Something fishy at Julia West House?
First Presbyterian Church's "Julia West House" charity receives taxpayer money from the Portland Bureau of Housing to run interim Day Resource Access Center while the permanent facility is under construction. Claims of bad economy aside, why is Julia West House cutting down services that make real differences, and more importantly, why is it losing so many clients?
(Redacted and updated from a memo that has been circulating.)
Who operates the "Julia West House" charity? What are their professional qualifications?
The directors of the Julia West House charity are Marvin Leroy "Marv" Mitchell and Cathy Jean Harris. The former is styled "Executive Director" while the latter is the "Operations Director." [As of September 9, they are "Co-Directors" according to website.] Neither of them has any professional or educational background in social work or psychology [They claim to be civil engineers]. In fact, since its first major overhaul of the Julia West House programs the sole credentialed professional social worker was Ms. Patricia C. Warman, who has a M.S.W. degree from Portland State University and is certified by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Warman was once the Executive Director of the Julia West House, later demoted to the Program Director. Since her resignation in January 2010 the Julia West House has never filled that position, nor advertised that this position was open. Instead, Mitchell and Harris have eliminated most of the full-time employee positions either through attrition or termination since. The place is now staffed almost entirely by several of their favorite homeless men employed part-time at minimum wage, who also seem to serve as the poster boys for their "RestoringTomorrows" ideology. In other words the Julia West House as it stands today has no professional leadership, and no one who works there meets a level of qualifications expected from a social service agency that receives government funding and various foundation grants, and certainly for an agency that contracts with the Portland Bureau of Housing to provide services on behalf of Portland's taxpayers.
What "RestoringTomorrows" is
What is this "RestoringTomorrows" ideology? Recently Mitchell has been circulating a small brochure at several churches in Downtown, Goose Hollow and Northwest Portland areas. The brochure, entitled "Dangerous Compassion: 39 Steps Towards Understanding Urban Poverty, Homelessness & Generosity," is co-authored by Mitchell and Harris and outlines what might be considered the ideological platform for "RestoringTomorrows." Without getting too deep into the ideology, there are a number of things that concern me deeply. First of all, Mitchell and Harris view compassion in a highly negative light. They criticize churches and others who demonstrate genuine compassion, a value guided by traditional faiths, while also denigrate those who attempt to forge solidarity with the marginalized people in search for social justice. What they profess to be practicing through the Julia West House is "generosity." Unlike compassion and social justice, generosity implies a very self-congratulatory, self-centered and self-serving intention. Since what Mitchell and Harris believe that they are doing now is "generous" enough, they also believe by implication that they can cut down on that "generosity" at any moment as they see fit and whenever convenient. Indeed, this attitude reflects throughout the brochure, implying that the clients they serve are manipulators and scammers, and thus they must be ever vigilant or they would be duped by the population they believe to be criminals.
Julia West charity, Portland Police Bureau and County Jail hand in hand
The Julia West House does not conduct case management or intake procedure. Yet it is fairly efficient at keeping files on the majority of its clients. How? One of Harris's long-standing practices is to go through the Multnomah County Jail roster on the website every morning and print out pages of inmates whom she believes to have been clients of the Julia West House, and surreptitiously keep the print-outs in a bookshelf full of thick binders in their office. Never mind the "innocent until proven guilty" principle of the American jurisprudence. The underlying attitude is that they believe that is the most reliable and accurate way of gathering personal information, and that they assume their clients are criminals.
Julia West charity directors promote and lobby for anti-homeless legislations!
In addition, Mitchell and Harris have always been very vocal advocates for local laws that further criminalize, marginalize and disenfranchise the homeless population -- ranging from the no-sit-no-lie ordinances to the funding of the District Attorneys and Police Bureau programs to enforce "livability crimes." Whenever there is a public hearing on such issues they are known to have testified in favor of the anti-homeless and anti-poor proposals. These are exactly the kinds of proposals that have met square oppositions from legitimate advocates for social justice, including The Street Roots, Sisters Of The Road, Soapbox Under The Bridge, and others, even the American Civil Liberties Union. The Julia West approach on this issue seems to be an anomaly. But consider this: Mitchell and Harris have financial interest in the continuation and expansion of any heavy-handed law-and-order programs that will further punish and vanish the homeless people. After all, it was Mitchell who literally jumped onto an opportunity he saw in the modified sit-lie ordinance under former Mayor Tom Potter when the court declared that the previous ordinance was unconstitutional unless the city provided a day access center. Since a construction of such a facility takes years, the city needed a temporary facility. Mitchell has gotten the taxpayer-funded jackpot. So this is not surprising that the Julia West House has seemingly functioned as a de facto front for the police.
