The city of Portland said it plans to stick with controversial organization Downtown Portland Clean & Safe to provide beefed-up security and sanitation services downtown.
But the powerful Portland Business Alliance, which operates the property owner-funded program, has agreed to make proposed changes, including outfitting security officers in uniforms that clearly distinguish them from police and adding trained mental health outreach workers, after Clean & Safe drew criticism for its impact on people experiencing homelessness.
The decades-old program has also said it will add a transparent and accessible system for people to register complaints about Clean & Safe workers’ conduct, city and business leaders announced Wednesday.
“The city’s partnership with Downtown Clean & Safe plays an important role in improving the vitality and livability of downtown, and in these difficult times, maintaining this relationship is more important than ever,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said in a statement.
Commissioners Mingus Mapps, Carmen Rubio and Dan Ryan, as well as Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt, have all said they are likely to support renewing the program’s multi-year contract with the city, which is set to go before the City Council next week.
A final version of the proposed contract is expected Friday.
Clean & Safe is primarily known for providing extra officers from the Portland Police Bureau, armed and unarmed private security guards, litter pickup and sidewalk cleaning throughout 213 square blocks downtown.
A portion of the program’s annual budget, which is expected to near $6 million in the coming year, also goes to pay for a staff position in the district attorney’s office, recruit and retain businesses, and pay for holiday lights, economic development, government relations and administrative costs.
More than 400 downtown business and residential ratepayers fund Clean & Safe operations, but the program relies on the city’s authority to levy and collect those fees.
Supporters of the public-private partnership, which first began in 1988, have long touted the role it’s played in bolstering downtown Portland, the city’s economic, cultural and transportation hub.
Demand for the program’s sanitation and security services has surged amid the coronavirus pandemic, cuts to Portland’s police force and a deepening homelessness crisis.
Clean & Safe crews collected more than 70,000 bags of trash, picked up 65,000 hypodermic needles and removed tens of thousands of graffiti tags downtown in the last year, according to figures provided by the program.
The program also fielded over 200,000 calls and contacts for private security services, it said.
Not all of them have been welcome.
Unhoused residents and homelessness advocates contend Clean & Safe security guards have often harassed people living on the streets downtown or attempted to exercise enforcement powers that they — unlike police officers — are unauthorized to use.
Others, such as social service providers in the area, have observed that the program’s private security are sometimes ill-equipped to properly assist people experiencing mental health crises.
Critics, who have also included some of Clean & Safe’s ratepayers, progressive activists and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, pushed for sweeping changes to the program in recent months.
Hardesty, for example, has said that all of the program’s private security guards should be unarmed and that Clean & Safe’s board should include representatives from the homeless community or their advocates.
Her office Wednesday said she had not seen a final version of the new contract proposal and would not comment on it until she did.
The homelessness advocacy group Stop the Sweeps PDX, meanwhile, has wanted private security and police contracts ended and the Portland Business Alliance removed as manager of the program’s day-to-day operations.
Benjamin Donlan, a member of Stop the Sweeps, said Wednesday that the organization’s position remains unchanged.
“We are still asserting our demands,” Donlan said.
Concerns raised about the program played a role in shaping many of the changes highlighted Tuesday by city and business leaders, they said.
Under the proposed agreement, Clean & Safe would continue to fund four Portland Police Bureau officers as well as a paralegal in the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office’s strategic prosecutions unit for at least the next five years. And the program would continue to employ sanitation workers through Portland homeless service provider Central City Concern.
In addition to wearing distinctive uniforms, the program’s private security guards would be required to carry business cards with their names while working, train in de-escalation tactics and be subject to a citizen complaint process. Only 25% of them would work armed at any time, according to the proposal.
Finally, Clean & Safe would create a three-person community mental health outreach team, including a licensed clinician, that would assist people experiencing homelessness connect with county services.
“Downtown Portland is the heart of the region’s economy. It is a magnet for small businesses, financial investment, and tourism,” said Mapps, who is co-sponsoring the proposal with the mayor. “This program, which employs many folks who have experienced houselessness, is critical to ensuring downtown’s recovery from the visible economic impact of the pandemic.”
This is a developing story and may be updated.
— Shane Dixon Kavanaugh; 503-294-7632
Email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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