https://reveal-player.s3.us-west-1.amazonaws.com/751_Reveal_PC.mp3

In Portland, Oregon, unhoused people make up at most 2% of the population, but they account for nearly half of all arrests. Cities have long turned to police as the mechanism for making homelessness disappear. But arrests don’t solve a housing crisis. 

Reveal looked at six major cities up and down the West Coast and found that people living on the streets are consistently more likely to be arrested than their neighbors who live in houses. At the same time, places such as Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles are now grappling with a major court decision. In 2019, the Supreme Court let a ruling stand that says it’s cruel and unusual punishment to arrest people who are sleeping or camping in public places if there is no shelter for them to stay. In Portland, the city is trying to build more shelters, but there is pushback from residents who don’t want a shelter in their neighborhood. People are growing frustrated, and they want the problem to go away. Reporter Melissa Lewis tells the story of these intersecting parts after spending months talking to unhoused people who go to weekly dinners at a neighborhood park.  

Lewis follows one man’s journey through the criminal justice system as he tries to disentangle himself from arrest warrants that keep accumulating after he misses court dates and fails to check in with his probation officer. We also hear from locals who are trying to build trust and connection with their houseless neighbors and others who are tired of seeing tents and call the police for help. We also hear what it takes to move someone off the street, one person at a time.  

Dig Deeper

Explore: ACLU report on decriminalizing homelessness in Oregon

Explore: National Homelessness Law Center 2019 report, Housing Not Handcuffs 

Read: Grand Jury Transcripts Show the Key Decisions That Preceded the Killing of Robert Delgado (Willamette Week) 

Read: Portland Police Don’t Collect Data Needed to Track Homeless Arrests, Report Finds (Portland Mercury)

Read: Martin v. City of Boise analysis (Harvard Law Review)

Credits

Reporter: Melissa Lewis | Lead producer: Emily Harris | Additional reporting and producing: Emily Harris and Cecilia Brown | Editor: Cynthia Rodriguez, with help from Pauline Arrillaga, Sarah Cohen and Taki Telonidis | Additional editing: Soo Oh and Andy Donohue | Engagement reporter: David Rodriguez | Production manager: Amy Mostafa | Digital producer: Sarah Mirk | Episode art: Melissa Lewis | Score and sound design: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda, with help from Steven Rascón and Claire Mullen | Executive producer: Kevin Sullivan | Host: Al Letson 

Special thanks to Esther Kaplan for initial guidance and to Shawn Musgrave and Alexandra Gutierrez for help with records requests.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Inasmuch Foundation.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

