Downtown Portland Homeless Resource Center Temporarily Closing

The non-profit organization that runs the drop-in center cited the need to train staff on overdoses, administer Narcan and know when to call for help.

PORTLAND, Ore. — From the outside, a building at the corner of Southwest Park and Oak Street in downtown Portland fits right in, but it’s a new lifeline for those who sleep on the sidewalks.

“It’s actually extremely helpful even to go there for about an hour just to get out of the cold,” said Dean, who said he’s been homeless for about five months.

Dean has visited the Multnomah County Behavioral Health Resource Center about three times since it opened in December. He was pushing his cart full of supplies, including a tent and tarp, on his way to the center on Wednesday to find it would be closed until April 17.

“It’s sad there’s nothing like it here anymore,” he said. “I was on my way to use the facilities.”

“That kind of, like, shocked me. I was like, ‘Aw’…I came here to meet people, maybe try to sign me up for a shower or something,” added another homeless man named Zach, he sleeps around the corner and has come to rely on the center.

Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson said the nonprofit that runs the site, the Mental Health and Addiction Association of Oregon, has decided to shut it down for more staff training time — in especially for things like responding to overdoses, administering Narcan, and knowing when to call for help. There have also been issues with site security.

“It’s a learning as we go (situation) – I don’t think this will be the last time we need to do any further training, hopefully this will be the last time we need to close the doors to do so, but we want to make sure we’re continually improving,” Vega Pederson said.

When asked why staff hadn’t received this kind of training before the center opened, Vega Pederson didn’t have a clear answer.

“Yeah, I think that’s a really good question…again, when you’re doing something new, you don’t know exactly what to expect,” she said.

A spokesperson for the County Chairman added in a statement:

“Now is the time to fill these gaps – before the county adds shelter and transitional housing that will add 53 residents to the current day center program later this spring. There are not enough staff of contracted program available to continue serving participants and deliver 90 hours of training before opening new parts of the program, so we agreed with the contractor that the quickest way to resolve the shortfalls was to temporarily close. It’s a short-term loss for the long-term good of the program.

“Training staff are immersing themselves in standard operating procedures, code of conduct, being a peer support specialist, providing trauma-informed services, administering NARCAN, using a tool for accountability, ethics, knowing when to call law enforcement and public safety partners, etc. We want and need this program to be as safe and robust as possible.

RELATED: Multnomah County finds partner to run shelter at Downtown Behavioral Health Resource Center

Right across from the day center is a small food truck pod. The owners say they have seen an increase in crime and graffiti since the establishment opened.

“They just broke my car window…they tried to break the locks, they’re urinating on the side,” said Neson Salasar, owner of El Naño Parrilladas.

“Companies here are suffering because they are destroying our business, they are giving us no chance of surviving anymore,” Salasar added.

He is now moving his food truck to another part of town.

” I can not support it. I can’t deal with that,” he said.

“We are engaged in conversation with neighbors, building owners and businesses around in terms of impact – as I have said before, we are committed to being a good neighbor,” Vega Pederson said.

The county and its partners are also focused on long-term solutions. After the increased training, they plan to open shelters and transitional housing for about 50 people on the upper floors – something people like Dean have been waiting for.

“If they’re going to offer something or some kind of shelter or housing or something, I’ll jump on it in a heartbeat,” Dean said.

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