BACK IN FEBRUARY, the city's lawyers stood up in open court and copped to the troubling truth surrounding one of the most-hyped pieces of Portland's police reform deal with the feds.
Plans to work with other governments and health care providers to build a new "drop-off center" for people in crisis were never more than "aspirational"—and might not ever come together ["An Empty Mandate," News, Feb 19].
And for months, sources say, that reality was reflected in the words and deeds of Mayor Charlie Hales' office. Hales, sources say, kept the city's wallet clamped shut—even after hearing from mental health advocates on the shape of a proposed facility and meeting again, this spring, with representatives from hospitals and the state and Multnomah County health departments.
But now? Something seems to have changed.
In comments first reported by the Mercury, Hales finally promised he'd invest city money in a mental health facility—albeit with some conditions.
First, Hales said he'd seek city funding only if other governments and agencies come forward with substantial investments of their own. And, second, Hales' office clarified that he's interested only in paying for a drop-off center.
"I'm not going to be cheap about things," Hales told the Mercury.
Hales' comments were somewhat off the cuff, coming during a break in a recent Portland City Council meeting. But his office stood by Hales' words after the Mercury wrote them up on Blogtown—even sending out an announcement the next day on social media. Later, his office confirmed he hadn't yet told other governments what he was thinking.
"No, the mayor had not previously discussed contributing money toward a mental health facility," his office wrote in response to questions sent Friday, November 14.
So far, sources close to the discussions are unsure what Hales' proclamation might mean—and most were either troubled or flummoxed they didn't hear about it from Hales or his staffers first.
Talks, so far, have focused on plans for a larger mental health facility pitched by Legacy Health. But those talks, under the auspices of an effort called the "Psychiatric Emergency Services Project," are still extremely "exploratory," says Brian Terrett, a Legacy spokesperson.
Legacy has sent staffers down to California's Alameda County to study a facility that melds emergency care for people in crisis with ongoing treatment. It's hoping to replicate something similar in a building it owns near Holladay Park—in space soon to be vacated by the Oregon State Hospital.
It's unclear what that kind of facility might cost. Or even whether it would include the police drop-off element Hales is offering to build.
"Talking about it in those terms is premature," Terrett says. "The Alameda model isn't based on police dropping people off."
That could be a deal-breaker. Hales' office was remarkably specific that city money would only go toward "capital costs related to construction of the buildout of a drop-off center."
And Hales has personally maintained he's not interested in spending cash on anything else.
"We're not in the business of providing mental health or medical services," he says. "There are others who are."