Al Letson:Hey, hey, hey, this is Al. And let me tell you nonprofit investigative reporting isn’t easy. This work can make us weep, make us sick, make us angry. It demands conviction time and money, but we do it because it creates real change. We produced some of our most ambitious projects this year, stories about migrant children, police reform activists, Amazon data exploiters, rookie doctors, and domestic abuse survivors. We examined how justice works differently for different people, but to keep doing this work in 2022, we need your support.
Al Letson:I’m asking you to donate to Reveal today. This is our most important fundraising campaign of the year, and it ends December 31st. Just text the word Reveal to 474747, right now, to donate. If you give $9 a month, we’ll send you a Reveal key chain, but you have to donate before 2021 ends. Listener support is how we make the show, so, show your support and get a Reveal key. Again, just text the word Reveal to 474747. You can text stop at any time. Standard data rates apply. Thanks.
Speaker 2:Reveal is brought to you by Progressive. Are you thinking more about how to tighten up your budget these days? Drivers who save by switching to Progressive save over $700 on average and customers can qualify for an average of six discounts when they sign up. A little off your rate each month goes a long way. Get a quote today at progressive.com. Progressive Casualty Insurance Company and affiliates. National annual average insurance savings by new customers surveyed who saved with progressive between June 2020 and May 2021. Potential savings will vary. Discounts vary and are not available in all states and situations.
Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Homelessness has been on the rise across the country for the past four years.
Chris:I found myself homeless and I’ve been in this general area since then.
Al Letson:Chris is one of the rising number of homeless people who sleep outside in cars, tents, or abandoned buildings
Chris:Being homeless is the hardest thing that I’ve … It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done. I mean, it’s a constant grind.
Al Letson:Chris lives in a tent in Portland, Oregon, and he’s a part of a significant shift. In 2020, for the first time since the government started collecting data 14 years ago, more individuals were living outside than were staying in actual homeless shelters, individuals meaning adults and young people living on their own as opposed to families with kids.
Marcia Fudge:What makes these findings even more devastating is that they are based on data from before COVID-19. And we know the pandemic has only made the homelessness crisis worse.
Al Letson:That’s Federal Housing Secretary Marcia Fudge earlier this year. With so many people living on the streets, they often end up in areas where some community members don’t want them.
Speaker 5:Hi, I’m wondering if I can get the police out to my location to remove someone from the parking lot.
Speaker 6:Is this person inside or outside the location?
Al Letson:In Portland, the city receives calls about unhoused people on an average of at least 80 times a day.
Speaker 5:They’re outside, they’re in a green Ford Explorer and they’ve got shopping carts and trash bags everywhere and the whole top of it’s covered in trash.
Al Letson:This kind of call gets categorized as an unwanted person. Between 2018 and 2020, nearly half of homeless related calls were for this or for welfare checks, when a caller wants the police to make sure someone’s okay. These type of calls are not about criminal activity. And yet police are the ones dispatched. In this case, the caller says, “The Ford Explorer in her parking lot is bad for business.”
Speaker 5:They’re out there sleeping and it just looks super creepy.
Speaker 6:They’re in a parking spot?
Speaker 5:Yep.
Al Letson:Oregon is among the top five states with the highest portion of individuals living on the streets. Some are struggling with issues like addiction and mental illness. Whatever their situation, they’re all just trying to live, eat, sleep, and use the bathroom. But it’s happening in public view.
Speaker 6:I’m not certain what officers are going to be able to do because it looks like it’s a big private parking lot even, and they are in a parking space. So just so you know, we might be up against the wall here as far as what they’d be able to do. But I do have a call set up [inaudible]. We’ll get someone out there. Okay?
Speaker 5:Perfect. Thank you so much.
Speaker 6:You’re welcome. You take care now.
Speaker 5:You too.
Speaker 6:Bye.
Al Letson:Living outside makes people a target for getting arrested. Reveal looked at six major cities up and down the West Coast, and found that people living on the streets are consistently more likely to be arrested than their neighbors who live in houses. This has deep roots in American policing. Law enforcement has historically been the primary force used to move homeless people out of view, relying on anti-vagrancy laws in England centuries ago, to laws against loitering or lying down in public places today.
Al Letson:In Portland, over the last couple years, unhoused people have made up at most 2% of the population, but on average, nearly half of all arrests. Today, we’ll show you how calling in law enforcement for help with homelessness can entangle people in a criminal justice cycle that just leads back to the streets or worse. Reveal’s Melissa Lewis spent months in a Portland neighborhood called Lents. She takes us on a journey that begins at a weekly dinner for the unhoused in the local park.
Kristle Delihan…:Okay guys, we just kind of circle up every single week because we want to give thanks for being out here [crosstalk].
Melissa Lewis:Friday dinners in Lents Park began about five years ago. Kristle Delihanty started them. She makes sure every meal here begins with a prayer.
Kristle Delihan…:God, I thank you, I thank you for the way that you continue to bring this community together every single week, over and over, Lord God. I thank you for the friendships that I continue to build every single week, being around them. In your precious name, we pray. Amen.
Group:Amen. [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:Kristle’s religious, but she’s also adamant there will be no proselytizing here. She’s short with fair skin, dark hair to her shoulders. She arrives early to set up, then jumps in where she’s needed. Every Friday, somewhere between 50 and a 100 or more unhoused people show up for hot food.
Speaker 7:Would you like spaghetti? Or, we got shrimp with chicken and potato and carrots.
PJ Leach:[crosstalk] Shrimp.
Speaker 7:Okay. All right, there you go.
PJ Leach:Thank you.
Speaker 7:You’re welcome.
Melissa Lewis:There’s a lot more than food offered here, toiletries, clothes, haircuts.
Speaker 7:[crosstalk] Today, I got some socks.
Melissa Lewis:Chris VanHook is 29 years old and a regular guest.
Chris VanHook:I try to make it here every week and it kind of nice to be able to see people you haven’t seen for quite a while.
Melissa Lewis:This evening in mid June, Chris is in khaki shorts, a red t-shirt and black Nike’s. He’s sitting in front of Amber, one of several Friday dinner volunteers. She does salon services here and she just finished brushing out Chris’s curly brown hair and securing it in twists.
Amber:Will you take a picture of the back of his hair and show him because my storage is full? And so, I can’t show him.
Chris VanHook:[crosstalk] I didn’t know my hair was that ratty.
Amber:You know what? They all are like when they’ve been in braids for weeks or twists, because [crosstalk].
Melissa Lewis:The dinners are a respite from harassment and the scrambled to survive. Chris has a long history of homelessness. His mother does too.
Amber:Nice to meet you.
Melissa Lewis:Over months of conversation, Chris tells me more of their story. [crosstalk] Sometimes they stay together, but he never knows exactly where he’ll be each night.
Chris VanHook:The last couple nights, I’ve been kind of staying in the buddy’s like pickup truck, which is kind of cool, so I’m not like right out here on the street. But, then there’s been a couple times where I’ve just got to the point, I’m so tired that I’ll just like pass out in random areas, which I know is kind of sketchy.
Melissa Lewis:Chris has learned how to survive in the nine years he’s spent on the streets in Portland. He knows where he can go to take a shower and find food and clothing. He can be quiet, but he knows how to make friends.
Chris VanHook:Everybody out here’s got like at least one problem, whether it’s mental or physically or drug addiction, weed, whatever the hell it is. Everybody ain’t normal or perfect when you try to [crosstalk].
Melissa Lewis:He tells me that when he was younger, he was diagnosed with multiple conditions.
Chris VanHook:Anxiety, autistic, Asperger’s, OCD. I’m just thankful I’ve been able to control a lot of my anger. I’m not like I used to be when I was like 17, or whatever, where I freaked out on two kids in Burger King up in Redding.
Melissa Lewis:Chris says his mom told him it took nine or 10 police officers to pin him down. He calls it a psychotic moment now. Interactions with police are still a part of Chris’s life. He’s racked up 14 arrests over the last five years. Only five of those arrests were for criminal charges, all misdemeanors, like shoplifting at Walmart and having small amounts of meth. The rest were on warrants. And Chris’s experience fits a pattern in Portland. Reveal looked at four years of arrests for people considered homeless and found that 35% were for misdemeanors like Chris’s and another 43% were for warrants alone. Most warrants aren’t for new crimes. They’re about not following the process like missing court dates. [crosstalk] Chris is on probation now. And if he doesn’t check in with his probation officer, she can request a warrant and he can end up in jail. Chris thinks he’s managing his probation conditions pretty well.
Chris VanHook:She said as long as I tried to text or call or stuff. Now, I just need to work on getting my phone back up.
Female:What happened to your phone?
Chris VanHook:I have it right here, but me and my mom been trying to get enough money built up just to pay the other half of the bill. [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:Chris says he’s supposed to be receiving federal social security support benefits. These are for people whose disabilities prevent them from working, but he says he hasn’t gotten them in years.
Chris VanHook:… so I got like anywhere between 38 to $42,000 back pay right now [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:We checked this out and found someone who used to help him manage those benefits a few years ago, though we couldn’t confirm that he’s owed money from prior years. But records from past court hearings show he’s been bringing it up since 2019, trying to get someone in some system to help. He thinks if he could sort that out, he could finally afford a place to live.
Pork Chop:Here you go dear. And we have some water and some Vienna sausage too.
Melissa Lewis:For now-
Pork Chop:I know, right? [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:… Chris gets some sense of home from this community that Kristle’s created every Friday in the park.
Kristle Delihan…:This is kind of my favorite moment, is like just watching people coming and interacting. And I always get teary-eyed at this moment, because we get to facilitate this family dinner. So yeah. [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:But this reliable routine is often punctuated by crises. One Friday in July, a Lents Park dinner guest was in an agitated state.
Dispatch:911, what is the address of your emergency?
Pork Chop:Yeah, Lents Park neighborhood. I’m in my van. I just got bear maced by a guy on a moped.
Dispatch:Okay.
Pork Chop:I’m scared for my life. He said he’s got a gun. I’m scared.
