8/24/2023 News Roundup Part 2


<<Deschutes County is contracting armed security guards to patrol rural homeless encampments north of Bend.

The contract — worth a maximum of $25,000 — would require Compass Security and Investigations to visit the encampments in Juniper Ridge twice a day, checking on county-provided toilets and hand-washing stations. Guards carrying firearms would also assess potential fire risks, according to Deputy County Administrator Erik Kropp.>>

<<Juniper Ridge is one of the largest areas with encampments in the county, spanning 1,500 acres of public land between Bend and Redmond.

Many people live in RVs and tents connected by a loose network of dirt roads. County officials point to newly-placed infrastructure for basic services, fire risk, and crime reports from the area as evidence a private security force is needed.

But multiple service providers oppose guards having guns in homeless camps.

“Hiring private security carrying firearms into the Juniper Ridge area is likely to escalate any conflict and will carry the risk of tragic consequences for some of our most vulnerable community members,” said Eric Garrity of the Bend Equity Project, a local service provider.>>

<<Kropp said the security contract stemmed from the county’s original plan to remove the nearly 200 people living in Juniper Ridge. That plan has been postponed indefinitely, but the recruitment of armed security guards will remain.

“We were going to ask people to leave the property and that of course has changed,” Kropp said. “We still saw the need of having some type of presence out there.”

Deschutes County had previously announced a $300,000 plan to clean up Juniper Ridge and then remove people from the area.

Before starting their patrols, the Compass security guards will receive de-escalation training from Deschutes County Behavioral Health, Kropp said.>>

<<The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office has become increasingly vocal about homelessness in the community. It recently hired Kevin Dahlgren, a Portland-based consultant, paying him at least $18,000 to produce a report on homelessness in Deschutes County, as first reported by The Bulletin.

Longtime local service providers have criticized Dahlgren’s report for containing inaccurate and misleading information.

Deschutes Sheriff Shane Nelson previously proposed his own anti-camping ordinance and is negotiating with the U.S. Forest Service in an attempt to enforce camping codes on federal land. The sheriff’s office has also appointed a deputy — who normally serves as a school resource officer — to patrol Juniper Ridge and camps along China Hat Road for potential fire hazards.

In Central Oregon, there’s precedent for local governments hiring private security to patrol public property. The Bend Parks and Recreation District has long used unarmed guards to enforce rules at its parks, where overnight camping is not allowed.

OPB recently reviewed incident reports produced by park security over a two-year span and found many interactions with people experiencing homelessness. Many reports involved people setting up tents or using public bathrooms for too long.

In June, the parks district approved a new 2-year contract with Trident Professional Security worth $430,000.

Private businesses in Portland have hired security companies to investigate homeless camps and write reports intended to influence city leaders. A 2021 investigation by OPB found these agreements raised questions about accountability, and led to the extensive surveillance of people who were not accused of crimes.>>


<<Seven years ago, the city of Portland and Multnomah County teamed up to create a new agency focused on the region’s homelessness crisis. Now, with record rates of homelessness and historic levels of funding available to address homelessness, the spotlight is on the Joint Office of Homeless Services.

Yet, a peek behind the scenes of the joint office reveals how clunky contract management, poor communication, insufficient data collection, and lack of vision have undermined the program’s effectiveness at solving one of the region’s most entrenched challenges.

A report by the county auditor’s office released Wednesday illustrates how the joint office’s systemic problems have the largest impact on the nonprofit employees with whom the joint office contracts to provide services to people experiencing homelessness.

“The public needs to know what service providers have experienced as they’ve been trying to help people exit homelessness,” said Multnomah County Auditor Jennifer McGuirk, who oversaw the audit. “If you’re a provider and you have this additional stress of not knowing if you’re going to be paid, it impacts your ability to provide service to people who are in serious crisis.”

The audit comes as both local politicians and members of the public have aired doubts about the joint office’s work. And it comes as the office has failed to spend tens of millions of dollars approved by voters to address the crisis by helping transition people experiencing homelessness into permanent housing.

While a plan to fix that underspending is underway, the delay sparked a public outcry and a call to reevaluate the joint office’ effectiveness.

This issue, along with other budgeting concerns, led Portland politicians to threaten severing its contract with the county to oversee the joint office. City Council members have since agreed to meet with county leaders to reevaluate the relationship in December.

