PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Following the aftermath of Multnomah County’s suspended proposal to pass out fentanyl smoking supplies, a lawyer has called on the City of Portland to dissolve the Joint Office of Homeless Services.
“The city ought to just yank their funding,” said Attorney John DiLorenzo of Davis Wright Tremaine.
This is not the first time DiLorenzo has made this demand. He previously revealed that the county had spent millions of dollars passing out tents and tarps, only for the city to spend nearly the same amount to pick them up and throw them away.
Recently, he led a lawsuit against the City of Portland to keep tents off sidewalks – claiming that blocking the pathways violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. Portlanders with disabilities eventually reached a deal with the city.
Now he says the county’s recent work to pass out fentanyl smoking supplies goes against that agreement.
DiLorenzo said he’s concerned for his client’s safety again – claiming that the city’s proposal would mean contaminated foil and straws could end up littering the city’s sidewalks.
“And of course, what the authors of this crazy idea probably didn’t think about was that our clients have to wheel through all of that debris and get it on their hands,” he said. “Given the public outrage, the county has temporarily put a halt to this program, but the county health department is still defending it.”
He claims that the proposal is counter to the entire philosophy behind the recent ADA settlement, prompting him to write a letter to Portland City Council. In it, he underlines the conflict between the city and county’s approach to spending money to address its addiction and homeless crisis.
He wrote that “this latest episode and threat by the county to distribute fentanyl-enabling paraphernalia is still a real possibility… It is such a departure from city policy and is such a threat to the safety of the community, that we believe it warrants the city suspending all further quarterly payments, dissolving the JOHS.”
City Commissioner Rene Gonzalez said he is among those outraged by the drug kits.
“We have deep concerns about how the joint office is managed, but we’re not here – at least I’m not here – to do something hasty and reckless that may have some unintended consequences,” Gonzalez said. “At the same time, we’ve got to keep our eye on the ball. The city writes these big checks, we need to get outcomes from those investments.”
Currently, the majority of city councilors support funding the joint office.
In late June, Commissioners Rene Gonzalez and Mingus Mapps were the only two to vote no, opposing the extension of the office’s $43.5 million contract with the city.
“I think that the city and county must collaborate on the homeless problem. It’s too complex. It’s too multifaceted. All levels of government need to be collaborating on this really vexing topic,” Gonzalez said. “I just object to the legal and financial structure of the Joint Office, where the city is giving so many dollars and gets really very little input into its management.”
But Gonzalez said the city plans to review the contract again in December, “and we’ll see as we get closer to the end of the year, whether there’s still that support.”
Stay with KOIN 6 as this story develops.