Drug Use by Security Contractor at County’s Behavioral Health Center Contributed to Closure

That’s despite Multnomah County officials repeatedly saying no particular incident led to the closure.

SKYWARD: Multnomah County’s Behavioral Health Resource Center on April 2. (Aaron Mesh)

On March 30, Multnomah County temporarily shut down its downtown Behavioral Health Resource Center that offers respite to homeless Portlanders.

The county insisted at the time the closure was prompted by the need for more staff training to deal with clients in mental distress and for building improvements.

But two hours before county officials were slated to hold a press conference about the center’s reopening, the county sent out a statement changing that story. It wrote that a March 29 complaint had alleged contracted employees working at the center had used illicit drugs—what the county referred to as “powder”—on the premises. The complaint also alleged staffers from three contracted organizations had engaged in “inappropriate relationships” with one another.

Those contractors were DPI Security, Mental Health & Addiction Association of Oregon, and janitorial company Northwest Success.

“Late in the evening on March 29, a Health Department manager received a complaint raising several issues at the Center, including that staff from each of the three contractors was involved in inappropriate relationships with other staff,” the county said in its statement today. “The complaint also indicated that contracted staff—without indicating which contractor—may have used ‘powder’—an illicit drug—on site.”

The county says DPI Security informed county officials April 7 that one of its security guards admitted to using cannabis and cocaine at the center, though not in the presence of clients.

“Due to the allegations of inappropriate relations and the admission of drug use at the site, the county directed DPI Security to replace all its staff at the center,” the county said in its statement. “After the contractor said it did not have enough available staff to do that, the county replaced DPI staff with Northwest Enforcement Inc., which will provide security going forward.”

The day after county officials received the complaint the center was closed. When WW first broke the news of the center’s closure in April, it pressed the county on whether any precipitating events had led to the closure.

The county said no incident had harmed a client.

“We realized there were some programmatic and infrastructure needs that needed to be addressed and this is the time to do it. We’re not aware that any individual client’s experience is driving this decision,” said county spokeswoman Julie Sullivan-Springhetti.

When pressed again, Sullivan-Springhetti said: “We have incidents every day including overdoses, overdose correction, and behavioral health incidents—as we try to serve people in our community with the greatest needs. But we don’t have any one incident of a client being harmed that prompted the closing.”

At no point did the county mention suspected inappropriate behavior or drug use by contractors.

Earlier this month, WW requested emails between the center’s contracted operator, MHAAO, and the county in the two weeks leading up to the closure. The county said today it would release those records shortly. The records’ impending release comes right as the county announced in its statement that potential inappropriate behavior by contractors contributed to the closure.

The county says that during the closure staff underwent 90 hours of training and additional security cameras were installed. The county is also installing motion sensor technology that it says will “prevent potentially fatal overdoses in restrooms and showers.”

Capacity at the center will also be drastically lowered. Only 25 people will now be allowed in the center at any one time. That’s a steep drop from the 100 allowed inside before the closure. Meanwhile, 3,057 people are unsheltered across the county on any given night.

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