"Helping" those who "have no place else to go"?
They also make heavy use of exclusions, although in the face of potential donors and grantmakers they publicly proclaim that the Julia West House is "a place for those who have nowhere else to go." While there are legitimate reasons for some exclusions, most exclusions ranging from 30 days to permanent are given wantonly for arbitrary, unsubstantiated and frivolous reasons such as "disrespect," or something as innocuous as falling asleep or owning more than one cell phones (both of which Mitchell and Harris associate with drug addiction, never bothering to figure out what the clients' stories or circumstances were), or outright punitive for being poor (for example, "inappropriate attire" for not being able to obtain shoes or clothing). They seem to display no respect for their clients by their own actions that speak louder than whatever the propaganda message they send to the public, but surely they demand respect for themselves and themselves alone. Another problem with such uses of exclusions coupled with their near-paranoid attitudes is that many of their clients are mentally impaired and do not understand the meanings of exclusion or remember whether they were excluded and for how long (or that they were excluded because they were inebriated and thus they do not remember whatever that might have transpired "the other day"). So they wander back and the Julia West House management shows no mercy or forgiveness; rather they immediately call the police and such excluded clients are jailed and are left with more criminal records that make it even harder to obtain employment or housing. There are a lot of other things that can do to genuinely help people in a more constructive and restorative way. This approach also costs taxpayers more money. They will rather have the Portland Police Bureau and Multnomah County Jail pick up the tabs and deal with the problems than hiring a qualified counselor or start a program that will truly help people overcome addictions and mental health issues. Generosity, indeed. "Restoring tomorrows" for their clients? Ruining tomorrows and make their lives even harder, condemning them further into a lifetime of poverty and disenfranchisement, is more like it, all while the taxpayers are diverting precious resources from genuine crime-fighting to this.
Is Julia West charity a front for Marv Mitchell's personal for-profit business?
Back to the RestoringTomorrows. In the inside cover of the brochure it reads "The RestoringTomorrows[trademark] model used at Julia West..." At the very bottom of that very page is a statement that this brochure is copyrighted by a cryptic-sounding "Dante Kenney Wood & Nichols, LLC." According to the Oregon corporate records, Dante Kenney Wood & Nichols, LLC was incorporated as a domestic LLC (for-profit) in July 2010 with 522 SW 13th Avenue, Portland, Oregon as the corporate headquarters. 522 SW 13th Avenue is the property owned by First Presbyterian Church and is known as the Julia West House. According to the property records on PortlandMaps.com, this property receives full tax exemption for non-profit use. The state corporate record shows that the owner of Dante Kenney is Marvin Leroy Mitchell, and he is the only person on the record. A search on the Portland Revenue's database shows that Dante Kenney has not filed for City of Portland business license or exemption (thus not "in compliance") although it is located within the city and presumably provide services in Portland. Dante Kenney appears to be a successor to Mitchell's Beaverton-based "Tell Your Story Now, LLC" which was subject to administrative dissolution earlier this year due to his failing to pay the renewal fee. According to the state corporate records, Mitchell and Harris are business partners in Tell Your Story Now, which establishes a dual-role relationship (in their capacity in First Presbyterian Church, Mitchell represents the church's "session" as an elder as well as the president of the church's "Julia West Commission" and is thus responsible for hiring and supervision of Harris as the operations director of the Julia West House) that may raise an ethical matter. In the recently printed brochures for the Julia West House, their email addresses are listed as firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, although Julia West is officially part of First Presbyterian Church and therefore they should be using a @firstpresportland.org address while conducting a First Presbyterian business.
Is Mitchell siphoning public funds and tax-deductible donations to his own coffin using a front company?
