“Prosper Portland” homeless solution dead on the vine, say police

The Portland Mercury, March 26, 2014

Portland Police Chief Mike Reese

Portland Police Chief Mike Reese

Earlier this year, Police Chief Mike Reese began showing off a flashy PowerPoint presentation around town.

To the district attorney’s office, to city commissioners and, most publicly, to the city and county officials gathered for a meeting of the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council (LPSCC), Reese introduced “Prosper Portland,” a multi-tentacled initiative aimed at decreasing homelessness in and around the center city.

The proposal was sort of tough to get your head around.

It involved existing police efforts, but also folded in new agreements between the city and county over how camping and sidewalk-use restrictions should be enforced, and proposed use of “clean-up contractors,” who would sweep up the camps police dismantled. Reese said far more cohesion—between bureaucrats, business interests, social services organizations, cops and everyone in between—is needed to stem what he painted as a growing worry.

And then there was the involvement—already hashed out for weeks by the time Reese unveiled the proposal—of a local software firm called Thetus, which proposed taking wide swaths of city data to help Portland visualize and analyze its struggles with homelessness.

At the LPSCC meeting, as the Mercury first reported, there was widespread support for the plan. But sources within city hall say the reception there was far chillier, with some elected officials bristling that they weren’t told of the new effort and concerned about the fitness of the police bureau to lead an effort to stem homelessness.

Now, the police bureau appears to be scrapping the whole endeavor.

“As a plan, it died on the vine,” says police spokesman Sergeant Pete Simpson. “Last I heard was: There is no Prosper Portland. It was never anything more than a concept.”

That’s a swift change in fortune for an effort that sources say had been in the works as early as late 2013. And, though a call to Mayor Charlie Hales‘ office hasn’t been returned, it’s likely the change in tone has to do with backlash in city hall following Reese’s announcement.

Among those voicing concerns was Commissioner Nick Fish, the city’s former housing commissioner.

“It basically came out of nowhere,” says Fish, who asked for a private meeting with Reese after reading news coverage of Prosper Portland. “I think the police got over their skis.”

Fish explained he’s in talks with a Hales aide, Jackie Dingfelder, about homelessness and sidewalk enforcement—a topic that’s been a consistently thorny for the mayor since he took office last year.

“The mayor made it very clear to me and everyone else Jackie is the leader of this effort,” Fish says. “I think she would tell you it blindsided her as well.”

But if the chief’s vision for “Prosper Portland” has exploded, it’s unclear where its component pieces will land. Simpson says the police bureau’s going to take its own steps toward better policy, stepping up foot, bike and ATV patrols and talking with the county and TriMet about uniform enforcement policies.

He didn’t think the bureau still planned to work with Thetus, the local software firm.

That was news, Tuesday afternoon, to Thetus CEO Danielle Forsyth. Forsyth’s company actually coined the name Prosper Portland. She’s been in talks with the police bureau for three or four months, she said, and the company recently hired an employee to help get the effort off the ground.

“I’m meeting with them tomorrow, and I’ll ask,” she said.

Thetus has also been in contact with the Portland Housing Bureau, overseen by Commissioner Dan Saltzman. But it’s unclear whether the firm has a place in the strategies being cooked up by Hales’ staff.

“What [Jackie Dingfelder] does with any of the component parts of Prosper Portland,” Fish says, “I don’t know.”