The joint office’s programs rely heavily on contracts with outside nonprofits that already provide homeless services — like transitional housing, mental health care or job training. County officials say one of the main reasons the joint office can’t get tax dollars out the door is these nonprofit contractors’ inability to hire and retain workers to carry out the joint office programs. A recent study conducted by the joint office found that nearly half of all service providers surveyed were earning less than a living wage.

Nonprofits say their ability to pay fair wages and hire staff is hampered by the joint office’s complex and costly contracting process.

This accusation is underscored in the county’s audit, which includes anonymous feedback from nearly 70 people who work as contractors with the joint office.

Auditors spoke with nonprofit staff who were asked to do work without a signed contract — meaning they often weren’t paid for months after the work began.>>

<<The audit also highlighted contractors’ frustration with the joint office’s inconsistent communication. Several noted how joint office staff often gave them different answers to similar questions. Others expressed frustration with the lack of coordination between joint office programs. Few felt like they understood what the joint office was trying to achieve.

In a survey distributed to contractors by the auditors, less than half said they believe the joint office was successful at communicating its policies and goals.

The audit points to recent staffing fluctuations as a key issue affecting the office. The joint office ballooned in staffing size since 2019, when it had 21 full-time employees. Now, the office employs 99 people. It has also experienced incredibly high staff turnover rates, which adds to communication problems between the joint office and contractors. The office has also seen four different directors since 2021. After the joint office’s first director stepped down in March 2022, the department saw two interim directors before hiring its current director, Dan Field, in April 2023.

Auditors heard from many joint office staff members that their work felt disorganized and directionless without a permanent director during a massive staff increase. McGuirk said the joint office’s clear weaknesses — contracting, communication, and other internal systems — should have been addressed years ago.

“It’s a disservice to providers and joint office employees to not have those systems in place before expanding and going through big leadership transitions,” she said.>>

<<This isn’t the first time McGuirk has overseen an audit of the joint office. In 2021, her office intended to measure the effectiveness of the joint office based on how many people the office had moved into housing.

But McGuirk discovered that the joint office was only tracking how many people entered a housing program — not people who had moved into housing. McGuirk suggested that the joint office may be falsely inflating the number of people it claims to place in housing, and she halted work on the audit until the program started collecting more reliable data.

McGuirk directed her staff to take another look at this data in early 2022. While they were able to collect qualitative data from staff and contractors, the team was again stalled by data problems. This time, the issue was not knowing where the data on housing placement was stored.

The joint office told auditors that the city of Portland was in charge of this data, while the city said it was in the joint office’s control.

This back-and-forth has yet to be resolved — although the joint office recently informed the auditors that they do, in fact, have the data.

Auditors will analyze those numbers in a separate audit.>>


<<In 2020, several of their items were confiscated by Rapid Response Bio Clean–a city-contracted cleaning company that removes unhoused people’s items and tents from Portland’s public spaces.

Rapid Response is supposed to store items in a warehouse for at least 30 days, where they can be retrieved by owners, but instead, the company’s employees took Angel’s items directly to the dump.

With a nudge from homeless advocates and the help of a pro bono attorney, Angel and his partner, Lynette Snook, both sued the company in separate complaints, leading Rapid Response to eventually pay the full amounts requested. In Angel’s case, that amounts to about $4,700.

While a court arbitrator sided with Angel’s partner in her case against Rapid Response, preventing it from going to trial, his arbitration hearing didn’t initially go his way, so Angel’s attorney asked for a full court hearing. Rapid Response opted to pay Angel the full amount requested in his lawsuit, instead of prolonging the case and incurring trial expenses.

“They’re gonna pay me every nickel that I asked for,” Angel said of the cleanup company. “At the arbitration hearing that I had, the judge sided with them 100 percent. He wasn’t gonna give me anything. So me and my attorney decided, well, we’ll just take it to trial.”

The items the company is alleged to have thrown away include a winter coat, boots, a toolbox, various saws and tools, bike parts, a propane stove and other miscellaneous items.

Angel said he and his spouse typically keep their area clean and tidy, but that particular day, he was building a trailer and left some of his tools and items splayed out while he worked.

