Since last summer, dozens of employees at Transition Projects Inc., the $20 million Portland nonprofit that runs 10 local homeless shelters, have pushed to expel two board members: Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese and Portland Police Bureau Assistant Chief Jami Resch.
The employees' objections were not personal but rather a reflection of the negative interactions many homeless people and TPI staff have had with police.
TPI executive director George Devendorf says the board took the requests very seriously, brought in an outside consultant, and held a series of meetings with employees, but ultimately decided it "makes more sense to engage with law enforcement than to turn our backs."
The issue is far from over, but Reese, who sat on the board for 13 years, left at the end of December when his term expired.
"It has been a rewarding and meaningful experience to serve as a volunteer member of the Board of Transition Projects since the beginning of 2007," Reese said in a statement. "I appreciate the concerns underlying the demands by some employees who do not want members of law enforcement to serve on the board. However, I believe those concerns are exactly why public safety needs to be engaged and supportive of efforts to provide housing services.
"Creating better outcomes for people living in tenuous circumstances that intersect with neighborhood livability requires service providers and public safety to work together with a shared understanding of roles and responsibilities."
Resch will remain.
A recent letter to the board signed by 110 of TPI's 375 employees says the struggle to oust law enforcement and make other social justice gains will continue.
In addition to removing law enforcement officials from the board, employees want to see a board that reflects the community TPI serves, and they want the organization to stop calling police to shelters for nonviolent offenses. They also want to see the organization exhibit greater cultural competency, practice deescalation techniques, and disavow anything that looks like "warehousing" homeless people to keep them separate from society.
"We are at a pivotal point in history," the employees wrote, "where we must make a choice between remaining complacent in an oppressive institution, or rising up with the Black community in demanding justice."
Devendorf says the board and his management team are fully engaged with addressing employees' concerns in conversations that he says are "absolutely necessary."