What was promised: Harry's Mother, a Northeast Portland emergency shelter and crisis intervention center, says it offers a safe haven for at-risk teenagers at any hour every day of the year.
On July 1, the nonprofit Janus Youth Programs signed a contract providing up to $942,088 from Multnomah County to provide "runaway youth services," including Harry's Mother, until June 30, 2019. The contract says Harry's Mother will provide services "twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week."
What happened: On eight evenings in August and September, teenagers seeking shelter at Harry's Mother would have found a locked door. A list Janus provided to Multnomah County officials says the reception center at Harry's Mother was closed from 8 pm to 8 am on Aug. 18 and 26, Sept. 12, and every Saturday night last month.
Janus plans to close the reception center at least six more times in October.
Janus leaders deny the program ever fully closed, because it kept a 24-hour crisis hotline running even when it locked the drop-in shelter and reception center doors. But county officials say the doors were locked, and therefore Janus didn't live up to its contract. (Janus declined to confirm or deny whether the doors were locked.)
"Kids probably did come and find the doors locked," says Rose Bak, co-director of Multnomah County's Youth and Family Services Division. "We don't know the potential harm that came from that. I don't think youth would come to a closed door and call the hotline."
Why it matters: The closures are not the first time Janus has run afoul of county requirements in its contracts to provide services to at-risk children. Last November, the nonprofit quietly closed a program called Athena House for teenagers who have escaped sex trafficking, evicting three teens who had to find new places to sleep.
Athena House closed after two managers went on indefinite leave and five staffers quit in unison. Harry's Mother has been enduring similar challenges after three staffers recently quit and a fourth took family medical leave.
What the county says: Janus did not inform Multnomah County officials that it had intermittently closed the program—that lack of notification is a breach of the nonprofit's contract. County officials did not know Harry's Mother had been closed until WW reached out to ask why the doors had been locked.
"They said, 'Oh, we didn't realize we had to tell you,'" Bak says, describing a meeting with Janus officials on Sept. 29 where she asked why the nonprofit had not made the county aware of the closures. "We pointed out it was in the contract that they're required to tell us. They said they didn't remember."
The county says it will seek other nonprofits to bid for the next contract in January. "We need providers to meet the terms of their contract and be available to those most in need," County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson tells WW. "This is true when it comes to the services we provide runaway youth just as it is with survivors of sex trafficking."