Melissa Lewis:The man calling goes by the name Pork Chop. He uses a wheelchair and drives a pink van. He’s a regular at dinner and he also regularly calls 911. Last month, he called 20 times. During today’s call, the dispatcher addresses him by name.
Pork Chop:I’m having a nervous breakdown. I got to smoke and calm down.
Dispatch:Okay. Is this Pork Chop though?
Pork Chop:Yes, [crosstalk]-
Dispatch:Okay. All right. I just wanted to make sure, okay? I know you need help, okay?
Melissa Lewis:Two police officers arrive. They look around and find a can of bear mace near Chris VanHook. He’s sitting on his moped nearby. The police ask if anyone saw Pork Chop get maced, but no one did. Police don’t charge Chris with assault, but they ask him for ID and they run his name. Then one pulls out handcuffs.
Police Officer:Interlace your fingers behind your head. Turn away from me. [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:Chris starts to cry. Kristle is standing next to him, consoling him and asks what the arrest is for.
Kristle Delihan…:[crosstalk] okay.
Male:It’s probably … It sounds like it’s not a huge deal.
Kristle Delihan…:Is it a no [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:Chris is being arrested for failing to check in with his probation officer.
Kristle Delihan…:Okay. Christopher, I’m going to find out what your court is date is. Okay? I’ll call your mom.
Chris VanHook:Do you know how long it’s going to be?
Police Officer:They said it’s just a possession of meth warrant from Clackamas. Probably, they’ll get you down there, they’ll site you with a new court date, then let you go.
Kristle Delihan…:Okay.
Police Officer:Just a shall arrest. We don’t have any option.
Kristle Delihan…:Okay.
Police Officer:So there’s like … It’s not really a discretionary thing.
Melissa Lewis:The officer says it’s not up to his discretion and he has no choice, but to make the arrest.
Police Officer:You’re only going for this warrant, that’s it. [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:One of the officers walks Chris in handcuffs, away from the dinner to a police SUV.
Kristle Delihan…:Okay.
Chris VanHook:Can you please take that for me?
Kristle Delihan…:You want me take this and your bag?
Chris VanHook:And my backpack, please.
Kristle Delihan…:Yeah, I’ll take them.
Melissa Lewis:This is the first time anyone has been arrested at a Friday dinner.
Kristle Delihan…:We do not call the police out here because mental health, trauma, like warrants, but I’m going to give it to the police officer. He was really kind and he was like, “I don’t want to take him. I’m so sorry that this happened because of that.” And so, hopefully he does actually get booked and released [crosstalk].
Melissa Lewis:But that’s not what happens. Chris ends up spending four nights in jail and gets released around 2:00 in the morning. A jail notification system alerts some of his makeshift Lents Park family and they go looking for him.
Sabina Urdes:We drove and try to find him because I was worried. I knew that they had arrested him without a shirt on.
Melissa Lewis:Sabina Urdes owns a home near Lents Park. She’s also a regular volunteer at Friday dinners. That’s where she met Chris.
Sabina Urdes:I was here when he was arrested. And that’s when I became interested in his personal story more in depth.
Melissa Lewis:Even though he was released from jail, Sabina keeps getting alerts from law enforcement. When she catches up to Chris, she lets him know he should call his probation officer.
Sabina Urdes:I said, “Hey, I just got a notification. Like, there’s a warrant out for your arrest again.” And he said, “I don’t know how to connect with her. I’ve tried, I don’t have a phone,” and all these issues. And I said, “Well, do you know who she is?” And he said, “Yeah.” [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:Sabina tries calling Chris’s probation officer. She leaves voicemails and gets no response.
Sabina Urdes:And eventually, I just [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:But this feels urgent.
Sabina Urdes:… because there was an active warrant for his arrest [crosstalk].
Melissa Lewis:She calls again and finally reaches the probation officer.
Sabina Urdes:She said he just needs to go to jail. And I said, “That’s not right. He’s essentially having to go to jail because he didn’t get a hold of you. But my experience trying to get a hold of you has been the same, that you’re unreachable.” Then she said, “I don’t know you an explanation,” and hung up on me. [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:Sabina dials again, and reaches that officer’s supervisor. She makes an appointment for Chris and her to meet him in person, and they let me come along. Sabina is persistent. It’s rare for someone like Chris to have such a strong advocate and without one, entanglements with law enforcement only get worse. Walking into the corrections office. Sabina and Chris already went in because they were running late and they’re checking in now. The probation office is a two-story pale mustard colored building that takes up a third of a city block. I find Sabina and Chris inside. And after a while a man in a polo shirt comes up and introduces himself.
Chris Chandler:Hi. [inaudible] Sabina?
Sabina Urdes:I’m Sabina.
Chris Chandler:Hi. Nice to meet you. I’m Chris. [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:This is Chris Chandler, the supervisor. He’s clean shaven with a tidy haircut.
Chris Chandler:I’m so glad you’re here today. That’s awesome. It’s great to have Sabina help you. It sounds like she [crosstalk]
Melissa Lewis:After a bit of back and forth, Chris Chandler shares some unexpected news. His probation office wants to drop Chris’s warrant and stop probation entirely.
Chris Chandler:Our intention is to no longer supervise the case. I think it’s pretty clear this is not really an effective [crosstalk]. You mentioned that he has some specific needs. [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:Chandler says that supervision is ineffective and he’ll recommend release.
Chris VanHook:[crosstalk] appreciate both of you going out of your way to help to get that all straightened out for me, because I’ve been trying to do it slowly but surely. I mean, it feels better, honestly, not to have to look over my shoulder, like every few seconds.
Melissa Lewis:Some cities are trying to prevent situations like Chris’s and they’ve dropped certain warrants in bulk. Several years ago, San Francisco judges stopped issuing warrants for so-called quality-of-life crimes, things like blocking the sidewalk, and public urination. They then tossed out tens of thousands of old warrants. More recently, Los Angeles dropped millions of past warrants and citations, although their judges still issue new ones. In Portland, these kinds of warrants continue. And in Chris’s case, a single judge will decide what to do.
Chris Chandler:It’s really important that you make it to your next court date. If you don’t show up, the court is just going to issue a warrant, unfortunately, and then it’ll be kind of back in this cycle. And we can do what we can, but ultimately, it’s really, really important that you make it out there.
Melissa Lewis:The court date is a month away. Chris knows it’s coming. But on that early October day, he’s supposed to appear, Sabina and I can’t find him at the planned meeting spot. Hi, have y’all seen Chris VanHook around here?
Sabina Urdes:He usually hangs out with Kenny.
Melissa Lewis:He should have a green sweatshirt on today. [crosstalk] No one knows where he is. So Sabina heads off to court without Chris.
Female:[crosstalk] with information.
Judge Michael W…:Is Mr. VanHook here?
Female:Mr. VanHook is not here. However, a dear friend, Ms. Sabina is here and wish to address the court if now is the time.
Judge Michael W…:Hi, Ms. Sabina.
Sabina Urdes:Hi, Your Honor. Thank you. I was supposed to bring Chris here today, but we couldn’t link up.
Judge Michael W…:You what?
Sabina Urdes:I couldn’t connect with Chris today. He is houseless, doesn’t have a phone, doesn’t have transportation. He’s very eager to be here today, but unfortunately, I couldn’t track him down.
Melissa Lewis:This isn’t good. Without Chris here, the judge could easily just issue another warrant for his arrest. He starts proceedings, first asking the prosecutor, whether Chris’s original charge would still be a crime today. Oregon’s law has recently changed, aiming to treat drug addiction as a public health issue. Now you can be sent to jail for possessing small amounts of controlled substances. For methamphetamine, that cutoff is two grams. The judge asked the prosecutor to look up how much Chris had.
Attorney Wall:This has residue, so that indicates that it was a small amount, but-
Judge Michael W…:My guess is residue does not mean two grams. You get to make the call, Ms. Wall, right now. Is the state going to move to dismiss or terminate the probation?
Attorney Wall:Your Honor, I simply don’t feel comfortable doing that at this point but-
Judge Michael W…:On the first motion in the interest of justice, I’m going to terminate Mr. VanHook’s probation and let him go on his merry way. I’m not going to issue a warrant for him not being here today.
Sabina Urdes:… so much, Your Honor.
Melissa Lewis:It’s a remarkable outcome.
Male:[crosstalk] how you doing, bud?
Melissa Lewis:The next day, Sabina finds Chris at Friday dinner. He says, he’d showed up to meet her for court and only left briefly to get a cup of coffee. Sabina says it’s okay. She shows him a copy of the judgment.
Chris VanHook:So is it all right to have you hold onto that then-
Sabina Urdes:Yeah.
Chris VanHook:… so that I don’t lose it and-
Sabina Urdes:Yeah, yeah. Totally. I will hold on it. And so, he said, you’re a free person now.
Melissa Lewis:Free from probation-
Sabina Urdes:[crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:… but nothing else has changed.
Sabina Urdes:… what you want to do next.
Melissa Lewis:He still doesn’t have disability payments and he still doesn’t have a home.
Al Letson:Chris wants to find his case worker so he can figure out how to get paid. He wants off the streets. The people who live around Lents Park, well, they want people like him off the streets too.
Female:I don’t understand what’s going on and why they can’t be taken away and they’re running their generators and they’re doing drugs and they’re pooping the street. I don’t understand that. [crosstalk]-
Al Letson:What keeps the police as the primary responders to homelessness? People and politicians, next on Reveal.
Female:Look at any skyline or landscape and you’ll see apartments, hotels, offices, and warehouses that we all benefit from every day. But what you don’t see are the people who make those structures possible. Meet the professionals behind some of the biggest transactions and investments in commercial real estate and hear their stories of how they got to where they are today. Our first season’s guests include the former director of corporate real estate at Coca-Cola, a current deputy general council for a renewable energy firm, negotiating the purchase of huge parcels of land to build wind farms and the CEO of a development company, reshaping mixed use real estate and the Chicago land skyline.
Female:Hosted by Brian Mon, chief marketing officer Fidelity National Financial and the national commercial services offices at the country’s largest title underwriters. Fidelity National Financial, a Fortune 500 company is the leading provider of title insurance and settlement services to the real estate and mortgage industries, through its family of title companies. Every story is unique, every property is individual, but we’re all part of this built world. Listen to Built, by Fidelity National Financial, wherever you get your podcasts.
