The Brooklyn Action Corps is pleased to welcome a new contributor this week, Eli Nary. Eli will be authoring articles for the BAC website on a variety of topics.
In a March 17th Zoom meeting, the Brooklyn Action Corps (B.A.C.) and the Hosford Abernathy Neighborhood District met with Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office and Urban Alchemy about the city’s plan to turn an industrial parcel of land adjacent to Brooklyn into a city-sanctioned campsite. The camp would be located at 1490 S.E. Gideon Street, in what is colloquially known as the Clinton Triangle. It would be the first of its kind in Portland, with five more sites to follow. Residents submitted questions to B.A.C. Co-Chair John Karabaic about future campsite operations and neighborhood impact. The voluntary site would function similarly to others established by Urban Alchemy, with 100 designated tents and a cap of 150 residents at any time. The site will host a variety of services to residents. There is a proposed camping ban within a 1,000 foot area of the property.
Mayor Wheeler opened his remarks with startling numbers about Portland’s growing houseless community. In a recent study conducted by the Mayor’s office, they estimate over 800 encampments across the city with 95% of outdoor neighbors stating they have never received outreach from the city or its partners on various transitionary services. After accepting their bid for the project, the Mayor’s office has partnered with Urban Alchemy, a non-profit organization founded in San Francisco.
When asked why the money being spent on the Clinton Triangle encampment was not going directly to funding care for mental health and drug addiction, the Mayor said, “We’re not doing a good job of connecting people across those 800 camps to those services.” The city believes that this project will be a necessary “addition to a suite of services.”
The Mayor stressed that these campsites would not be the city’s sole approach to addressing this growing issue, including an ambitious plan to build 20,000 new affordable housing units. Nevertheless, this campsite comes with a hefty price tag. The Mayor’s office cited a city allocation of $4-5 million per campsite for the first three sites, however it is still in the design phase. That includes all of the services to the space, including running water, food, and security with a monthly cost upward of $4,166 per person. The lease for the space is still being negotiated, but the contract is said to be for three years, with no parties interested in renewing after the initial agreement.
Mayor Wheeler added, “It’s not just direct cost. There is a cost to not doing anything, and the cost to the community is currently being born in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Kirkpatrick Tyler is the Chief of Government-Community Affairs for Urban Alchemy. He shared that U.A.’s business model is, “People based, people focused.” Since 2018, the company has grown considerably, partnering with multiple cities in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, as well as Austin, Texas. Per the company’s website, Urban Alchemy currently operates “eight safe sleeping sites” with “436 overnight guests daily.” Portland’s six would nearly double their locations. With most employees being formerly incarcerated, Tyler emphasized the role that U.A. can perform within the community to help transition people off the street.
Tyler stressed the triumphs of Urban Alchemy’s indoor shelter in Austin, Texas. In a story for the Austin Monitor last December, the Downtown Austin Alliance praised U.A. for transforming the area around the shelter. Taking over the shelter was met with trepidation from the city council, according to the Austin Chronicle. 9 of 11 councilors voted in favor of giving the contract to U.A., but the initial contract was amended to allow for more oversight, including quarterly reports. Austin’s contract with Urban Alchemy is reported to be capped at $4.1 million.
However, Urban Alchemy’s sites in California have been dogged by bad press and legal hearings. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in February that an employee of a U.A. site in San Francisco shot a man outside a 7/11 convenience store during his 15-minute break. Across the Bay in Sausalito, the Pacific Sun published an article detailing multiple workplace violations, ranging from cursing at campers, supplying campers with methamphetamine, and sleeping with residents onsite. Per Kirkpatrick Tyler, all the accounts of mismanagement have been “resolved or settled.” He elaborated that these stories are uncommon and are a product of editorializing.
The adults-only Clinton Triangle campsite will not be a safe injection site, and policing will be done internally, without a Portland Police presence. The space is drug and weapon free on a voluntary basis. Tyler says that residents at other sites have adhered to the rules. Additionally, U.A. will store weapons in a locked safe during the resident’s stay onsite. He adds that they have not had issues with extreme drug use or weapons.
When pressed by the B.A.C. on a variety of issues, such as how residents will be impacted, the site’s proximity to idling trains for hours per day, or how the site’s location would impact the city’s Safe Routes to Schools that pass along the border of the encampment; answers and promises were scant.
“[The point] is not to throw up a tent camp,” Mayor Wheeler said. “The point here is to begin… rebuilding the behavioral health and substance use disorder and public health infrastructure that’s currently lacking within the community.”
This week there are two upcoming “Community Conversations” being held on March 21st and March 23rd. Links can be found at the Brooklyn Neighborhood website.