Old Town homeless village to close after non-profit operator says conditions are too unsafe

The Old Town homeless village is closing permanently, Multnomah County officials say, after its service provider, All Good Northwest, decided it could not continue to operate the site. The nonprofit’s director, Andy Goebel, attributes his decision to “daily and nightly gunfire and gun activity” in the area.

The dismantling, which officials confirmed after an investigation by WW, also comes a month after a group of All Good NW workers sent a letter to Goebel and other administrators announcing their intention to form a union. A union organizer says he does not believe the union organization caused the closure of the village.

Instead, he says, the labor unrest and closure were a response to dangerous conditions in the village, located at the intersection of Northwest Broadway and Glisan Street.

The village will close in June.

News of the impending closure raises questions about a dozen existing and planned officially recognized homeless villages in the area, as well as a key local service provider.

In April, local authorities approved All Good NW to operate the new Safe Rest Village in the Multnomah Village neighborhood of southwest Portland. The nonprofit currently operates the Old Town, BIPOC and Queer Affinity “alternative shelter” villages under a $12 million contract with the Joint Office of Homeless Services.

Michael Rainey, a labor campaign organizer who works as a case manager in the Old Town village, said 18 of the village’s residents will be moving to the new Multnomah Village VRS, on the site of the Jerome Sears Armory, which would contain 30 sleeping modules. (This village is not yet open.) Some villagers in the Old Town don’t have a place to go yet, he adds.

The closure adds yet another frustration to the city’s slow construction of its planned six villages, as the Sears site will now be mostly occupied by former Old Town villagers when it opens.

People living in homeless villages, whether in the three “alternative” models which include the old town, or the half-dozen new”safe rest villages— are all classified by federal housing officials as “homeless,” such as people residing in tents or vehicles. This year’s countthe first street count since 2019showed a 50% increase in this population, to 3,057 out of a total of 5,228, which includes shelters and transitional housing.

All Good’s services contract to manage these sites was due to expire in August 2024, but a new contract is expected for the fiscal year beginning in July, said Denis Thériault, spokesperson for the joint city-county office. , which grants the funds. Neither Theriault nor Goebel provided information on how the cancellation will affect funding or contracts.

WW has already reported on alarming conditions in the Old City. Rainey says All Good NW management has not provided enough support to handle these challenges.

A drive-by shooting in February specifically targeted the village, Rainey says. No one was hurt, he said, but employees asked for training and support, which they didn’t get.

It’s part of a pattern, says Rainey, that began the day he started in November: “The first thing my manager said to me on day one was [that] there was no training,” recalls the film school graduate, who had never worked in social services before. “It was just ‘Get to know the villagers’ and that was it.” He is still awaiting CPR training, he says, and “we are still working to have enough Narcan on site to save lives if needed. »

A letter sent to All Good NW leaders signed by 14 of the 35 eligible workers and dated April 22 refers to forgotten promises and a lack of support or clear protocols despite the chaos and violence.

Goebel says “nothing there had anything to do with the decision” to leave the Old City.

“The heightened security concerns in the area around the Old Town village have made it impossible for us to continue providing support services there,” he says. Some staff ‘found themselves first responders in shootings’ and were ‘very worried about being able to continue at this site,’ adds Goebel, but the organization will continue to provide services until the final closure and welfare villagers is always a priority.

“We are saddened to have to leave this place,” says Goebel.

The one-block site, framed by Northwest Broadway, Hoyt, 6th and Glisan, is owned by Prosper Portland and is surrounded by Union Station, the old Greyhound bus station, an art college and the new Department of Gladys McCoy Multnomah County Health, worth $94 million. Headquarter.

On Friday evening, the site was quiet, with a few tents on the sidewalk around a barbed wire fence covered in colorful graffiti, twinkling lights atop tiny white Pallet houses. During a visit by this reporter in February 2021, an outdoor drug market and tents lined up on Broadway were chaotic.

Rainey says the Old Town location “was ideal” for its residents because of access to the adjacent Transition Projects day shelter, the nearby Central City Concern Old Town Clinic and other nearby services. Like at the BIPOC and Queer Affinity villages, all founded during the pandemic as temporary”C3POsays Rainey, Old Town residents have struggled to transition from a partially self-contained model to a more managed one. Now “the community is being broken up,” he says, “and it’s very dramatic for people who have experienced homelessness to find they’re losing the home they thought they had for two years. . »

As reported by the North West Labor Press, votes will be counted on June 2 for a organizing effort at All Good NW; ballots are in the mail. Although Goebel and Rainey agree that the union campaign did not cause the closure of the village, it seems to reflect the same concerns.

The organization could have voluntarily recognized the potential union, but chose to fight it, Rainey says.

Goebel declined to comment on the union campaign without consulting the association’s legal staff.

Sarah Thompson, organizing program manager for the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees Council 75, which represents nearly 2,000 behavioral health workers in Oregon, says former public sector union jobs are “outsourced to less regulated agencies”. attach a lower bar for the safety of workers and residents.

“It’s hard to tell what’s intentional and what’s just incompetence,” Thompson said. WW“but it seems like where to house the homeless is a problem no one wants to solve.”

Yet Rainey still believes in the homeless village model, something this town has grudgingly led the nation on since the Dignity Village shopping cart parades two decades ago.

While some have criticized them for lacking plumbing or hard-wired electricity, Rainey says, “We have electricity and we have bathrooms. They don’t always work. But the thing is, I sincerely believe that this type of shelter could be very effective. The reason I’m getting organized and not just quitting is because I believe All Good can really do good for the city. It’s just that we’re held back by management.

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