A downtown Portland drop-in center for people experiencing homelessness abruptly shut its doors Thursday afternoon in order to spend more than two weeks upgrading the facility and training staff.
Multnomah County opened the Behavioral Health Resource Center less than four months ago as a day center where people living unsheltered could warm up, use the bathrooms, wash laundry, take showers and possibly start the process of getting mental health and substance use treatment. It will remain closed until April 17.
The need for those supports was plainly evident Friday, when Portland police responded to 11 overdose calls downtown, including three fatal overdoses in roughly as many hours. Police said nearly all the overdoses involved opioids and they suspected a majority were from fentanyl, the potent synthetic opioid that is sold cheaply on the street. Willamette Week first reported on the drop-in center’s closure earlier Sunday.
Oregon ranks near last in the country for ease of access to mental health services. More than 60% of unsheltered individuals surveyed by the Oregonian/OregonLive in 2021 reported having a behavioral health issue, and the state has the second-highest alcohol and drug addiction rates in the country, yet ranks last for access to treatment, Jefferson Public Radio reported earlier this year.
Julie Sullivan-Springhetti, communications director for the county, said in an email that the closure was necessary to make needed security improvements to the building and conduct staff training, which the county did not identify until after the center opened in December. “We realized there were some programmatic and infrastructure needs that needed to be addressed and this is the time to do it – before the county adds a shelter and transition housing to the current day center program later this spring,” Sullivan-Springhetti wrote.
Sullivan-Springhetti said that no single incident precipitated the closure of the facility, which already uses security guards according to the Portland Tribune. “There are incidents at the day center every day including overdoses, overdose correction, and behavioral health incidents — as we try to serve people in our community with the greatest needs,” Sullivan-Springhetti said.
People do not have to be sober to use the day center but they are not allowed to consume drugs or alcohol on site, according to the county website.
Sullivan-Springhetti said there are not enough county-contracted staff available “to both continue to serve participants and facilitate 80 hours of training before new parts of the program open. So we agreed with the contractor that the fastest way to resolve gaps was to temporarily close. It’s a short-term loss for the long-term good of the program.”
The nonprofit company Mental Health & Addiction Association of Oregon runs the center for the county. Staff training will include instruction on how to be a peer support specialist, providing trauma-informed services, administering NARCAN, ethics and when to call law enforcement and public safety partners, Sullivan-Springhetti said.
— Hillary Borrud; [email protected]
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