The Weekly Churn, Feb 21

Foster Kids Being Sent to Dangerous Institutions
An investigation by OPB has revealed that the number of Oregon foster children still being sent to for-profit, out-of-state facilities like Clarinda Academy in Iowa has nearly doubled since 2017.

Non-profit Disability Rights Washington released a report in 2018 which described Clarinda Academy as “essentially run like correctional facility,” including the use of punishment by restraints or extreme physical abuse, including broken bones. After the report, Washington state stopped sending their out-of-state foster children there. Oregon has not yet made similar changes, despite the majority of Oregon’s out-of-state foster children being currently placed in facilities operated by Alabama-based Sequel Youth and Family Services, the operators of Clarinda Academy.

There are currently 11 children in Sequel facilities in Iowa, and 39 children in Sequel facilities in Utah. There are 74 Oregon foster kids in Sequel facilities across the country.

Last year, representatives of both Sequel and Clarinda visited Oregon in response to the report, and Oregon Department of Human Services representatives in turn went to Iowa to check on the children there, as well as checked in with “third-party professionals” who are contracted to independently monitor the children. After this process, “Oregon officials determined foster children being sent elsewhere are safe.”

Oregon legislators have been working over the past few years to make improvements to an in-state foster care system whose shortcomings have been widely reported. Senator Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis), a member of the Senate Human Services Committee, questioned the state’s decision to continue contracting with an organization with such serious allegations against them. She also asked why “there’s this huge general fund expenditure…that we’ve never discussed at the legislature,” referring to the $2.5 million spent to send children out-of-state between October and December of 2018.

She also recognized that Oregon’s foster system is not equipped to handle simply returning all of the children to the state.

“I don’t know the answer. If we bring them home, where do they go?” she told OPB, “We have kids with significant needs, and we don’t have what they need to help them and those kids don’t have time to wait for us to figure it out.”

Police Relationship with Far Right Under Scrutiny
As protests and counter-protests in Portland have increased in frequency over the past few years, police have come under fire from public officials and news media for what was described as a “warm” relationship with Joey Gibson, a protest leader affiliated with the right-wing group Patriot Prayer. Patriot Prayer is known for staging counter-protests in Portland which have been criticized as “thinly veiled pretexts” to engage in violence targeted at opposing protesters.

Willamette Week, who acquired the text messages from the Portland Police Bureau, reported that it took 12 weeks of follow-ups to receive these records. They were all subsequently published by the police immediately following the release of Willamette Week’s story.

The officer involved is Lt. Jeff Niiya, who has been part of a liaison team focused on managing protests since the 2011 Occupy Portland protests, but was removed recently as a result of the publication of his messages with Gibson. Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty and some left-leaning activists criticized these messages as being confiding and familiar, revealing a preferential treatment of right-leaning protesters by the Portland police.

Some academics, like Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum, point out that this is now common procedure in police departments, especially in cities like Portland which hosts a lot of political protests, to attempt to reach out and maintain communications with protest leaders on both sides. Police officials claim that the ongoing relationship between Lt. Niiya and Gibson was ordered by Lt. Niiya’s superiors, and Gibson provided information that “helped shape [the police’s] responses.”  

According to police officials, attempts to build similar rapport with left-leaning protest leaders have been unsuccessful. In 2017, messages between Lt. Niiya and one such leader named June (also “Gia”) Davies were made public. Lt. Niiya sought information regarding protester reactions to police behavior (i.e. arrests), to which other left-leaning activists responded by accusing Davies of being an informant to the police. 

However, the content of the messages, not just the friendly tone, has been at the center of the criticism. Niiya shared with Gibson “the movements of counter-protesters…[and] even warning Gibson about an arrest warrant for one of his devoted followers.” They also discussed Luis Enrique Marquez, another left-leaning protest leader, where Lt. Niiya complained to Gibson that the police aren’t doing enough about Marquez. Another conversation shows Lt. Niiya expressing encouragement to Gibson for running for elected office.

After public pressure from Hardesty and Portland Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has announced he will pursue a formal investigation of the incident. The Portland Police Association (the union for line officers) and the Portland Police Command Officers Association (the officers’ union) have both criticized city officials, with the PPCOA filing a formal complaint against Wheeler, Hardesty and Eudaly for “workplace harassment, discrimination and retaliation.”

Oregon May Be First State to Pass Rent Control
Oregon is on track to be the first state in the country to pass legislation setting caps on rent increases. Senate Bill 608 passed the Oregon Senate 17-11 last Tuesday, February 12, and now travels to the House. Larger cities like New York and San Francisco have passed municipal versions of this policy, but Oregon would be the first state to adopt rent control policy.

Under the new law, rent increases would be capped at seven percent annually (plus annual change in the consumer price index), with an exception for rental properties that are less than 15 years old. It would also prevent landlords from pursuing “no-cause” evictions on tenants after they have lived on a property for over one year.

Though the bill has yet to be formally passed into law, some celebrations have already begun. Opposition from Senate Republicans has historically “killed” similar measures, but with the Democrats’ widespread victory in last year’s elections, they now control enough of the Senate to maintain a “fragile coalition” in favor of the bill.

Republicans, though fewer in number, have not lessened their opposition to rent control in Oregon. Senator Tim Knopp of Bend warned that this could have a “chilling effect on investors,” and asked that the Legislature deal with the true problem: housing supply. Senator Fred Girod of Stayton “blamed Democrats for the state’s affordable housing crisis,” saying that higher minimum wages have “caused the cost of labor to spike.”

There are also opponents of this bill from the left. Representatives and members of Oregon’s various Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) chapters have protested in Portland and Salem over a bill which they say still gives far too much power to landlords and too little to tenants. The seven percent figure in SB 608 was a compromise of sorts, between the five percent rate some tenants’ advocates wanted and the 10 percent and higher rates sought by real estate and investment interests. Organizations like the DSA believe the bill does not go far enough, and have advocated for a statewide rent freeze to begin addressing issues of cost and availability of affordable housing.

 

By Ian MacRonald