Portland homeless village will close after operator says conditions are too dangerous

One employee claimed that he and his wife debated if he should start wearing a bulletproof vest to work and another woman reported being assaulted twice on the same day.

Ari Hoffman Seattle WA

A Portland area homeless village is permanently closing in June, and the non-profit operating the site blamed the decision on "daily and nightly gunfire and gun activity."

News of the homeless village’s closure in the Old Town neighborhood of the city, located at the intersection of Northwest Broadway and Glisan Street, comes a month after a group of workers at the non-profit All Good Northwest which operates the site, sent a letter to the director of the nonprofit, Andy Goebel and other directors, announcing their intent to form a union.

However, a labor organizer told the Willamette Week that he doesn’t believe the union organizing caused the village closure, rather, labor unrest and the closure were a response to dangerous conditions at the village itself.

Conditions were so bad in the area that Multnomah County officials paid a security consultant $8,500 to assess risks at the nearby Gladys McCoy Health Department Headquarters. The McCoy Building at full capacity contains more than 400 county health workers who work at a pharmacy and medical clinics, administrative workers and mental health care and addiction treatment staff.

The streets surrounding the building are regularly lined with tents and the area is frequented by drug addicts, an open air drug market, homeless and those struggling with mental illness. According to the March 15 report, "The density of unsanctioned homeless camping immediately around the McCoy Building represents the most immediate, consistent, and palpable threat to the safety and security of the employees and contractors in the McCoy Building."

Due to an increasing number of violent and threatening incidents at Multnomah County health facilities, including McCoy, health care workers are scared to come to work. According to internal county documents obtained by the Willamette Week, one employee even told county officials, "I live alone; no one would know if I didn’t make it back."

One employee claimed that he and his wife debated if he should start wearing a bulletproof vest to work and a female employee reported being verbally harassed and having objects thrown at her. Another woman reported being assaulted twice on the same day while other employees have been chased down the street by people with weapons. One man even threatened to kill an employee, after accusing him of sleeping with his wife. A manager wrote, "Of my core team, 10 have had orders of protection against others who have been threatening them."

There was even a drive-by shooting in February which specifically targeted the village. A letter sent to All Good Northwest’s leadership dated April 22 and signed by 14 of 35 eligible workers referred to forgotten promises, lack of support and lack of clear protocols despite chaos and violence.

News of the village’s closure throws into doubt the dozen other existing and planned sanctioned homeless villages in the region, as well as confidence in the local services provider, as All Good Northwest has not provided support to manage the challenges.

All Good Northwest was approved by local officials in April to manage a new village in the Multnomah Village neighborhood of Southwest Portland and currently manages the Old Town, BIPOC and Queer Affinity “alternative shelter” villages under a $12 million Joint Office of Homeless Services contract. All Good Northwest’s contract to manage the sites was due to expire in August 2024, but a new contract is expected for the fiscal year beginning in July.

This year’s count of the "unsheltered" living in the city, the first count since 2019, showed a 50 percent increase to 3,057 out of a total 5,228, which includes those living in shelters and transitional housing.

Goebel told the outlet that "The increased safety issues in the area around the Old Town Village just made it untenable for us to continue to provide support services there." He added that some staff "found themselves being first responders to shootings" and were "very concerned about being able to continue on at that site."

Sarah Thompson, organizing program manager at the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees Council 75, which represents nearly 2,000 behavioral health workers in Oregon, told the outlet "It’s hard to say what’s intentional and what’s just incompetence, but it feels like where to house the houseless is a problem nobody wants to solve."


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