Legally, any items of value or utility must be stored for 30 days in a warehouse, to allow the owner to claim them.>>

<<Fuller is the same attorney who placed GPS tracking devices on items at homeless camps that were later confiscated by Rapid Response and traced to the dump, meaning none of the items were stored, as required by the city’s contract. >>


<<A Multnomah County audit of the Joint Office of Homeless Services, a joint venture between the county and the city of Portland, rattles off a list of alarming deficiencies.

Among the most damning findings by County Auditor Jennifer McGuirk: The office sometimes pays providers months late; it asks them to work before contracts are in place; it adjusts performance measures if providers cannot meet original goals; and it could not produce simple data on how many people it’s housed—even to the county auditor herself.>>

<<McGuirk also reported a remarkably high turnover rate among staff (250 have left in recent years) and wrote that because the office could not furnish her with basic placement stats even after “months of trying”, she “decided we would best serve the public interest by not waiting any longer on data requests” and instead issue two reports. The next report, McGuirk says, will be on “data reliability.”>>


<<A Multnomah County audit of the city-county homeless services office found that the agency failed to pay providers on time and asked them to work before their contracts were finalized, suffered from a lack of organization and accountability and was unable to provide data on the number of people it had housed.

Homeless service providers told auditors that the agency had been a “confusing and chaotic organization,” according to the audit released Wednesday.

Among other damning findings, the audit, led by County Auditor Jennifer McGuirk, found that joint office staff adjusted performance metrics when nonprofits were not able to meet the initial targets and failed to review equity plans submitted by providers.

McGuirk initiated the audit due to concerns that the homeless services office was not correctly reporting how many people were placed and stayed in housing. When McGuirk first sought to evaluate the effectiveness of the agency in 2021, her office found that it may have been inflating its housing numbers.

As staff from the auditor’s office conducted interviews with providers to learn more about that issue, however, more red flags surfaced, prompting the auditor’s office to expand the scope of its inquiry.

Wednesday’s audit report did not address the reliability of the agency’s data because McGuirk said the office was unable to provide her with clear information on how many people it had housed. She said she decided to move forward with publishing the audit after “months of trying” to obtain that data. She plans to issue another report later on data reliability.>>

<<The audit comes on the heels of news that the office failed to spend its $255 million budget last year, which was largely plumped up by regional government Metro’s new homeless services tax. As a result of that underspending, Metro is in the process of putting Multnomah County on a corrective plan.

The audit found that many of the agency’s issues were exacerbated by changes in oversight, leadership and a high staff turnover rate. Since 2019, the office has hired more than 300 people, but has also seen more than 250 depart.>>

<<Nonprofit staff also voiced disappointment over how they are paid for the services they provide to the community.

In some instances, the audit said, providers were “paid months late and it impacted their ability to provide critical services.” Most contract terms say the joint office should pay providers within 10 days. One provider said it typically took one to two months after they started work for them to even receive their contracts.>>

<<Vega Pederson said changes are already underway to address those issues and currently 80% of all invoices are paid within 10 days.>>

<<Despite continued asks from nonprofits to provide contracts that allow workers to make living wages, workers said they still struggle to meet their own housing costs.

“(The agency) does not even fund positions fully,” one provider told auditors. “We still cannot provide a living wage in the city” to allow workers to afford a one-bedroom apartment. This impacts nonprofits’ efforts to attract and retain diverse staff – and at times, it even puts workers at risk of being housing unstable, the audit said.>>


<<At a critical time in working to remedy homelessness, a new audit of the Joint Office of Homeless Services found the office to be lacking in several areas.

The audit, released on Wednesday, used interviews with staff as well as a survey to analyze the state of the office.

According to the audit, staff shared the troubles of dealing with public criticism, including one employee who said they didn’t tell people where they worked because of the criticism.

Troubles also came from outside the office, with the audit highlighting that homeless service providers viewed the Joint Office of Homeless Services as a “confusing and chaotic organization.”

“Having a vision for how these different systems that are serving different populations of people are going to work together, and having a vision for how we will get out of this crisis,” said Jennifer McGuirk, the Multnomah County auditor.

The major troubles came down to a lack of communication and timeliness when working with the Joint Office, which included not paying providers on time, not completing contracts on time and the fact that less than half of homeless service providers thought the Joint Office was doing a good job communicating policies and goals.

Chair Jessica Vega Pederson said she has created quarterly meetings with all service providers to streamline communication and solve these issues. Some of the organizations meet more often with Joint Office staff.

