PORTLAND, Ore. — Multnomah County leaders say their “dated” system of relying on one provider to offer services to homeless and runaway teens needs to change.
Next year, they plan to figure out how they’ll do it.
“The system will be stronger if we have more options,” said communications director Julie Sullivan-Springhetti.
The changes come after multiple reports from Willamette Week, highlighting repeated recent closures of a supposedly 24/7 reception center for runaway teens.
The center is operated by a group called “Harry’s Mother."
Willamette Week reported this week a similar closure last year left a teenage girl without a place to go at night. She reportedly slept under a bridge, where she was sexually assaulted.
Dennis Morrow, executive director of Janus Youth, which runs Harry’s Mother, said Thursday he hasn’t been able to find any official record of the assault.
He wishes the closures had never happened.
“We did what we felt was the most responsible way to manage a situation we had never faced before,” Morrow said inside his Northeast Portland office.
Morrow confirmed to KGW Thursday the reception center was closed 11 times since mid-August 2018.
He blames the unexpected departure of a handful of employees, which stretched an already bare-bones staff even further.
He said the county’s current contract of more than $900,000, which requires drop-in services be provided 24/7, served as a depletion in funds supplied under the previous agreement.
County leaders could not confirm that.
The Harry’s Mother staff used to be twice its current size, Morrow said. Directors at Janus Youth planned for closures to give the few staffers they had left a break.
“It was an accumulation of the lower staffing ratio, the people leaving, but also the criminal records check and the job market about how long it takes to find somebody who really wants to do this work,” Morrow said. “Going forward, it can’t happen again, and it won’t.”
“This is not acceptable,” Sullivan-Springhetti said Thursday.
She said county leaders learned of initial closures in September. They sent a letter to Janus Youth two months later, when they realized more had been planned. The letter stated any further closures would serve as a breach of the county’s contract.
“The county is most concerned about people who need help the most. And there's almost no one more vulnerable than a young person in the middle of the night, by themselves, in the cold,” Sullivan-Springhetti said.
Morrow said the center’s last closure happened on Nov. 17. He said staffing levels are back up to their current standard levels.