portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary portland metro

homelessness | human & civil rights


the homeless shelters in portland are a business. but whose business comes first?
For six years before I left to run for Sheriff of Multnomah County, I worked with homeless men, as the de-facto day to day manager of a homeless men's shelter in Portland. From this position I had an opportunity to observe the other major players in the local homeless business. And believe me, it is a business. Unfortunately, over the years I came to realize that neither the nomeless population they serve nor the tax payers that foot the bills are top priority of these agencies. What is priority?


What's wrong with the shelter system in particular and social services in general? let's start at the top...literally.

Social services administrators are grossly over paid. From my observation, neither their produtivity in terms of homeless men still in housing after one year of assistance and support, NOR PROPRIETY...warrants their continuing fat pay checks and benefit packages. The CEO of Goodwill of Oregon has been roundly and justifiably criticized for being paid over 100K, while his handicapped employees take home a mere pittance. "Well, he's worth it," we hear the check writers say.


Transition Projects, known as TPI to those living on the streets, is another fat salary offender. They are the largest single provider of shelter to homeless men,two 91 bed men's shelters and one 55 bed women's shelter. TPI also managed a flea-bag kind of hotel under contract to corrections, where they housed people just out of jail. The building was old and disgusting. It offered bleak and tiny rooms, no hope housing for those that desperately need hope. It recently burned down, and my immediate reaction was "good." It must be replaced with a modern facility in a better neighborhood.


TPI department managers are essentially paper shufflers and couriers carrying mail between TPI facilities. These folks make in the 20 to 25 dollar an hour range. The real miracle workers, most with college degrees, the guys and gals behind the case management desks, busy trying to find housing for sex offenders, arsonists and people whose last job was doing laundry in prison for twenty years, begin at about ten dollars and hour. (I went to college for this?) They stay because they care. The paper shufflers stay for the cash and the extended vacations.

When I worked for the shelter system, I became a union steward with Local 88 AFSCME, a position that made me painfully aware of the chronically aggressive anti-union, position, "sorry we don't have any more money," (for you anyway) attitude of the 100k folks. An attitude not exclusive to TPI.

Central City Concern's employees belong to the same union. Central City Concern, in my opinion, long ago lost sight of their name and should be renamed Central City Not Concerned. The low income housing gurus, operate hotels that don't forgive a dept, have abandoned the population they serve. C.C.C. has become a cuss word to social service case managers, frustrated by C.C.C's unforgiving policy, in serving the population they are supposed to serve.


They help create a revolving door at the shelter. Can't get housing because you still owe CCC money for back rent or cleaning fees? Well, back to the shelter again for perhaps the fourth or fifth or seventh time and the city foots the bill. That is your tax money. CCC needs to go back and read their alleged mission statement. WHAT THEY SAY IS NOT WHAT THEY DO!

Nowthwest Pilot projects is the organization that assists homeless men over 50. There is a genuine compassion at NWPP that is apparent in their work. They care and it shows. Being older presents it's own problems and to be homeless and older is disastrous. There are homeless men in Portland that are in their 70's. Shame on Portland for allowing it and kudos to NWPP for helping this portion of the homeless population. NWPP participated in the guest bed program and houses men in TPI shelters when beds are available. Not enough beds are available!

JOIN is the organization that does the hard work no one else wants to do. They retrieve lost souls sleeping in the back seats of cars, sleeping in cardboard boxes and the bushes. They give what ever assistance necessary to get these people back into society and back to employment and self respect. JOIN DOES THE MENTORING NECESSARY TO RETURN HOPE TO THE HOPELESS! No other local organization does as good a job and their statistics reflect it. If there is one organization that deserves more funding, it is JOIN.

Even if there were suddenly 1000 more rooms to house the homeless, even if there were more shelter beds, even in the upcoming bad weather, there are thise that do not and eill not stay in a shelter. Why?? A resounding "too many rules!"

If you suddenly had no home and were facing living in a shelter, you would find you couldn't take your cat or dog, you couldn't take your kids, you couldn't take your girl or boy firend with you either. And for the next four months you could not stay out without permission after 10pm. No week ends out with out permission and even though you are working a full time job, and saving money for an apartment, not even one beer is permitted after work with out risking losing your shelter bed.

Do you have a permit from the State of Oregon allowing you to use marijuana as medicine for a debilitating medical condition clearly stated in the Oregon law? Sorry, you can't use medical marijuana in the shelter without losing your housing. This is really weird because clients using methadone, synthetic heroin, can slam down their week end take out doses in the shelter. If you need to bring in needles and inject your insulin in the shelter, that is allowed. If you are prescribed oxycodone, or oxycontin,or vicodin, hard addicting narcotics, you can use them in shelter too.

