are too mentally ill to be tried for their alleged crimes.

The order sets the maximum hospital stay for patients accused of serious crimes at one year. Now, prosecutors are asking judges to delay the beginning of that countdown until the hospital administers medication to restore the patient to competency, a process that can be delayed due to patients’ refusal.

So far, the strategy has had some success. A Marion County judge ordered the hospital to reset the countdown for a patient in March, accusing the hospital of failing to treat or issue a timely evaluation of the patient. “The timeline articulated in the Mosman Order has not yet been triggered as this particular defendant has not been committed for restoration given the lack of treatment and/or services he has been provided,” Marion County Circuit Judge Jodie Bureta wrote March 2.

Now, Washington County is trying the maneuver too. Its District Attorney Kevin Barton has long been a vocal critic of the hospital’s early release policy.

The defendant in the Washington County case is 42-year-old Lisa Akers, who allegedly shot two people near Hillsboro in 2020. One, a 25-year-old woman, died. Akers fled the scene, and was arrested 300 miles away in Grant County with a semi-automatic handgun. A toxicology report later showed she was high on meth. She pleaded not guilty, arguing self-defense.

Akers’ case went all the way to trial last year. But on its final day, Akers was abruptly found too mentally ill to continue and the judge declared a mistrial. She was shipped to Oregon State Hospital in June, where she was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

The hospital’s goal is to restore patients to competency. But it struggled to do so in Akers’ case, for a simple reason: She refused to be medicated.

Medication was eventually forced on her after she got into an altercation with another patient. Still, as her psychiatrist Dr. Rubina Gundroo later told a courtroom, she was given a dose only high enough to ensure her safety and the safety of others. It “was not aimed at restoring the defendant’s competency,” according to prosecutors.

The hospital never informed prosecutors or the judge about that development. When prosecutors did learn about it from Gundroo during a hearing in March, a judge issued an order forcing the hospital to involuntarily medicate Akers at the elevated dosage required for competency restoration, according to the prosecutors’ motion.

But by then, Akers’ time at the hospital was almost up. In May, OSH told Washington County she would soon be released.

“OSH wasted 10 months,” Washington County senior deputy district attorney John Gerhard wrote in yesterday’s motion protesting Akers’ release. “OSH should not be permitted to avoid its failures by simply waiting for the clock to run out.”

Gerhard is asking a judge to effectively reset the clock, beginning the one-year countdown on the date of the involuntary medication order, April 26. That would mean another year in the hospital for Akers.

This isn’t the first time Washington County prosecutors have questioned OSH’s treatment practices. In February, a judge overruled a state hospital evaluator after prosecutors uncovered evidence that the patient, Salvador Martinez-Romero, accused of a vicious, fatal stabbing spree, was malingering. In that case, prosecutors noted that the evaluator’s error could have been due to overwork. Like many public agencies, the state hospital is grappling with ongoing staffing issues.

“It’s out of desperation more than anything else,” DA Barton explained to WW regarding his office’s latest legal maneuver.>>


<<Bivins, a freelance journalist who contributed stories to WW, was arrested last May and charged with a series of hate crimes, including scrawling “Die Juden” in yellow paint on the wall of Congregation Beth Israel and lighting a fire at the Muslim Community Center of Portland.

Police allege he told a reporter, “Jewish people deserve the hate that goes toward them; all religions are stupid.”>>

<<Over the past year, Bivins has sent Multnomah County Presiding Judge Judith Matarazzo a series of meandering and increasingly indecipherable letters from jail. His trial date was repeatedly postponed until last week, when Judge Nan Waller found Bivins too mentally ill to stand trial and ordered him sent to Oregon State Hospital to be “restored to competency.” He’ll join the beleaguered hospital’s waitlist, whose length (46 people, as of April) has been the subject of extensive, ongoing civil rights litigation.>>

<<In response to that lengthening waitlist, a federal judge brokered a compromise with advocates in which Oregon State Hospital would begin releasing patients early. One of those patients was Thouen, who was arrested in early 2021 after he threatened a woman with a homemade spear. He would spend the next year and half in the state hospital before it forcibly ejected him in October, still too mentally ill to face trial.>>