Blanchet House: Old Town situation ‘desperate’

Multnomah County

Social services org proposes rotating team of mental health experts

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — One social services organization in Portland’s Old Town district said it has a possible solution to what cultural groups described as “rapidly deteriorating conditions” in their neighborhood.

Blanchet House provides meals and transitional housing to those in need in Old Town. Its executive director, Scott Kerman, said there’s a humanitarian crisis happening now, calling the situation “desperate.”

“What we’re seeing day-to-day is at times horrifying,” he said. “People who are not having their basic needs met … We’re seeing greater hostility that may be driven by mental illness, addiction.”

A letter, sent this month from Lan Su Chinese Garden, the Japanese American Museum of Oregon, the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education and the Portland Chinatown Museum, told local leaders it’s past time for them to take action to address vandalism, crime and mental instability in the area.

Lan Su Chinese Garden’s executive director said their staff has been threatened and they see open drug use regularly. The garden recently hired armed security for the first time in their history.

Kerman said he thinks he has an idea that could help.

“We’re looking to collaborate with our fellow agencies and get some assistance from the city and county so we can provide more support for people our on street, on our sidewalks,” he said. “Agencies in Old Town and Pearl District would share teams of mental health peer-support specialists. The idea is these teams would be stationed at different agencies when we most need them.”

Blanchet House is exploring additional security measures for themselves, he said, and the organization is working with city and county leaders right now.

“Things are awful out there, there’s no sugar coating that at all, but I’m also sensing a lot of energy and movement that will lead toward better outcomes,” Kerman said.

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