Shelter drug policy requires that Marinol, a synthetic, THC be used instead of natural marijuana recommended by a medical doctor. This is a policy of ignorance and discrimination. It assumes that Marinol is Marijuana. IT IS NOT! That is the ignorance part. Marinol costs up to $3000 a month. If a shelter client could affort to take Marino, they wouldn't be in a shelter. That is the discrimination part. Homeless men and women that qualify for medical marijuana should not be discriminated against and risk loosing their housing because their doctor says marijuana would be proper medicine for them.

Of course I realize federal funding dictates marijuana policy in shelters. Our Orwellian federal government collects a suspicious amount of data on the homeless, with their HMIS (Homeless Management Information System.) It tracks the kind and amount of services and how often these services are accessed. If the shelter does not gather data for the feds, the shelter doesn't get the money. It is the carrot and the stick. A GOVERNMENT DATA BASE ON THE HOMELESS IS JUST WRONG!!

The bottom line is this: Poor and sick homeless people must not be discriminated against because they are too poor to afford the federal government's preferred Marino. But just as importand, why do shelter administrators think they can PRESCRIBE MEDICINE BY EDICT?

Poor and sick homeless people, most with Hepatitis C, qualify under Oregon law for medical marijuana. Shelter policy that says otherwise is beggina a discrimination lawsuit!!

homepage: homepage: http://dondupay.typepad.com

Unconcerned is Right 27.Aug.2006 20:11

Down But Not Out

I'm surprised there haven't been any other comments about this posting. Several months ago, due to circumstances out of my control, I was in desperate need of a place to live and was literally looking at a choice between living in an unfinished basement or on the street.

As a last resort, I went to Central City Concern and they were absolutely unconcerned. The single person at the desk was answering the phone, doing paperwork and trying to deal with the people waiting. Others passed back and forth between offices, unconcerned and seemingly uninterested in helping. Others were enjoying coffee and donuts in a meeting room down the hall. I was told that there were long waiting lists for the terrible rooms in the few single occupancy apartment buildings in Portland. What's more, no animals were allowed. I was told that I could walk down and apply on a day-to-day basis for the nearby shelter or live on the street. If I applied at the shelter I would have to sign all sorts of papers regarding relating to use of drugs, etc. (treating me as though I had a substance abuse problem or other difficulties that I DON'T have). The desk worker produced two badly xeroxed lists of city buildings but told me it wasn't up to date and then circled several, telling me that they were "rough."

The few units left at New Columbia were only for families of six or more and were already spoken for.

In the past, when I worked as a city carrier for the post office, I delivered mail and packages to some of these buildings. "Rough" is a kind word for the terrible conditions in these cesspools.

I was told that I could take my dog to the Oregon Humane Society and that they might be willing to keep her there in exchange for some volunteer labor. That was out of the question for all sorts of reasons, the two main ones being that I don't own a car (and the Humane Society is way out on Columbia Blvd.) and there was no way to work at the job I had AND volunteer free time at the shelter. I wasn't unwilling to consider any alternatives . . . these simply weren't workable alternatives. I tried to place my dog (who I've had for 10 years) but couldn't find a caring home willing to accept an older dog.

I left in worse condition than when I took the precious time to travel over there and appeal for any sort of suggestions or help. I can't imagine how much worse it must be for someone with a family or children with low- or no-income.

The message was clear . . . CCC didn't care and wasn't even willing to refer me to any other resource.

Since that time, I was fortunate enough to find a second job and a reasonable apartment that accepted my pet for a hefty fee. I am managing to keep my head above water and things are slowly improving. However the complex I found has just been sold to developers and I will probably find myself once again desperately looking for affordable low-income housing within the next year.

We're in serious trouble, folks. It seems as though every safety net is being pulled out from under our feet. There are still caring agencies out there, but they seem - increasingly - to be privately operated and not publicly run.

tell em 28.Aug.2006 01:46


I'm somewhat aware of the situation you describe. I used to know somebody who lived in the Stewart Hotel for awhile. My friend couldn't take me up there, but described it to me. It was for people with mental issues. The short story is that it seemed to basically be an unhealthy place, particularly for people who are working on personal health issues.

What you've described is just the tip of the iceberg probably. Another sobering reality that never fails to amaze me has to do with many people that go to jail for various reasons. People with real problems can be turned out on the street with almost nothing, no money, food, place to stay or anything. Somehow, these people are expected to not revert back to the same old thing they were doing to get themselves in despite being left in a completely stressful situation. Obviously, many people can't deal with it, so it's just a repeating cycle, which keeps the whole beauracray sucking up the dollars for the same poor quality service.