Al Letson:If you like what we do and you want to help, well, it’s pretty simple. Just write us a review on Apple Podcasts. It’s easy and only takes a few seconds. Just open the Apple Podcast app on your phone, search for Reveal. Then scroll down to where you see write a review, and there, tell them how much you love the host. Your review makes it easier for listeners to find us and well, it really does make a difference. And if you do it, you will get a personal thank you from me, like right now. Like, thank … Not him. Not, no, you, yes, you, thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. All right. From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Lents Park in Portland Oregon is really big, like around 40 acres big. Kristle’s weekly dinners take place there near a baseball field. A lot of unhoused people know about them, but not everybody.
PJ Leach:Hey man, got some food going on over there if you want it.
Male:Oh yeah?
PJ Leach:Yeah. Over by Lents Park.
Al Letson:That’s PJ Leach. He’s walking along a bike path nearby. On one side, there are modest single family homes. And on the other, there are tents and tarps surrounded by piles of people’s stuff, bikes, bags, shopping carts.
PJ Leach:The regulars are mostly over there already, but there might be somebody new that doesn’t know. So we always come down and just make sure that no one gets left behind.
Al Letson:The tensions have been rising here for a while. And people who live in the houses, they can give PJ a hard time.
PJ Leach:And then they would come over and just like, “Why don’t you take all the houseless to your neighborhood and feed them there?”
Al Letson:PJ is in his 50s. He’s been sober for more than four years. Right now, he lives in his car. It can take years to get off the streets. Like in most major cities, there’s a severe housing shortage in Portland. And when you get arrested over and over, like many homeless people do, and you’re coming in and out of jail, it’s harder to find housing. But PJ also understands why some people who live in houses complain.
PJ Leach:These guys, they work, they support their family and I certainly wouldn’t want my kids to be like running around over here with … They could a pick up a needle and like … Yeah, but there’s got to be something [crosstalk]-
Al Letson:Reveal’s Melissa Lewis is going to take us into a Lents Park community meeting where people’s frustrations and have reached a boiling point.
Erica Hurley:A little housekeeping, first. [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:The Lents Neighborhood Livability Association holds meetings about once a month. I’m watching this one online. It’s January, about a year ago, almost three dozen people show up in person. The guest speaker this evening is a Portland police commander.
Erica Hurley:So I’m the commander of east precinct where I’m assuming all of you live, is my guess, as you’ve come out today. [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:Commander Erica Hurley is in full uniform, dark hair, pulled back into a bun, wearing a black face mask for COVID. She jokes that she’s a little deaf from having a police radio in her ear for so many years.
Erica Hurley:[crosstalk] a police officer for 26-plus now. So especially those in the back, please feel free to yell me, and especially with the masks, honestly, I can’t hear with it half the time, so feel free to [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:It’s a light open, but people have come here to vent.
Male:The Illegal camping and the drugs are out of control and [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:The number of people living on the streets around here has risen faster than in other parts of the city in the last few years. And this man wants the police to do something about it.
Male:Well, at least they could maybe look in the tents. They could-
Erica Hurley:They can’t. They legally cannot. So, that tent-
Male:So you’re going to have to get that authority.
Erica Hurley:That tent is someone’s home. I can’t go into that tent anymore than I can go into your house without a warrant. I can’t look in that tent. It’s not an option for me.
Melissa Lewis:We’re nine months into the pandemic and arrests have dropped sharply including of the unhoused. Early on, the city tried to limit the number of people in jail to stop COVID from spreading.
Female:So how Long is it going to take for us to see some action in our neighborhoods, though? Because we’ve called for months [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:People have long turned to police as the mechanism for making homelessness disappear. “As long as we can’t see it, it’s not a problem,” one advocate for the unhoused told me. He said, officers call laws targeting homelessness tools in their toolbox. But the tools are changing. Erica Hurley tries to explain.
Erica Hurley:Again, I’ve been with the police for almost 27 years. When I came on [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:Hurley says it used to be that she could arrest people for things like loitering and blocking the sidewalk. But she says she can’t anymore.
Erica Hurley:At the very least, I can move you for that if you were there or threaten the arrest. I had tools as the law enforcement to move what you see now. I don’t have those tools anymore.
Melissa Lewis:According to research by the National Homelessness Law Center, at least 100 U.S. cities, including Portland, do have laws against lying down or sleeping in public places. Although enforcement here has changed with political cycles, the police are consistently called on to do something about people living on the streets.
Sergeant Matthe…:Many times, just the act of survival, for those people, because there is no privacy, will generate some sort of call either [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:This is Portland Police Sergeant Matthew Jacobson.
Sergeant Matthe…:They present maybe as an unwanted call or a welfare check call or something like that, where somebody’s doing something or acting in a way that is outside of our societal norm. And the position of the police is generally those calls don’t have really anywhere else to go. And so they come to the police.
Melissa Lewis:Sergeant Jacobson heads a special unit called a Neighborhood Response Team. Portland has a team like this in each of its three precincts. They were founded in the early 90s to foster closer relationships between neighborhoods and police.
Sergeant Matthe…:So, figure we’ll hit Sewallcres Park, and then, I think it’s probably worth driving through Old Town. [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:I’m out with Sergeant Jacobson on a Tuesday afternoon. It’s mid-October, a cool and cloudy day. We’re driving through his precinct near downtown. This is where the largest concentration of unhoused people has been, historically. Sergeant Jacobson is in his 30s, with short dark hair, swept back precisely from a window’s peak.
Sergeant Matthe…:Hey, dude.
Melissa Lewis:Near the riverfront, there’s a man walking alone, idly swinging a two by four. Sergeant Jacobson pulls over and pops out to tell the man to stop. Then gets back in the car.
Sergeant Matthe…:Sorry. We’re just passing by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry that has a pretty good draw for kids and families and stuff like that. So, I’m just concerned he’s going to generate some police calls if he starts heading up there. [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:We head into a more residential neighborhood. We come to a block lined with tents from end to end. A young bearded man is eating a big tub of ice cream. Jacobson slows the car and rolls down his window.
Sergeant Matthe…:So man, how are you doing?
Male:Chilling [crosstalk]-
Sergeant Matthe…:What’s going on?
Male:Living the dream.
Sergeant Matthe…:What’s your first name?
Male:Yeah. Thank you.
Male:My first name?
Sergeant Matthe…:Yeah.
Male:Peter.
Male:Very close.
Sergeant Matthe…:Bro, I’m not going to run you. It’s all right.
Male:All right [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:Jacobson is always trying to build relationships. It’s not easy.
Sergeant Matthe…:I was just seeing what’s up.
Male:Want some old ice cream?
Sergeant Matthe…:I do not want old ice cream. Thank you, though.
Male:Okay.
Sergeant Matthe…:All right, man. All right, I’ll talk to you later.
Male:What’s that all about, he just looks [crosstalk]-
Sergeant Matthe…:Just saying, “What’s up?”
Male:Just saying, and then you figure out my name and then bouncing. That’s it. You’re not going to tell me why you asked for my name?
Sergeant Matthe…:I’m not going to … I literally was-
Male:“Hey, what’s your name? Okay. Bye.”
Sergeant Matthe…:I was looking, so I could call you by your first name, dude, because like that’s the human like polite thing to do. [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:This wariness is familiar to Jacobson and there’s a reason for it.
Sergeant Matthe…:He didn’t want to give me his first name because he thought I was going to figure it out and try to run him for warrants. I have no intention of doing that.
Melissa Lewis:He’s not doing that today, but officers do often run the names of people they encounter through law enforcement databases. Unhoused people and advocates say police use the threat of warrants to move people. Portland police have conducted so-called warrant details, of encampments in the past, but they said it was in response to reports of assaults by unhoused people. If they find a warrant, police have to make an arrest. That’s what happened to Chris during dinner in Lents Park this summer.
Sergeant Matthe…:So from one arrest, let’s say it’s a theft arrest, that they were released on and they had initial failure to appear, they may be arrested seven times on the warrant from that same one charge. And now, that looks and is for all intents and purposes, seven arrests, seven times the police have taken custody of that person for one criminal incident.
Melissa Lewis:I was curious about this. So I dug into four years of Portland arrest data and found 131 people who have indeed been arrested seven or more times for a warrant on the same charge. The vast majority were living on the streets when they were arrested. Every member of Sergeant Jacobson’s specialized team gets actual training on how to respond to people experiencing mental health crises or who might be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. But he says he sometimes still feels ill prepared.
Sergeant Matthe…:I have stood or kneeled outside that tent, talking to somebody that is covered in feces, has needles surrounding them, that I know can’t barely get up because they’re withdrawing from an opioid, and even at that lowest of low, not being able to convince them to come with me to go get help.
Melissa Lewis:Based on his experience, he’s come to believe that cities can’t solve homelessness by relying primarily on law enforcement.
Sergeant Matthe…:I think I realized long ago that we’re not enforcing our way or arresting our way out of this problem. It’s not going to work and nor is it the right thing. We have people with nowhere else to go. It’s not right to arrest them for being there.
Melissa Lewis:Sergeant Jacobson’s view is backed up by federal judges. Three years ago, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it was cruel and unusual punishment and therefore unconstitutional to arrest people who are sleeping or camping in public places if there’s no shelter for them to go to. In 2019, the Supreme Court let the ruling stand. The case is called Martin versus Boise. A man named Robert Martin was among several unhoused plaintiffs who sued the City of Boise, Idaho. Boise is a small city with a tiny unhoused population, but the decision affects all Western states and places like Portland, Los Angeles and San Francisco are grappling with the ruling. Homeless advocates have been watching to see what cities do. Tristia Bauman is a senior attorney from the National Homelessness Law Center.
