Monique Monroe needed to sleep.
A relief coordinator for a Portland youth shelter called Harry's Mother, Monroe filled in when full-time employees called in sick. In April 2017, she was filling in a lot: She says she worked a 20-hour shift over two days because her supervisor couldn't find enough workers to staff the reception desk.
Harry's Mother serves as a drop-in shelter for teenagers who need to be connected to social services in Multnomah County. Its contract requires it to be open around the clock as a last resort for the most vulnerable kids in Portland.
That night in 2017, Monroe says, she told her boss she needed to go home and rest. The shelter shuttered for the night. And the next day, Monroe says, Harry's Mother staff talked to a teenager who had tried to get in but found the door locked. The teen reported sleeping under a bridge and being sexually assaulted that night.
"I feel responsible for not staying," Monroe says. "It's so screwed up. And then my supervisor is just like, 'Well, what can you do?' I don't know, maybe maintain the program we are meant to maintain?"
The incident, which has never been previously reported, should have been the first indication to Multnomah County officials that vulnerable teenagers could be harmed because Harry's Mother didn't fulfill its obligation to stay open.
Instead, the county ignored it.
One of Monroe's co-workers told Multnomah County this May the teenager was sexually assaulted because the shelter wasn't keeping its doors open. Yet the county allowed Harry's Mother—and its operator, Janus Youth Programs—to continue providing services.
It took no disciplinary action until October, when WW reported the shelter had closed its doors eight times in two months. The county then announced it would seek a new contractor in 2019. Harry's Mother closed eight more times since then.
Janus Youth Programs continues to operate Harry's Mother under the same one-year, $942,088 contract.
Commissioner Sharon Meieran, who was the first county official to learn in May about the assault, says she should have done more.
She says part of the reason Multnomah County hasn't revoked the second contract is because it does not know who would replace Janus.
"One of the big issues is, there's not someone else out there, another organization, that can provide these services," Meieran says. "At what point do you pull the contract, recognizing that means this program will totally close?"
Janus Youth Programs executive director Dennis Morrow declined to discuss specifics of the alleged incident. A county spokesman says Janus now gets weekly performance reviews by the county.
The troubles renew doubts about Multnomah County's ability to monitor its social service contractors. One of the county's largest expenses in its $2 billion budget is contracting with social service nonprofits that do everything from pick up hypodermic needles to provide housing for the mentally ill.
But the county has repeatedly struggled to ensure those services are actually provided.
Ten years ago, the county ignored warnings as Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare ran its mental health services into the ground. In 2016, the county placed Impact NW, one of its largest nonprofit contractors, on a financial wellness plan. Eight months later, the organization was still in the red. The county has also given repeated do-overs to the Urban League of Portland, which has missed a hard deadline for a contract proposal and in 2011 was examined by the county for unexplained spending.
Jennifer McGuirk, elected this month as the next Multnomah County auditor, says past audits have shown a need for better governance of social service contracts.
"If we're finding out that a contractor is not performing, we need to find out what else we can do to get those services performed elsewhere as soon as possible," she says.
Janus Youth Programs is a Portland-based nonprofit with a $12 million annual budget. It uses that money to run more than a dozen programs that serve runaway, sex-trafficked and homeless youth in Oregon and Washington.
But it has also experienced high-profile struggles.
Janus lost its contract to provide services for sex-trafficked children last winter, when WW reported on the unexpected closure of another Janus program, Athena House, a shelter for teenage victims of sex trafficking. Athena House closed because it couldn't stay open 24 hours every day ("City of Lost Children", WW, Dec. 6, 2017).
Staffing shortages and program hiccups at Janus date back at least to 2015, when the Oregon Department of Human Services revoked a $175,000 contract that allowed the nonprofit to run the Multnomah County Child Abuse Hotline on Fridays, Saturdays and most holidays, according to an email obtained by WW.
"As you can imagine, this is not good news for Harry's Mother," wrote Janus director Morrow.
The lost contract made it more difficult for Janus to pay Harry's Mother staff. Monroe and a former co-worker at Janus, Alan Smith, say low staffing levels led to poor training and overworked employees failing to properly handle teens voicing thoughts of suicide and asking for medication. They say staff who broke state reporting rules faced little discipline.
"It hurts the community," Smith says. "The services are not operating in the way they are supposed to. Unfortunately, a lot of it has been avoidable but hasn't been avoided. I don't understand why."
Meieran learned of those problems in May, when Smith met with her. He told her about staffing troubles at various Janus shelters, including Harry's Mother.
In her notes from the meeting, which WW obtained through a public records request, Meieran detailed the story of the teen being attacked under a Portland bridge. (Law enforcement officials say they never received a report, from Janus or anyone else, of a sexual assault involving the teen.)
Under a section in her notes titled "Harry's Mother," Meieran summarized the story: "Someone called out sick—supervisor on call wouldn't come in," her notes read. "Youth slept under bridge, assaulted."
And while she later gave the notes to WW, she did not forward those notes or share Smith's concerns with the county's contract officers, because she thought they were already aware of the problems.
"Thinking about it in retrospect, which is 20-20, I would have made sure I closed the loop," Meieran says. "I wish I had discussed it with them then."
Multnomah County says it is reworking the requirements for the contracts Janus currently holds. It will seek new applications to provide those services next year and will implement more rigorous compliance guidelines, Meieran says.
The nonprofit told Multnomah County that Harry's Mother may have to close again Dec. 2. The county sent Janus a letter Nov. 27 telling the nonprofit that the 17th closure would be considered a breach of contract.
"My faith has been deeply challenged," Meieran says. "The burden of proof, which is pretty high at this point, is on [Janus] to demonstrate they can live up to the contract requirements and expectations of the community they serve."
Correction: This story inaccurately described the nature of Multnomah County's dealings with the Urban League of Portland. It has been updated to say that the Urban League missed a single deadline for a contract proposal, not several, and that the county examined the nonprofit in 2011 for unexplained spending.