I've heard people refer to the idea that services for homeless people is a business. I think it's probably hard to articulate it in a way to make it easy for many people to understand. Most people somehow probably think of this service as something that everybody involved is working very hard to make go away, rather than leeching off it to make money.

Rescue Mission prorfiteering 28.Aug.2006 12:56

Another working stiff

The Portland Rescue Mission is another chain of "profit off the destitute" businesses that has a franchise here in Portland. The directors of each these "Rescue Mission" franchises (they've trademarked the name nationally, so they are the only ones using it) are all making 6 figures. The "programs" they bring the homeless into are all primarily cheap sorces of labor for the Rescue Mission franchise. They get a work force of full time workers for nothing but a cot in a dorm and subsistance level food. They refuse to follow doctors orders of work limitations placed on those that are in their programs that are disabled. Disabled people who refuse to violate their own doctors orders and work a full time schedule at whatever job they are ordered to do are thrown out into the street.

What is St. Vincent De Paul like? 28.Aug.2006 13:23


Does anybody out there have some experiences with them?
Are they a good agency or not?
I would like to hear more about what they do.

Isn't privatization grand? 28.Aug.2006 18:03

Madam Hatter

Thanks Don. I didn't know the homeless had become an "industry" now too, but it doesn't surprise me. Isn't the neocon fantasy of privatizing social services grand?

Take a look at the Sunday job listings sometime and check out the salary ranges for executive directors (of non-profits / social service providers) vs. that of the front-line workers. Just as Don wrote, directors start at anywhere from $60,000-90,000/yr (or more) while the actual people doing the work start at $10-12 (and must have at least a BA many times).

In the O today, in an article about a foster girl, they had statistics -

54% of children were removed from their homes for four or more reasons - the top two being drug and/or alcohol abuse. The others include physical abuse and parental legal problems and/or UNEMPLOYMENT.

Oregon DHS reports that for 33% of all kids removed from their homes - substandard housing was listed as a reason.

This is the FIRST time I've seen parental unemployment (i.e., POVERTY) acknowledged as a reason for removing children from their own homes (though the OR DHS data alluded to it). And since we're now acknowledging that fact, let's hypothesize a little further:

Research has shown - and common sense tells us - poverty is a terrific stressor. People under stress often turn to drugs or drink to escape their miserable existence, and sometimes become overwhelmed (and/or intoxicated) and lose it on their kids (or someone else) or get in trouble with the law. It seems probable that by relieving economic hardship, we will likely reduce drug/alcohol and child abuse, as well as crime. Therefore, if we reduced poverty and need - less children'd go into foster care. Family values!

But we know "family values" is just a nice sounding slogan to "compassionate" conservatives. So let's look at it from a purely economic standpoint. Compare what taxpayers pay to support a child in foster care vs. what taxpayers pay to support that same child in his own home. In Oregon, we pay more per month for one kid in foster care than we pay a whole family of 3 on TANF. DHS says it costs 10 times as much. So much for fiscal responsibility and less intrusive government!

another great reason to support Sisters of the Road Cafe 28.Aug.2006 18:29


The director (and one of the founders) of Sisters of the Road Cafe lives in a small apartment, and she's so dedicated it's amazing. Genny is also a super-nice person. Sisters is a non-profit and can be supported through volunteering and by giving money, food, or other supplies.


I wish I knew more about non-profit shelters (Sisters is an establishment providing meals and support), but it seems that St. Francis Church on the E side does very good work as do many other churches.

Poverty Pimps 29.Aug.2006 10:24

another social worker

Neither the concept nor the term are new.

The Social Service "system" has always been about one group (casemanagers) of people making their livings off another group's (the poor) misery.

Sad that those of us with human compassion and progressive values often find these social work jobs attractive because they sometimes offer a way to earn a modest living (modest unless you are a CEO, that is) and also do some good in the world, or at least do less harm. Sometimes we even think of it as "working within the system".

Some agencies, though (like Sisters of the Road and Bradley Angle's DV programs, to just name a couple) offer something else- and that is a social *change* perspective and a political analysis. The people who are part of these programs learn more about the reasons behind poverty in America and are encouraged to join efforts to make real change happen. Reforming agency and inter-agency protocols, changing local and national laws and system policies at every level. This kind of work is extra exhausting when at the top we have National policies as cruel as the ones G.W. Bush has implemented (cuts in every possible suppport for stable and healthy families: Education, Healthcare, Housing, you name it). The proverbial "running as fast as you can just to stay in (almost) the same place", hardly even begins to describe the scrambling that we are doing.