Tristia Bauman:Cities have responded to the Martin decision in mixed ways, some of which have not been constructive at all.
Melissa Lewis:Bauman says in some places cities are building more shelters, which isn’t a bad thing unless what’s being built isn’t really a shelter.
Tristia Bauman:We’re seeing a lot of examples of things that fall far short of housing or even temporary indoor shelter, for example, a square painted on a parking lot outskirts of town in Chico, California, for example. We saw similar parking lots used in Maricopa County in Phoenix, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Melissa Lewis:Other cities are taking a different tact. Since the court ruling said cities can’t make it a crime to sleep in public places, if there’s no alternative, some cities are instead imposing civil penalties that may include a fine to pay.
Tristia Bauman:That is clearly just an attempt to skirt the line of constitutionality. It doesn’t get at the key point made by the court, which is that criminalizing homelessness or punishing homelessness does not reduce or end homelessness. It’s a feudal, harmful expensive exercise.
Melissa Lewis:Bauman says local governments continue to punish unhoused people because of the public pressure to do something. In Portland’s Lents neighborhood, the complaints about drug use and garbage and trespassers keep coming.
Female:Mr. Commissioner, you need to sit up there. You need to face the crowd.
Melissa Lewis:Five months after police commander Erica Hurley speaks at a Lents Neighborhood Livability Association meeting, a city housing commissioner is in the hot seat.
Female:[crosstalk] firing squad.
Melissa Lewis:Someone cracks a joke about a firing squad. Commissioner Dan Ryan, has been in office less than a year. He heads Portland’s Housing Bureau. This evening he stays standing up to talk, hands thrust in his pockets, as he gives his pitch for getting people off the street. He wants to build sites around the city with private sleeping pods and services geared toward getting people into permanent housing. He calls them Safe Rest Villages.
Commissioner Da…:And so I understand that we need to think about this differently, and we need to meet people where they are. So that’s why I’m proposing to build these Safe Rest Villages [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:But these are just temporary places for people to stay. Voters approved a tax hike to build permanent housing, but that will take years.
Commissioner Da…:… [inaudible].
Cindy:Hi, my name is Cindy, I live in the neighborhood. [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:Lots of people have questions.
Cindy:Cindy, yes. How many of these little houses are they starting to build that you have proposed?
Commissioner Da…:Yeah. We’re proposing six villages to start [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:Commissioner Ryan’s goal is to build six of these villages within the next two years. Combined, they could house up to about 360 people, only a fraction of the more than 2000 people who live on the streets and not in a shelter. But the people in the room with commissioner Ryan today want action now.
Female:And I don’t understand what’s going on and why they can’t be taken away. And they’re running their generators and they’re doing drugs and they’re pooping in the street. I don’t understand that.
Melissa Lewis:These Lents residents are frustrated. Many go out in the neighborhood regularly to pick up trash themselves.
Male:We clean it up, they come back. We clean it up, they come back. And I’m not lying, but I got a concealed weapons permit. And if it happens in my yard, there’s going to be a problem. My wife caries too.
Male:Amen.
Male:Here, here.
Male:So if we don’t come up with a solution, you’re going to have some deaths around here if people going to people’s yards. That’s the truth, because we are frustrated, totally frustrated.
Commissioner Da…:I understand. [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:It’s gotten extreme. Commissioner Ryan tries to bring the crowd back to his plan for transitional villages. He says that Ninth Circuit Court decision, Martin versus Boise, means if people refuse to stay at a Safe Rest Village, then police can finally act.
Commissioner Da…:Because once we build these villages, then we’ll have places to take people and then if they don’t want to go there, then law enforcement and others have an opportunity to actually do something to move them, so …
Female:How long will that take to build these villages?
Male:Yeah [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:Months later, over a video call, I asked the commissioner to clarify. It sounded like you meant that once the villages are built, then law enforcement can come move people that neighbors complain about. Is that what you meant?
Commissioner Da…:What I said is that we will have more information on those that are service resistant and we can get to the bottom of that. And then [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:Then he never says a clear yes or no, on law enforcement moving people. And he won’t say whether people like Chris, with criminal records or active arrest warrants, will be allowed in the villages. Ryan says the private contractors will run them and law enforcement have to weigh in on that. He won’t be pinned down on what role law enforcement will play, but he does say he wants to improve the 911 system, so more responders with training in trauma can handle homelessness calls, not just the police.
Commissioner Da…:[crosstalk] a pathway, where there’s actually teeth and there’s services, so somebody isn’t just being enabled to live on the streets forever, but in fact, that we have enough compassion that has some tough love to it to say, “Come on. We want you to live in these villages and receive these services.”
Melissa Lewis:Ryan says the biggest challenge he’s facing is nimbyism, the not in my backyard dilemma, city officials across the country face when trying to site shelters. He needs to convince people these villages are going to be different from what they see now.
Commissioner Da…:These will be 24/7 supervised. They will provide sanitation services, hygiene services. They’ll provide community.
Melissa Lewis:So far, his office has announced locations for three of the six planned villages.
Al Letson:City Commissioner Dan Ryan is trying to build communities from scratch, but in Lents Park, Kristle has already built a community by getting people to trust her.
Kristle Delihan…:We’re breaking shame, is what we’re doing. Like, I don’t have the answers to get these people housed right now, but we’re going to figure it out.
Al Letson:That’s next on Reveal. Do you want to know more about how we do what we do? Well, our weekly newsletter takes you behind the scenes. Our investigations change laws, minds and sure, we like to say, the world. Be among the first to read them, just text newsletter to 474747. You can text stop at any time. Standard data rates apply. Again, text newsletter to 474747. From the Center for Investigative Reporting in PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. In the Lents neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, we visited weekly dinners in the park and witnessed what it’s like to be unhoused, but it was more than that. The dinners were a window into what it takes to build trust with unhoused people and give them the help they want. Kristle Delihanty started these dinners with a very clear philosophy in mind.
Kristle Delihan…:We’re breaking shame, is what we’re doing. Like, I don’t have the answers to get these people housed right now, but we’re going to figure it out. If I can use empathy-
Al Letson:Kristle says shame adds up because being homeless sometimes means committing crimes to survive.
Kristle Delihan…:Most of these folks are $5 at Walmart or on somebody’s property.
Al Letson:Kristle remembers this one woman who was always in trouble for trespassing.
Kristle Delihan…:People were taking her picture and being like, “This crazy lady is in my yard again.” So, I got to know her and she really was just out there. She thought her family owned Starbucks. She was arrested over and over and over and over again. But she had severe mental health issues.
Al Letson:Eventually, Kristle finds this woman’s adult daughter who got her mother off the streets. Over months of reporting, Reveal’s Melissa Lewis has gotten to know Kristle and has seen how the community she’s built is trying to move people off the streets in a painstaking way, one person at a time, while the criminal justice system primarily responds to homelessness through arrests or shoeing people away. Melissa tells us Kristle’s story. And just a heads up, it involves descriptions of drug use and talk of suicide.
Melissa Lewis:It’s really hard to talk to Kristle in the park, when the dinners are going on. She’s always got work to do. So we meet up on Zoom. At home, she just has her own kids to watch.
Kristle Delihan…:I can’t hear when you’re yelling. Could you choose swimming or choose inside, but you’ve got to choose one. Okay?
Male:I start over again.
Kristle Delihan…:Sorry. [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:Kristle and her husband now own a home in a Portland suburb. They live there with their two boys who are five and seven. Just recently, her work at Lents Park became a paid job, after she formed a nonprofit and started receiving a small salary. And she likes surprising people who might think she’s a stereotypical suburban mom, busy with a parent/teacher association.
Kristle Delihan…:Like when I’m standing in front of people, I just look like this PTA mom. And I get to say, “Yeah, I’m actually a recovering heroin addict.” And I came from homelessness.
Melissa Lewis:Kristle grew up in a house near Lents, a couple miles from the park. She says her dad was abusive and her mom stuck with him. So as a teenager, she ran away a lot and started experimenting with drugs. Then at 16, she had a baby.
Kristle Delihan…:I thought, “Okay, I got to get it together.” So I lied my way into an accounting position, but I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and something called spondylolisthesis in my spine.
Melissa Lewis:Enter oxycodone. These painkillers helped, but when Kristle’s prescription ran out, she struggled to function and feared she’d lose her job. A friend suggested she try heroin. Kristle’s first reaction was, “Absolutely, no way.”
Kristle Delihan…:I’m like, “Oh my gosh, no. I would never put a needle on my arm.” She’s like, “Well, you don’t have to.” I was like, “Okay, I’ll do it. And then I’ll figure it out. I’ll take some time off and I’ll get off of all of it.”
Melissa Lewis:But instead of getting off heroin, heroin took her over.
Kristle Delihan…:If you’re ever driving down the freeway and it’s pouring rain, and the rain is beating on the top of your car and it’s so loud and so heavy and so chaotic, and then you go under a bridge and for a moment, it’s quiet, that’s what heroin was to my traumatized heart. Immediately, for the first time, I did not feel all the why’s and what’s of what happened in my life. And I fell in love with that.
Melissa Lewis:She was hooked for 15 years. Eventually, to quit heroin, she turned to meth. Until then, she says she had managed to hide much of her drug use, holding down jobs and raising her son. On meth, she found she could do neither.
Kristle Delihan…:It just took my mind to a really yucky place.
Melissa Lewis:She left her son with a family member and didn’t see him for a year. She wound up homeless and couchsurfed. But then she got pressured to exchange sex for a place to sleep, so she started to steal cars instead.
Kristle Delihan…:I would just drive them out on a dark road and I’d sleep in it for a couple of hours and then drive it back into the town and just walk away from it.
