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Julia Mines
Saundra Sorenson
Published: 01 November 2023

But as service providers expand or get up and running to meet demands, a newly formed group called the Coalition to Fix and Improve Ballot Measure 110 has announced it is working on two ballot measure drafts to make drug treatment after citation mandatory, rather than voluntary and avoidable with a fine, and which would recriminalize meth and heroin possession.

The coalition is co-led by Dan Lavey, one of two political consultants who founded the dark money group People for Portland. People for Portland was criticized for attempts to counteract the 2020 voter-approved Metro homeless services tax, which had a focus on permanent housing and wraparound services to break the cycle of homelessness. People for Portland’s proposed measure sought to redirect 75% of the funding to emergency shelters instead of more permanent solutions – a move critics saw as a cynical attempt to remove homeless individuals from public view, rather than offer them housing.

That attempt was struck down in court, and the measure did not appear on ballots. But many addiction service advocates see that pattern playing out yet again with the new coalition.

war on drugs sign photo steve goodyear flickr full(Photo/Steve Goodyear via Flickr)
BIPOC addiction service providers and advocates have warned that the changes the coalition proposes will lead back to disproportionately high rates of incarceration for Oregonians of color, and will defund community-based programs that are already showing success with Measure 110 funding.

The Skanner sat down with Julia Mines, the executive director of The Miracles Club, to discuss how these proposed changes threaten BIPOC communities.

The Miracles Club is a Black peer-led recovery center specifically serving marginalized individuals struggling with addiction. Now nearing its 30th year of operation, the nonprofit  provides harm reduction and addiction recovery services, and has expanded its offerings since receiving $2.6 million of an allotted $3.2 million of Measure 110 funding.

 

The Skanner: How has Measure 110 changed operations at The Miracles Club?

Mines: We know that Measure 110 came about because of the epic failure of the war on drugs. It came about to provide services for the African American, Latino and Indigenous populations of the state. However, we’re a small population in this state. 

We have received funding and what is happening for Miracles is that we have our doors swing from the time we open in the morning til the time we close at night. We are giving incentives, programming – mainly for clients, but it also helps our staff. We have been able to increase our workforce, we have been able to train people up to work for Miracles.

So with that, the only drawbacks are the populations – the White organizations, they’re really not giving services to our populations. They’ll refer them to us, which is fine because we don’t mind. We help everybody. We don’t discriminate.

Our target is the African American recovery population, but anybody who walks through the door if they need help, that’s what we do. And if we can’t provide them with services, we will refer them to somebody that can.

We have an organization – the Oregon Black Brown Indigenous Advocacy Coalition. We partner with Fresh Out, Going Home 2, Oregon Change Clinic and others. We formed this coalition to hold the other organizations that don’t look like us accountable for funding of this money. Our focus is on making sure we rebuild our communities to the best of our ability with this money.

And Measure 110 has been a godsend for us to help rebuild our communities.

The Skanner: How many people are you able to serve?

Mines: We have at least 11 peer (mentors), and each one has the capacity to serve 15 clients, because we don’t overload. And then we have a three-person outreach team that goes out, and in the last six months, I know we’ve served over 6,000 people in outreach – food, clothing, safe using kits, a needle exchange, Narcan. And Measure 110 pays for a clothes closet in our basement. