Portland opens felon-operated homeless village, neighborhood residents report issues of theft, fights and open drug dealing

Most of our team have served life sentences in prison. They’ve spent 20+ years in a confined environment where their survival depends on their ability to read people in unpredictable situations."

Ari Hoffman Seattle WA
Neighbors are calling out the convicted felon managers of a new Portland homeless village for being the epicenter of crime in the neighborhood.

Only weeks after the city cleared out a massive homeless encampment and opened the new Safe Rest Village, housing 67 people who were formerly living in tents along the Peninsula Crossing Trail, residents told KATU that the situation has not improved.

George Siebert, who has lived in his University Park home for 42 years, told the outlet, "Life is pretty miserable because we live in a kind of anxiety. We are on the edge every time somebody walks by." 

During the interview, next to Siebert’s front steps, “a man on a bicycle rode past, flipped the middle finger, and yelled a profanity.” Siebert said he has seen worse, including drug use on his property, theft of his water, and fighting on the way to or from the Safe Rest Village. "Every time there is a commotion, we jump to the windows. We're looking at our cars to see if they're not getting broken into."

Other neighbors including Chrisanne Boles shared a security video with the outlet showing "known drug dealers" openly selling their on the curb right outside their homes in broad daylight. "They've stolen, I don't know how much stuff out of my yard. They're bold enough now they come up on my porch and steal cigarettes."

Boles added, "The ones that are really homeless and not doing the drugs, I have compassion for them. These ones right here, I have no compassion. They're not trying to help themselves. I've called the cops. The cops don't do nothing, right? What can they do?"

Urban Alchemy, the organization that operates the homeless village is staffed by convicted felons. According to its website, "Most of our team have served life sentences in prison. They’ve spent 20+ years in a confined environment where their survival depends on their ability to read people in unpredictable situations. This teaches them instincts that you can’t learn in a classroom."

The California-based non-profit was awarded a 5-year, $50 million contract in April to operate homeless villages for Portland. In its proposal, Urban Alchemy claimed it is capable of running five of these types of facilities.

The organization claims to have 28 contracts totaling $61 million in four different cities with nine different government agencies.

In March, it was revealed that an employee at Urban Alchemy’s San Francisco branch allegedly shot someone while on a break during a shift outside one of the organization’s homeless shelters in November 2022.

Kirkpatrick Tyler, Urban Alchemy's Chief of Government and Community Affairs told KATU in a statement regarding the problems at the Safe Rest Village: "The Peninsula Crossing Safe Rest Village is providing life-saving housing and services to 68 Portlanders who were suffering on the street just a week ago. Urban Alchemy is proud of the work we have done in collaboration with the City of Portland to bring it online. We are taking immediate steps to add two more practitioners per shift to provide safety and service monitoring and engage the areas surrounding the safe sleep to determine illicit activity."

"Prior to moving into this Safe Rest Village, the residents had all been encamped together along the PCT adjacent to the site. Large encampments aren't just groups of tents – they're highly vulnerable and entrenched communities that can become hubs for unsafe and illegal activity."

"That's why we cleared this encampment, and why it's so critical that we keep moving unhoused Portlanders indoors as quickly and urgently as we can. But moving whole communities inside together is also a highly sensitive and complex process. The site has only been open for a week, and we're confident in the work we're doing to adjust as residents settle into a new space in a safe, supportive community."

Siebert called Urban Alchemy's response "weak" adding, "I wish they would move in here and spend a few nights here to get a picture of it.”

He told KATU that neither the city nor Urban Alchemy has ever reached out to him and didn't include his home, which is just 5 feet away from the facility in the village's site layout.

A spokeswoman for the city told the outlet in a statement, "The City has been speaking with neighbors throughout the week and are aware of their concerns. We are actively working with other bureaus and partners, including Urban Alchemy, to address current and ongoing needs. We have learned a great deal from opening other Safe Rest Villages, yet we know that every site is unique and requires us to adapt our approaches to the local communities. We are confident that this village will provide benefits to people experiencing homelessness and to the surrounding community."

Portland has also suffered massive population loss since 2020. The city lost the sixth-most number of people of any city in the US last year, losing 8,308 people from July 1, 2021, to July 1, 2022, according to Census data. The decline comes after the Rose City saw 15 straight years of growth amid a massive crime wave since the city became the epicenter of the 2020 Black Lives Matter (BLM) riots.

Recently, the city agreed to remove homeless tents and debris from sidewalks after residents sued the city for violating the federal Americans with Disabilities and Rehabilitation Acts and then subsequently banned camping on city streets during daytime hours.

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