Melissa Lewis:Kristle has an arrest record in Oregon and Washington State. She’s faced felony charges for car theft, identity theft, drug possession. She also got caught illegally carrying a gun. This all happened in 2013. Kristle was 33 years old. In both states, she was released on her own recognizance, but she fled and the meth was taking a toll.
Kristle Delihan…:I ended up with a meth-induced psychosis and I thought the police were going to kill me if they caught me. I no longer was thinking rationally. I was scared to death. I had a gun on me and one morning I just decided, “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
Melissa Lewis:Kristle says she wanted to stop doing drugs. She was facing the prospect of a long prison sentence. She felt trapped and tried to kill herself by crashing her car. Kristle describes what happened next as a divine intervention of sorts.
Kristle Delihan…:All of a sudden, my feet slammed on the brake and I didn’t intentionally do it. And I started screaming. I said, “No, God damn you.” Because I knew it was not me. It was something bigger than me. And I started crying, “If there’s anything left repairable in me, would you show me now?” And what I felt was the creator tell me, “Go home.”
Melissa Lewis:So Kristle did go home. And this time, her mother was there for her.
Kristle Delihan…:She knew the police had been looking for me and that I was dealing with psychosis. She helped arrange my arrest in a safe way.
Melissa Lewis:And once Kristle turned herself in, things started going her way. She wasn’t prosecuted. In one case, she says the DA told her, there just wasn’t enough evidence. Kristle was shocked, but grateful to have the chance to stay out of prison, get clean and move forward with her life. If Kristle had been confronted by police, while in that psychotic state, it might not have gone down this way. And many people don’t get any of these kinds of breaks, including people who are part of Kristle’s community at Lents Park
Dispatch:911 emergency, how can I help you?
Male:Hi there. I have a guy in Lents Park who kind of thinks he must be some kind of cowboy. He’s wielding what looks to be a firearm. It’s too far away to tell whether or not it’s an actual gun or an airsoft gun.
Dispatch:All right, we’ll get somebody at that way. Does it look like a handgun or a rifle?
Male:Handgun. It’s handgun. [crosstalk]-
Dispatch:Okay. Is he pointing it on anyone?
Male:No, he’s wielding it at the fence.
Melissa Lewis:It’s Friday morning, hours before Kristle usually arrives. That fence where the caller says a man is standing with a gun is just across the parking lot from where Friday dinners happen.
Zachary DeLong:All right. Now I have eyes on him.
Melissa Lewis:Portland Police Officer Zachary DeLong arrives minutes later.
Zachary DeLong:He’s not wearing a shirt now, just black pants. And I think his hands are empty right now. We’re just going to pull into the parking lot and address him from distance.
Melissa Lewis:DeLong parks gets out of his patrol car and quickly updates the dispatcher.
Zachary DeLong:Okay. 980. He’s not compliant. He’s flipping us off. Transients from the parking lot are saying he has a gun. I think the gun’s in his back pocket.
Melissa Lewis:DeLong and another officer are behind a tree, eyes and weapons trained on the man from some 90 feet away. The witness films with his phone as the officers and the man yell back and forth. We want to warn you, you’ll hear shots coming up.
Police Officer:Put your hands up.
Police Officer:[crosstalk] up.
Zachary DeLong:The man walks a few steps toward them. He throws part of his tent on the ground, then turns and walks away from the police out of the video frame. Less than four minutes have passed since the officers laid eyes on him.
Police Officer:Keep your hands [inaudible].
Male:He shot him. [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:In the phone video, you can see a figure lying flat in green grass between a linden tree and the baseball stadium fence. The man filming and another witness describe what they’re seeing.
David Hernandez:There’s like 15 cops-
Male:There’s like 15 cops here right now.
David Hernandez:… and they just shot someone in the park-
Male:And they shot someone in the park.
David Hernandez:… right in front of us.
Male:Shot someone in the park. I think he’s dead. I think he’s dead.
Melissa Lewis:Robert Delgado is the man police killed. He was 46 years old and had spent much of his life within a couple miles of Lents Park. He had five siblings and four adult children. Court documents show he had a long arrest record, was unhoused for several years and struggled with mental illness. A week after his death, Robert’s family holds a memorial service in Lents Park. They play a video he’d made on a trip to the Oregon Coast.
Robert Delgado:It’s cold, it’s cold and wet here. Gray, gnarly skies, but beautiful, very beautiful. I just want to say thank God for being here for me. Thank God for my family and my friends. I love you all. Let’s all be good to one another. Stay kind, try to be thoughtful and help each other out. And I love you all. Bobby out.
Melissa Lewis:That handgun Robert had on him turned out to be a replica. It had an orange tip, which is supposed to signal that it’s fake. Police who shot him say they never saw that orange from where they stood. A Portland police officer has told us it’s common for people living on the street to peacock with weapons real or fake. That means they show off the weapons, so people won’t pick fights or steal from them. Although Robert was camping in Lents Park, he had never met Kristle, but she learned about his death almost immediately.
Kristle Delihan…:Within 15 minutes of his shooting, our campers actually texted me to call him and said, “I have the video. And they’re trying to take my phone.”
Melissa Lewis:That camper, the man who caught the shooting on his cell phone is a Friday night dinner regular, David Hernandez.
David Hernandez:I’m homeless, been living in my truck now for the past three years on the opposite side of Lents Park.
Melissa Lewis:David felt traumatized after witnessing the shooting.
David Hernandez:It was horrible. Everybody’s been to a funeral, you know? I’ve never seen a life taken and it’s really disturbing me. I’m not quite sure how to process it.
Melissa Lewis:David says he’s been unhoused off and on in Portland and California for more than a decade. He’s in his 50s, has thick, dark hair and a big mustache. He lives in a burgundy Chevy suburban with his partner Tony. David’s been arrested or cited multiple times by Portland police. His charges include having alcohol in public property, putting up a tent and offensive littering, the kinds of charges many unhoused people face. David brushes all those off, but witnessing police killing someone who lives a lot like he does, deeply affects him.
David Hernandez:I don’t trust the Portland police and I’m kind of scared for my life.
Melissa Lewis:Since 2012, Portland police have been under federal oversight for using excessive force against people with perceived or actual mental illnesses, including when they’re in crises. According to Portland’s latest count, more than 40% of people living on the street have a mental illness. Robert Delgado was one of them, and so is David. He’s on medication for anxiety and he receives disability payments. It’s not enough to afford an apartment in Portland though, and seeing Robert killed makes him really want to get off the streets and live somewhere safe. He finds a housing program, but needs help getting paperwork together, so he goes to Kristle.
David Hernandez:Kristle helped me out and donated money to pay for my birth certificate. And she’s also helping me with the social security part. I missed three other appointments. So she’s going to wake up, come down, pick me up and take me herself.
Melissa Lewis:Over several weeks, they sort through and submit documents. Then, a waiting game. It’s been months since he started the process. He’s still living in his car. When he gets called to testify at the grand jury investigating Robert’s death, it reignites his fear. Jurors decide the officers use of force didn’t break the law and don’t indict him. By now, it’s fall and he’s still waiting to get a place.
Social Worker:So this is your name, mailing address, contact information and your income here [crosstalk]-
Melissa Lewis:Finally, one Friday evening in October, a social worker shows up at dinner at the park. She has housing paperwork for David. It’s already dark, so he reads by the light of his cell phone. This is going to be the final step.
Social Worker:This was meant to be, and I’m excited to get to see you through for this housing voucher. I know we’ve been talking for a long time waiting for this day to come.
David Hernandez:For a really long time and everything kept coming up and I keep needing-
Social Worker:Something …
David Hernandez:… another form.
Social Worker:Yeah, I mean, it’s just a setback all the time, and so I appreciate your grace.
Melissa Lewis:One more signature and done. David calls across the dinner area.
David Hernandez:Kristle, that’s it. We got it all signed.
Kristle Delihan…:Woo-hoo, [crosstalk].
Social Worker:It’s all good.”
Kristle Delihan…:Awesome. Thank you for coming down.
Social Worker:Thank you so much for getting him set-
David Hernandez:I’m so excited. [crosstalk] Thank you.
Social Worker:… up with all of the documentation.
David Hernandez:I’m so excited, bro. I’m too tired to be out here.
Female:[crosstalk] Okay, cool.
David Hernandez:[crosstalk] have my own couch-
Female:I’m all about it.
David Hernandez:… my own toilet, my own toilet.
Female:Yeah, I’m all about it.
Male:That’s amazing.
Melissa Lewis:That was October 1st. David still isn’t housed. A subsidized apartment hasn’t become available yet. He was hoping to be indoors by Christmas. His first decoration, a two foot tall Charlie brown Christmas tree that he spotted in Lents Park.
Female:Which one?
David Hernandez:That one right there, it just looks beautiful. Nature at its best. I’ve been planning it all year.
Melissa Lewis:But now, Christmas is less than a week away.
David Hernandez:Whether I get in or not, when I do, I’m still going to cut the tree down, even if it’s in the summer, just, and I’m going to have my first Christmas in the summertime.
Melissa Lewis:The little evergreen that David has his eye on is right next to where Chris VanHook was arrested on an outstanding warrant this summer. He was then cleared of the charge and released from probation. But I found out there’s a new warrant for Chris’s arrest. It’s from an old charge for possessing a small amount of meth, which is decriminalized in Oregon today. Same situation as last time.
Al Letson:Thanks to Reveal’s Melissa Lewis for bringing us that story. Cecilia Brown and Reveal’s Emily Harris provided additional reporting and produced this week’s show. Cynthia Rodriguez edited the show with help from Pauline Arriaga, Data Editor Sarah Cohen and Senior Supervising Editor Taki Telonidis. Thanks to Reveal’s Soo Oh and Andy Donahue for additional editing and David Rodriguez for engagement reporting.
Al Letson:Special thanks to Esther Kaplan for initial guidance and to Shawn Musgrave and Alexandra Gutierrez for helping with records requests. Victoria Baranetsky is our general counsel. Our production manager is Amy, the great Mostafa. Score and sound design by the dynamic duo, Jay Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs and Fernando, my man yo, Arruda. They had help this week from Steven Rescon, Kathryn Styer Martinez and Claire, C-Note, Mullen. Our digital producer is Sarah Mirk. Our interim CEO is Annie Chabel. Sumi Aggarwal is our editor in chief and our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan.
Al Letson:Our theme music is by Camarato, Lightning. Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, the Democracy Fund and the Inasmuch Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I’m Al Letson. And remember, there is always more to the story.
Automated:From PRX.