“That’s the whole point of having the Joint Office of Homeless Services,” she said. “That’s the goal that we’re working for is how we can make that happen more efficiently knowing we are still following certain guidelines from the federal government.”

The chair is also hopeful that new leadership, like having permanent Director Dan Field, can help organize an office that hadn’t had a permanent director. She said it is about trying to focus more on contract administration.>>

In response to the audit’s findings, a number of recommendations were made in hopes of improving the Joint Office:

    Joint Office management should schedule regular communication among homeless service systems.

    To improve timely payments to providers, staff should adjust their process so that they review payments in question, but do not prevent the rest of the invoice from being – processed.

    Joint Office management should hire a contract management specialist to oversee the process.

    Joint Office management should modify the Program Specialist role so that this conflict of interest is eliminated.

    To ensure fairness among providers, Joint Office management should create criteria that must be met in order to change performance measures.

    Joint Office executive management needs to communicate their strategic vision.

    Joint Office management should ensure they send regular communications to service providers to address policies and goals.

    Joint Office management should ensure that Joint Office staff are trained on how to review equity plans and should review equity plans submitted by providers.>>


<<Almost exactly a year ago, Mayor Ted Wheeler issued an emergency order banning street camping along the city’s most commonly used routes to public and private elementary and middle schools.

A year later, the order remains in effect. But complaints about tent and RV campsites mushrooming around the edges of school properties and adjacent side streets are still flooding in, even as schools around the city prepare to reopen next week.

In the past two weeks, parents from Cleveland High School in Southeast Portland have been raising an especially loud ruckus over the encampments that sprung up over the summer, including along busy Powell Boulevard. Tents and RVs are sprinkled along the edges of a parking lot reserved for teachers and another cluster of tents sits along the path students take to reach the school’s track which sits half a mile from the main campus.

City maps show that numerous other public schools have either had nearby campsites cleared in recent weeks or the city has posted notices that a sweep is imminent, including near Lincoln High School and Vestal, Kelly, James John and Beach elementaries in the Portland Public Schools district, Menlo Park and Gilbert Park elementaries in the David Douglas district and Powell Butte Elementary in the Centennial district.

Parents in affected neighborhoods say it is the most frustrating of crusades — sometimes their repeated complaints get lost under the crush of reported campsites, or sometimes the city will take action, only to have campsites pop up again in a matter of days or weeks.

“There are a lot of people involved — at PPS, at the city — but no one communicates with one another about the grand plan,” said Cosette Posko, who has children at Cleveland and at Hosford Middle School. “Nothing is happening, nothing is being enforced, and I don’t know who the enforcers are supposed to be.”

Homeless residents, meanwhile, say they are exhausted by the constant uncertainty and unhappy with the shelter options they are supposed to be offered in exchange for moving. Advocates for the unhoused have said people may have their personal possessions lost or damaged during sweeps and might lose contact with a caseworker when they change locations.

There are about 6,300 people experiencing houselessness in Multnomah County, according to a 2023 count, a 20% increase from last year.

“They know (a sweep) is coming,” a man who asked to be identified only as Tony said Tuesday, gesturing at a cluster of about 25 tents and RVs that lined Southeast Waverleigh Boulevard, where a jumble of belongings, trash and bike parts was spilling into the street. The street is a regular route for Cleveland students cutting between their school and the track. “It’s just really confusing to know where to go next. I feel for the people who have houses here and for the ones who don’t.”

Tony, who said he is currently staying at the Walnut Park shelter in Northeast Portland run by nonprofit Transition Projects, sympathizes with his friends on Waverleigh who don’t want to move to a similar spot: “Not many people feel safe inside, and the rules are so strict, it’s insulting. There’s a 10 p.m. curfew, you can’t have friends over, you can only go out for a smoke once an hour.”>>

<<Those who have been living along Waverleigh don’t want to be near a school and “upset people,” Tony said, adding that he wouldn’t want his own grandchildren to have to navigate their way past the encampment on the way to their school. “With all the empty buildings in Portland, there should be more places for people to live,” he said.>>


<<In August 2022, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler prohibited homeless camping on streets that K-12 students use to walk to school>>

<< The mayor’s office told KGW that so far this August, 303 homeless campsites have been removed in Portland. The homeless people at the one near Cleveland High School have until Monday to clear out again.

“Oh, I’m used to it. I’m not surprised, you know, it’s just how it is,” said Steve, who just set up his tent there two days ago.

