Homeless NE Shelter Under Fire – US Mission

From The Oregonian, December 30, 1992

The United States Mission, a nonprofit organization that opened a shelter in Northeast Portland last August, is drawing criticism from some former residents, as well as questions from other social service agencies and city officials.

The mission, based at 4545 N.E. Garfield Ave., raises money through door-to-door solicitations by residents. The residents turn over the first $40 each day to the mission and keep the rest.

Some former residents say the shelter doesn’t provide any services or referrals that would help people move out of transitional housing. They said that alcohol use inside the buildings was common despite a rule against drinking and that the mission did not always provide the expected two meals a day.

The mission places a heavy emphasis on serving homeless gays and lesbians, and about half of the 13 current residents are gay or lesbian, said mission administrator J. Michael Reagan. The Portland mission is a branch of a Los Angeles-based organization with nonprofit, tax -exempt status.

Reagan described the mission as religious but nondenominational and said it offered no religious services.

Former residents Tim McGeever and Robby Knight are both critical of the mission and are raising complaints to public officials and the news media. McGeever, who spent one week there, said the mission provided no services to him and failed to provide regular meals.

McGeever said he was told not to come back after deciding to skip one evening’s solicitation, even though he had gone door-to-door the previous morning.

Knight said he spent six weeks in the program. He said he saw one woman kicked out in the middle of the night to make room for others who could pay. Both men said drinking was commonplace inside the mission.

Reagan said the mission did not work to find community services for McGeever, but he said meals were available. He denied evicting McGeever.

He also disputed Knight’s claim that he had evicted a woman without notice and said police told the woman to leave after she complained about another resident. Reagan at first denied any drinking took place at the mission but later said that residents had been allowed to drink beer in their rooms until the Sunday before Christmas, when all drinking was banned.

The mission ran into problems on Christmas Day, when maintenance employee Dennis J. Saban got in two fist fights with residents. Police did nothing the first time, since Saban had disappeared and the victim’s injuries appeared minor, according to police reports. But when they responded to a second fight there hours later, they arrested Saban on an outstanding warrant for carrying a dangerous weapon. He remains lodged in the Inverness Jail.

Reagan described Saban as an alcoholic, and said he was drunk at the time of the incidents. He said he didn’t know if Saban would be allowed to return to the mission.

Portland officials have heard of the shelter, but most know little about the agency or its services. Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, which operates a center for people infected by the AIDS virus, is hearing negative reports about the mission, said the Rev. Rodney Page, EMO’s director.

The Rev. Gary Wilson of Metropolitan Community Church, which serves the gay community, said he had heard positive reports followed by criticisms. He said he would not take a position in support or opposition to the mission.

Terry Anderson, an aide to city Commissioner Gretchen Kafoury, said she referred one homeless man to the shelter but had later heard criticisms from two people.

During a recent unannounced visit by The Oregonian, the main building was clean and well-furnished. A smaller house that houses eight residents also so was clean and orderly. Several residents praised the mission and said they didn’t mind the solicitation requirement.

Reagan said the agency served 300,000 meals each year at missions in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, San Jose and Phoenix and El Paso, Texas. But inquiries in those cities suggest the missions are not well-known and are not linked with other service agencies.

Reagan acknowledged that the mission in San Francisco had closed recently. In Sacramento, the mission was criticized by Jerry Sloan, a former president of the Lambda Community Center board in Sacramento, a center for gays and lesbians. Residents paid daily rent and solicited for money and were unable to get ahead financially, he said.

In Phoenix, city homeless coordinator, Bill Maybe, said the mission moved frequently and used homeless people as solicitors. “I don’t think we would endorse them at all,” he said.

In Los Angeles, a volunteer who answered the phone Tuesday said the staff had left for Christmas vacation until Jan. 5. Others who work at homeless shelters in the city’s downtown area said they had not heard of the mission there.

Reagan said the Portland mission’s operating costs are $7,000 per month, but solicitations bring in only about hat amount. He said he has made up the difference with his own money and donations from the Los Angeles mission. He said he is supposed to receive 7 percent of the income generated by the mission as his salary, but he has made no money yet.