Melissa Lewis is a data reporter for Reveal. Prior to joining Reveal, she was a data editor at The Oregonian, a data engineer at Simple and a data analyst at Periscopic. She is an organizer for the Portland chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association. Lewis is based in Oregon.

Emily Harris is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. She previously served as an NPR international correspondent, based first in Berlin and later in Jerusalem. Her 2016 series on Israelis and Palestinians changing their minds about some aspect of their conflict won the Overseas Press Club’s Lowell Thomas Award, and her 2014 coverage of Gaza was honored with an Overseas Press Club citation. She also was part of the NPR team that won a 2004 Peabody Award for coverage in Iraq. Harris lived in and reported from Russia during the upheaval of the 1990s. In the U.S., she covered a range of beats for NPR’s Washington desk and reported jointly for NPR and PBS’ “Now” with Bill Moyers. Harris helped start and host “Think Out Loud,” a daily public affairs talk show on Oregon Public Broadcasting. She worked to evaluate and share new financial models for journalism as editorial director of the Journalism Accelerator startup. She’s drafted a screenplay about relationships born in war and collects audio stories of awful and mind-changing moments in people’s lives. Harris is based in Portland, Oregon.

Cynthia Rodriguez

Cynthia Rodriguez is a senior radio editor for Reveal. She is an award-winning journalist who came to Reveal from New York Public Radio, where she spent nearly two decades covering everything from the city’s dramatic rise in family homelessness to police’s fatal shootings of people with mental illness.