The questionable relationship surrounding the Julia West House and Dante Kenney/Tell Your Story Now must be accounted for. Mitchell publicly claims that he draws no salary from First Presbyterian Church, the corporate umbrella for the Julia West House. Yet it is plausible that he, in the name of Dante Kenney or Tell Your Story Now, has been charging the church at inflated prices for various "consultant fees", "license" to use "RestoringTomorrows[trademark] model," or even for "hosting" the Julia West House's outdated website (www.juliawest.org) which is cloaked under www.tellyourstorynow.com's subdirectory. Since it appears that neither Dante Kenney nor Tell Your Story Now has ever had any bona fide commercial activity outside the Julia West House, these corporations may as well be a front for highly unethical and questionable financial transactions. After all, Tell Your Story Now's website has no contents (and Dante Kenney has no website yet), and I have not seen any advertisements or other signs of legitimate business activities anywhere else. This seeming irregularity begs answers to another set of questions: (1) How much of Harris's work hours paid for by First Presbyterian Church (and in turn, by various grants, donations and city subsidies) is used in service of this for-profit business? (2) Does First Presbyterian Church charge rent for Mitchell's use of his office space at the Julia West House, since much of his activities seems to be for the benefit of his commercial business (such as writing and publishing his brochures and books, that are intellectual properties of Dante Kenney and not First Presbyterian Church)? (3) Are the session [the Presbyterian-speak for the parish board of directors] and the pastors of First Presbyterian Church even aware of what is going on?
Uncle Marv's Homeless Empire?
In recent years, Mitchell has been involved with the boards of nearly all charities that purport to serve the homeless population. He was the president of the Northwest Portland Ministries until recently, and was the president of Street Roots. He has also served as a member of the Operation Nightwatch Portland's board of directors, among several others. It almost seemed at one point that Mitchell was trying to build a legacy -- and an empire -- on the back of the homeless people (In his book-promotion website, dangerouscompassion.com, he lists several of charities in which he has had direct involvement as "non-profits worthy of your support." This is all self-serving.). I do not understand his motive but I do not think it is a commendable one. While his propaganda materials on the surface appear to be full of grandiose idealism, he and Harris have done nothing themselves to create opportunities for people to overcome and rise above poverty, or to improve the quality of their lives. The Julia West House, in absence of any professional leadership, has degenerated itself into an austere "hospitality" program for chronic homeless population while providing no substantial help, while its paranoid and punitive corporate culture has made the place under a constant surveillance and very unwelcoming. Indeed, Mitchell and Harris have done such a great job at thoroughly alienating employees, volunteers and clients alike that the place is nearly empty for most of the time, except very early in the morning when no other places are open. The clients deserve better than this. Portland deserves better than this, especially when Mitchell and Harris receive tax dollars from the City of Portland.
Why Julia West charity still hides behind a church
As it stands, the Julia West House remains under the corporate umbrella of First Presbyterian Church. As a religious organization the Julia West House is exempt from much of the financial disclosure requirements typically imposed upon public benefit non-profit corporations under 501(C)(3). Using a phantom for-profit LLC entity as a "consultant" they can also cloak the financial records, since Mitchell can declare the LLC's income as part of his personal income tax return and also write off alleged "business losses."
Secrecy + lack of accountability = corruption!
The overall secrecy, lack of accountability, lack of internal and external communications, lack of transparency and lack of oversight all breed a culture of corruption. It is the unfortunate aspect of human psychology that in a corrupt institutional culture, abuses tend to run rampant especially when it perceives to possess power over the vulnerable population. This is not just about seeming irregularity in financial and corporate technicalities, but is about putting first the best interest of those Mitchell and Harris purport to serve.
The least we the citizens of Portland must know: Where is the money going?
Both the members and session of First Presbyterian and the city and county governments rightfully ought to demand a full, third-party financial audit of the Julia West House, and demand back whatever the church-funded and taxpayer-funded monies that have been illicitly transferred to Dante Kenney Wood & Nichols, LLC, or Tell Your Story Now, LLC, under a questionable pretext.
And finally, all those who have been excluded or denied service by the Julia West House since Mitchell's takeover should be given another chance and be welcomed back; or if that is not feasible, should receive a fair and impartial hearing before First Presbyterian's pastor and a representative from the church session (other than Mitchell), and let them decide on the basis of that hearing. As long as the Julia West House acts on behalf of the Bureau of Housing and receives public funds to operate a temporary day access facility, clients must be treated fairly and be given due process before being denied service or be excluded.
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