PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — People living in the Montavilla neighborhood claim their area is being overrun by drug users and a needle exchange site is bringing more crime to their area.
“We find needles nonstop, we have drug dealers in front of our house that are selling, we have people buying drugs, shooting up, passing out in front of our house just on a weekly basis,” Delaney Allen said.
That’s a typical Friday night for Mindy Byrd and Delaney Allen, who have lived near the needle exchange site at St. Peter and Paul Episcopal Church for two years.
They’ve had their house broken into, car stolen and even been threatened by people they say are coming from that site.
It’s not the exchange itself they have a problem with, but what happens when organizers and security leave at 9 p.m. They say the crowd sticks around for hours after the program volunteers leave.
“It’s just frustrating that we don’t feel like there is any follow up to make sure that the neighborhood feels safe,” Byrd said.
Now some people concerned for their safety are taking matters into their own hands and patrolling the area.
“I think the presence of the neighborhood being active is really a big deterrent for a lot of the negative activity,” Evelyn Macpherson said.
As part of a new mission, a Montavilla neighborhood group called “Enough is Enough” is starting to patrol the area after dark. They’re looking for needles and drug users then reporting incidents to police and waiting for officers to respond.
“We are mostly just trying to keep an eye out,” Macpherson said. “Trying to make sure that things are staying safe and livable and people don’t feel afraid to leave their homes.”
Those who support the county-run needle exchange program, which serves an average of 88 clients on any given Friday and a total of 1,700, say they haven’t seen the same problems.
“All the research around needle exchanges show it reduces the threat of disease, it actually reduces the needle litter in a neighborhood and we are just really proud to be connected with them,” said Anneliese Davis, executive director of Rahab’s Sister’s.
County officials said drug use is not permitted on the site and anyone using is asked to leave. They also have security during exchange hours.
“What we want to do is work with the community to do things that make for a more safe and livable community and that means getting dirty needles off the street and getting people into treatment,” said Julie Sullivan-Springhetti with Multnomah County.
Former drug addict John doesn’t doubt there’s a problem with crime, but believes the “Enough is Enough” group causes another issue.
“The needle exchange is not the problem,” he said. “This is a problem that exists no matter where you go in the city. I believe that these people are dangerous in the sense that they are fear mongering.”