The day-access center designated by the City of Portland in August as a safe haven for those pushed off the streets by its new sit-lie ordinance has been struggling with a burgeoning drug problem.
Over recent weeks, used needles have been found sporadically in the Julia West House's bathrooms on SW 13th and Alder—along with blood—and meth addicts and dealers have been showing up in droves, according to the center's interim supervisor, Pastor Tom Nolen.
"It's true that the tweakers have found Julia West and are once again using our regular guests as camouflage," says Nolen.
Fights have broken out inside the center as a result, with one volunteer reportedly being slugged by a service user. Now, the center has imposed a capacity limit of 75 people with the aim of reducing overcrowding and stress inside. Nevertheless, Nolen feels clients inside the center are safe.
"There's increased drug activity all over town," says Marvin Mitchell, who is in charge of the center. "Not just at the Julia West House. Let's remember, at the beginning this was supposed to be one of three or four centers the city imagined. My question is what are we doing about the other centers?"
The other centers are the responsibility of the mayor's Street Access for Everyone (SAFE) committee, co-chaired by vice president of downtown services for the Portland Business Alliance, Mike Kuykendall—who admits making little progress.
"We are working to identify a second shelter that could open in the morning hours to help alleviate the demands on the Julia West House until the permanent day-access shelter is open," he says.
The SAFE committee recently gave the Julia West House an extra $25,200 to cover the cost of high demand.
"It's disturbing that the solution is more homeless day-access centers," says Street Roots Director Israel Bayer. "We should be talking human rights, harm reduction, and housing, not whatever flavor of the day to get poor people out of sight and out of mind."