City outreach crews offered them shelter Wednesday morning, they said — sort of.

“‘Who wants shelter?!’ ‘I do! I do I do!’ ‘Oh well, there’s waitlists.’

So, I said, ‘Hey guys what do I do?’ And they said, ‘Well you get ahold of one of us.’ I said, ‘But you’re right there! Like, I’ll go now,'” Record recalled. She said she hasn’t heard back since.

“I don’t know if they’ll come back, but see, there’s no direct path, there’s no process,” she said.

KGW was told that Mayor Ted Wheeler recently met with Cleveland High School’s principal to talk about the camp, and the city’s Impact Reduction team meets monthly with Portland Public Schools about similar issues.

“Up and down this street, kids are walking to the high school, to the fields, parking their cars in this area, and it’s really gotten to the point where it’s become unsafe,” said Derek Ranta, who has three kids at Cleveland High. He’s reported the camp to the city all summer long.>>



<<Portland police are searching for a suspect in an alleged racist attack on a southwest Portland business owner and his family.

On Aug. 21 at 2:47 p.m., an officer responded to reports of an assault near Southwest Second Avenue. Tommy Ly told officers that an altercation with a “biker” took place, according to the Portland Police Bureau.

Ly is used to protecting his business, Stumptown Otaku in downtown Portland, known for selling artwork, collectable plush and action figures.

“All of our employees carry a canister of pepper spray just in case,” Ly said.

He says that often, people try to steal from the pop culture shop, “Campers here, we got trash, we got feces all around the street. It’s driving away customers, it’s driving away tourists and it puts me and my staff at risk.”

But the Navy veteran said, Monday afternoon was something different and his family was the target of a hate crime.

“We were just crossing the cross walk when this bike came barreling down and almost hit my mom.”

It happened at the intersection of 2nd Avenue and Pine, right across from Stumptown Otaku. Where he says, he told the man to watch out and that’s when the situation escalated.

“He turned back around and just started yelling racial slurs at us… stuff I don’t really want to repeat anymore,” Ly said.

He said the man went a step further, throwing a burning cigarette at his mom and a punch at him. That’s when Ly tried to get his elderly parents to safety, “I told my parents come on, come on, let’s go, let’s just go.”

Ly says, he warned the man that he was armed with mace, but that didn’t stop the biker from coming back.

“He just biked back around, got close to my mom and spit in her face and at that point I just lost it, and just grabbed my mace and emptied the whole can straight into his face and then he just biked off.”

He described him as a white man that’s about 30-years-old with a nose piercing.

“Asian hate crimes are still a very real thing despite what some people think,” said Ly.>>



<<Portland Bureau of Transportation plans to spend millions to beef up security at the city’s four downtown parking garages.

The garages are currently relying on a temporary contractor, says PBOT spokesman Dylan Rivera, and the results have been less than encouraging.

“We want to provide better security than we’ve been seeing in recent months,” Rivera tells WW.

There’s been “a surge in crime and public drug use in SmartPark garages,” according to an item on the Aug. 23 council agenda. That agenda item was abruptly pulled today, but Rivera tells WW that the bureau still intends to increase the number of security guards per shift from four to 14, although he’s not sure if that many will ultimately be needed.

PBOT’s current contractor has been unable to fill all the shifts, so the bureau was hoping to spend additional money to hire more guards. With the request to the City Council tabled, it’s not clear where the funding will come from.

The new spending comes as PBOT struggles to fill its downtown garages in the wake of the pandemic, and a decline in parking revenue has butchered its budget.>>



<<Portland, at least according to one new measure, is the coolest city in North America.

Beltway Insider looked at “a range of factors, from the number of microbreweries to the rate of record stores” to discover “the ‘coolest’ cities.”

Portland was awarded the top spot because the city is “home to a whopping 110 record stores, 188 microbreweries – 35% [more] than next placed Seattle (139) – and 301 tattoo studios, behind only New York City (388).”>>

<<The Pacific Northwest was well-represented on the Beltway Insider list of coolest and trendiest cities.

Seattle made the list at No. 4. Portland’s neighbor to the north, Vancouver, is the No. 15 coolest city on the ranking. Vancouver, B.C., took the No. 10 spot.>>


[KW NOTE: Does anyone think a publication called “Beltway Insider” really knows what or where is cool?]