A Portland homeless man named Fletcher Nash approached a police officer and asked for help. The officer was Stacy Dunn and Nash had seen her picture in a newspaper article about a program funded by the police department that helps homeless addicts get housing and addiction treatment, even if the addict has prior arrests.
Nash was a cocaine user and “I got tired of it,” he says. “I wanted to change, but I didn’t know how to do it.”
Dunn referred him to the police program called Housing Rapid Response. “Having my home became more important than using drugs, and they kind of weaned me into treatment,” Nash said.
A success story of the program, today Nash has a steady job, nice apartment, and enjoys a sober, good life.
According to OPB FM, Housing Rapid Response has served around 1,600 adults in the last decade and is funded in large part by the Portland Police Bureau. The program is costly, but the bureau claims that it is cost effective compared to the alternative. Without the program, the city would have to continue spending on arrests and prison time for homeless addicts.
Dunn, now a detective, stated “It costs a lot more money to put people through the criminal justice system than it does to get people clean and sober. These are people who are arrested over decades repeatedly, sometimes two and three times a day. Minor crimes, but it just takes a lot of time.”
The program began in 2005 and was originally met with skepticism by public defenders. They saw it as a crackdown on repeat offenders, rather than something that would actually help them. Lane Borg, executive director of Metropolitan Public Defenders, said his opinion has changed over time. “This program now feels more like they’ve put the social service ahead of prosecution,” he says. “They’re primarily looking at a service delivery plan for people in need.”
Housing Rapid Response has 80 beds. Individuals who have committed more serious crimes, such as sex offenders, are not accepted. Candidates are referred weekly by police officers, parole officers, defense attorneys, and local hospitals, and participation is voluntary. With 900 referrals a year, there is a long waiting list.
It’s difficult to measure the success rate of the program, but Central City Concern, a consoling service that worked with the program, reports that about 66% of clients are still housed within 12 months of when they find a permanent placement, and of these, very few are re-arrested.