A lot of the problem has to do with the training that social workers get. The medical model (the patient is ill and must be cured) so often used in mental health and social service systems rarely helps people analyze why the definition of mental "health" is so narrow, or why families have such trouble obtaining basic needs, including a home- even when they live in subsidized housing. Every possible social problem (homelessness, alcoholism) is seen as fault of the "client": they must lack character, or strength of will or they never learned to have a good work ethic. This model has to go!

Social workers who have a more nuanced perspective on social problems (and a memory- one that reaches back to a time when housing, schools, college education grants, and job programs were still seen as a priority) could organize much more effectively and address the urgency of a need for our nation's priorities to change. But I guess those caseloads of 40 people in crisis- or even 200 people- just keep linestaff so busy that they can't see the forest for the trees anymore.

Some branches of social work suggest that to focus on only on helping individual clients is unethical- one must also go after real societal change. We need to organize radical social workers and those who use these same social services into an effective and highly visible campaign for change, both within and outside of the social service industry!!

city hall just passed a children's bill of rights 29.Aug.2006 10:35

yvette maranowski

And they want Portland to realize the ideals of the bill. Homelessness and foster care was identified as problems, and some of the kids who helped write this historic bill have experienced homelessness and the foster care system themselves. The homeless and foster care problems were concerns that the kids cited in their own, authentic, voices.
The realization of this bill is just beginning--it's in the embryonic stage. If anyone has ideas on how to resolve these problems, I am sure that city hall would be happy to listen. I don't know any more details, but I would guess that they will get all the ideas out on the table and then go over them to see which ones will work best. So it's a good idea to contact them ( http://www.portlandonline.com/index.cfm?c=28533) right now about this.

Why Doesn't the City Fund "Transitions" Offices? 30.Aug.2006 16:32

North Portlander

Why can't the city open several "transitions" offices rather than making poor people with little resources spend all day on the phone or walking all over town trying to get the information they need re. shelter, food and family matters?

These offices would be set up to interview people of all kinds and FIRST determine what their needs are. Then they would receive a customized referral with options, instructions about where to apply or to to have their needs addressed.

Such offices should tie into housing possibilities, the nearest accessible food banks, low- or no-cost counseling, ways to apply for electric/gas/water bill discounts, job opportunities, mentoring, journeyman programs, drug assistance, medical or prenatal care, how to apply for the Oregon Health Plan, assistance for educational opportunities including getting the equivalent of a high school diploma or entering a work/study program, etc.

As far as I know, there is no comprehensive, federal/county/state funded basic entry evaluation service like this that facilitates getting people back on their feet and it would be a boon to those who are panicked, confused, may not speak English well, or who do not have the energy or resources to track down the correct places to apply for assistance or direction. Such offices should also treat these people with dignity and not as an annoyance, which is exactly the way I've seen a lot of them operate.

Why don't we have this kind of resource in Portland?

By the way, while waiting for the bus on NW 6th and Everett this morning, I looked into the windows of Central City Concern and once again saw a sign that says the office related to housing moved to Everett about a block away. That office is depressing and useless. As previous poster noted, all they tell you is that there are no openings in the apts and that they are poorly maintained anyway. Now that the main CCC office has moved housing out, exactly what services are those well-dressed folks in the fancy offices, who seem to be sitting in the book-lined conference room laughing and drinking coffee offering at 6th & Everett?

yay another new bureaucracy ! 31.Aug.2006 00:40

let me guess - do i get to be the bureaucrat or the client

> Why can't the city open several "transitions" offices rather than making poor people with little resources spend
> all day on the phone or walking all over town trying to get the information they need re. shelter, food and
> family matters?
> These offices would be set up to interview people of all kinds and FIRST determine what their needs are. Then
> they would receive a customized referral with options, instructions about where to apply or to to have their
> needs addressed.

You can get all the "referrals" you want. I'm sure the lady at the CCC will be happy to refer you to lots of services ... all over the city. You still have to go to all those places to discover whether they'll actually help you or not. "The information you need" can change from one moment to the next. Just because they helped the last guy doesn't mean they'll help you. What they advertise about their services and what they'll actually deliver will be different things.

It doesn't look like what we need is really a whole new bureaucracy with more social workers making middle-class salaries. What we need is that the information given out to poor people about what they're supposed to do should be accurate and helpful. The government is surely already paying more than enough people to "inform" us about our "options."