Emails Show Tangle of Allegations Led to “Toxic and Unsafe” Day Center Shutting Down

From the Willamette Week – April 2023

Allegations of sexual relationships between county contractors contributed to the closure.

Late last month, Multnomah County abruptly shut down temporarily its downtown Behavioral Health Resource Center, which provides respite for homeless Portlanders. At the time, it cited needed building repairs and staff training as reasons for the closure.

But last week, upon its reopening, the county revealed that allegations of drug use and sexual relationships among county contractors working at the center contributed to the closure. The county hired an outside investigator to look into the allegations.

Emails obtained by WW from the two weeks leading up the center’s abrupt closure show that a tangle of allegations from multiple employees and managers—and an especially extensive set of allegations by a departing worker relayed in a March 29 evening phone call—prompted the county to temporarily shut the center’s doors the next day.

READ – Messages provided through a public records request for this article (50 MB)

READ – MHAAO Good Neighbor Agreement BHRC – 2023 – draft

READ – BHRC internal monthly report –  March 2023

The staffer’s “report suggests that the work environment may be unsafe and toxic, particularly on the 3rd floor,” wrote one county manager hours before the center’s closure.

Indeed, the dynamics alleged in county correspondence include employees of the three contractors trading drugs, sleeping with each other, and blackmailing each other by threatening to reveal each other’s behavior.

Below is a brief timeline of emails between BHRC managers and county employees leading up to the March 30 closure of the center. The contractors implicated in the allegations include Mental Health & Addiction Association of Oregon, which manages the center, DPI Security and janitorial company Northwest Success.

WW chose to not print the names of employees under investigation, as the probe is ongoing and no one has been formally accused of wrongdoing.

On March 27, the BHRC day center director who works for Mental Health & Addiction Association of Oregon wrote to Behavioral Health Resource Center manager Alexandra Appleton and two other county employees: “It was just brought to my attention…that yesterday, [an employee of DPI Security] confronted a [janitor] that is dating the coordinator and suggested that the [janitor] should ‘check your girl’ accusing her of spreading rumors about the safety partner.” In other words, a security guard threatened a janitor because his paramour, the site coordinator, was alleging wrongdoing by guards.

The director’s email went on to say the guard warned the janitor that if rumors continued to spread, he could release “video footage of the coordinator entering a back door after hours with a different safety partner, referencing a rumor that had circulated previously.“ When confronted by the site coordinator, he said he would deny the conversations happened and didn’t expect the security contract to be renewed anyway.

The director wrote he was “deeply concerned with these issues” and called it “incredibly inappropriate workplace behavior.”

On March 28, Appleton emailed Terry Leckron Myers, director deputy of programs at MHAAO, about a different allegation: narcotics being exchanged between a guard and an employee who works with the homeless. “It has been brought to my attention that [redacted], the [MHAAO] peer manager, placed illicit drug paraphernalia in the palm of the Safety Partner’s hand. Before jumping to a conclusion, I am currently gathering more information about this incident.”

On March 28, the day center director wrote to Appleton and Multnomah County’s manager of workplace security Cheryl Leon Guerrero that he wanted the two DPI security officers mentioned in his March 27 email “removed from the BHRC immediately.” He added: “I understand that the contract will be pulled in a few months anyways, but I believe that them remaining in the space any longer will continue to contribute to the negative dynamics we are seeing.”

On March 28, Leon Guerrero wrote back: “I have already removed [one DPI security guard]. I would like to know more about [the other security guard] since this is the first time I have heard anything in regards to her previously… Also, to follow up on the others who are involved in the original email which includes quite a few people to include janitors, peers and SP’s [safety partners, aka security guards]. I am taking care of the SP’s. We have a zero tolerance for this kind of behavior.”

On March 28, Appleton wrote to a manager with the Joint Office of Homeless Services that she wanted to discuss the “inappropriate behavior” between the janitor and the peer coordinator. “It is important that we address this matter quickly and take appropriate action to ensure a safe and respectful work environment for all staff and participants,” Appleton wrote.

The bulk of the accusations, however, appear to have been communicated to Appleton by an outgoing MHAAO employee on the evening of March 29 in a phone call. Notes provided from the call, titled “Report: Inappropriate Workplace Relationships and Unsafe Work Environment at BHRC,” by Appleton show that the staffer named at least four MHAAO employees, including the day center director, who had requested the two security officers be fired the day before, three security officers employed by DPI, and one janitor from NW Success as participants in sexual relationships with each other.

According to Appleton’s notes, the disgruntled employee alleged sexual triangles between contractors, the use of “powder” at the center, and trysts taking place between staffers on the third floor. “The county doesn’t know what is going on in the facility, and if they knew, then MHAAO would not be the provider,” Appleton wrote based on what the employee had said to her over the phone.

The county abruptly shuttered the center the next day. It remained closed until April 17.

On March 31, Leckron Myers wrote in an email to Appleton that two of the MHAAO employees mentioned in the allegations, including the day center director, had been placed on leave. He said MHAAO would launch an outside investigation into the allegations.

Investigations into the alleged misconduct are ongoing. Meanwhile, the BHRC lowered its capacity to 25 clients at any given time. That’s a steep decrease from the 100 it allowed earlier this year.

The records provided by the county also show just how intense the needs are of those who frequent the BHRC. Incident reports spanning just two weeks describe a man who slept overnight at the center in an electrical closet; a man hitting a sleeping woman with a chair; clients getting in fights or near-fights; and a participant who was asked to leave the center throwing an e-scooter and batteries at its windows.

The incident reports also tell of a client who would be dead had it not been for staff using six doses of Narcan to revive him, and tell of staff calling an ambulance to pick up a man who said he was feeling deeply suicidal.

In one two-week period in the latter half of March, center staff wrote reports for 45 incidents.