In 2019, Rodriguez was part of Caught, a podcast that documents how the problem of mass incarceration starts with the juvenile justice system. Caught received an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award for outstanding journalism in the public interest. Her other award-winning stories include investigations into the deaths of construction workers during New York City's building boom and the “three-quarter house” industry – a network of independent, privately run buildings that pack vulnerable people into unsanitary, overcrowded buildings in exchange for their welfare funds.

In 2013, Rodriguez was one of 13 journalists to be selected as a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan, where her study project was on the intersection of poverty and mental health. She is based in New York City but is originally from San Antonio, Texas, and considers both places home.

Taki Telonidis is an interim executive producer for Reveal. Previously, he was the media producer for the Western Folklife Center, where he created more than 100 radio features for NPR’s "All Things Considered," "Weekend Edition" and other news magazines. He has produced and directed three public television specials, including "Healing the Warrior’s Heart," a one-hour documentary that explores how the ancient spiritual traditions of our nation’s first warriors, Native Americans, are helping today’s veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Telonidis also was senior content editor for NPR’s "State of the Re:Union." Before moving to the West, he worked for NPR in Washington, where he was senior producer of "Weekend All Things Considered" between 1994 and 1998. His television and radio work has garnered a George Foster Peabody Award, three Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards and the Overseas Press Club Award for breaking news. Telonidis is based in Salt Lake City.

Soo Oh is the enterprise editor for data at Reveal. She has previously reported data stories, coded interactive visuals and built internal tools at the Wall Street Journal, Vox.com, the Los Angeles Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education. In 2018, she was a John S. Knight Fellow at Stanford University, where she researched how to better manage and support journalists with technical skills. Oh is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Andy Donohue is the executive editor for projects for Reveal. He’s edited Reveal’s investigations into the treatment of migrant children in government care, Amazon’s labor practices, rehab work camps and sexual abuse in the janitorial industry. He’s been on teams that have twice been Pulitzer Prize finalists and have won Investigative Reporters and Editors, Edward R. Murrow, Online News Association, Third Coast International Audio Festival, Gerald Loeb, Sidney Hillman Foundation and Emmy awards. He previously helped build and lead Voice of San Diego, served on the IRE board for eight years and is an alumnus of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University. Donohue is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

David Rodriguez is a community engagement producer for Reveal. Before joining Reveal, Rodriguez's work as an engagement assistant producer at Southern California Public Radio helped develop a report on how newsrooms can improve their reporting on the 2020 Census, which won the 2019 Gather Award in Engaged Journalism. 

Rodriguez has reported stories on immigration at the Investigative Reporting Workshop in American University. He is an alum of NPR's Next Generation Radio and San Francisco State University. He previously completed internships with KPCC's podcast team, where he helped produce The Big One: Your Survival Guide, and with Reveal, where he created a database tracking how much money and time the United States government has spent buying land along the U.S.-Mexico border. He is based in Los Angeles.

Amy Mostafa (she/they) is the production manager for Reveal. She is a UC Berkeley School of Journalism alum, where she focused on audio and data journalism as a Dean's Merit Fellow and an ISF Scholar. She has reported on science, health and the environment in Anchorage for Alaska Public Media and on city government in Berkeley and San Francisco for KQED. Her work also has appeared on NPR, KALW and KALX. Mostafa holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and public policy. She has most recently reported on housing and aging in the Bay Area. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Sarah Mirk (she/her) is a digital engagement producer for Reveal. Since 2017, she has worked as an editor at The Nib, an online daily comics publication focused on political cartoons, graphic journalism, essays and memoirs about current affairs. She works with artists to create nonfiction comics on a variety of complex topics, from personal narratives about queer identities to examinations of overlooked history. Before that, Mirk was the online editor of national feminist media outlet Bitch, a podcast host and a local news reporter. She is also the author of several books, including “Year of Zines,” a collection of 100 handmade zines, and “Guantanamo Voices,” a collection of illustrated oral histories of the world’s most infamous prison. Mirk is based in Portland, Oregon.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Fernando Arruda

Fernando Arruda is a sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. As a multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the original music, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. He has held four O-1 visas for individuals with extraordinary abilities. His work has been recognized with Peabody, duPont-Columbia, Edward R. Murrow, Gerald Loeb, Third Coast and Association of Music Producers awards, as well as Emmy and Pulitzer nominations. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio for media and TV ads, and co-founded a film-scoring boutique called the Manhattan Composers Collective. He worked with clients such as Marvel, MasterClass and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck+Company, BUCK and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles, such as SFJAZZ Monday Night Band, Art&Sax quartet, Krychek, Dark Inc. and the New York Arabic Orchestra. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 Percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker,” Wondery’s “Detective Trapp,” MSNBC’s “Why Is This Happening?” and NBC’s “Born to Rule,” to name a few. Arruda also has a wide catalog of composed music for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which has premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. The original music he makes with Jim Briggs for Reveal can be found on Bandcamp.

Steven Rascón (he/they) is a production assistant for Reveal. He is pursuing a master's degree at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism with a Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy Fellowship. His focus is investigative reporting and audio documentary. He has written for online, magazines and radio. His reporting on underreported fentanyl overdoses in Los Angeles' LGBTQ community aired on KCRW and KQED. Rascón is passionate about telling diverse stories for radio through community engagement. He holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater arts and creative writing.

Claire Mullen worked at The Center for Investigative Reporting until September 2017. is an associate sound designer and audio engineer for Reveal. Before joining Reveal, she was an assistant producer at Radio Ambulante and worked with KALW, KQED, the Association of Independents in Radio and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. She studied humanities and media studies at Scripps College.

Kevin Sullivan is the executive producer of Reveal’s public radio show and podcast. He joined Reveal from the daily news magazine show “Here & Now,” where he was senior managing editor. There, he helped lead the expansion of the show as part of a unique partnership between NPR and WBUR. Prior to radio, Sullivan worked as a documentary film producer. That work took him around the world, with stories ranging from reconciliation in Northern Ireland to the refugee crisis during the war in Kosovo.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sullivan launched an investigative unit for CBS in Baltimore, where he spearheaded investigations on bioterrorism and the U.S. government’s ability to respond to future threats. He also dug into local issues. His exposé of local judges found widespread lax sentencing of repeat-offender drunken drivers. Other investigations included sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, and doctors who sold OxyContin for cash. Sullivan has won multiple journalism awards, including several Edward R. Murrow awards, a Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition award and an Emmy. He has an MBA from Boston University.

Sullivan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Al Letson is a playwright, performer, screenwriter, journalist, and the host of Reveal. Soul-stirring, interdisciplinary work has garnered Letson national recognition and devoted fans.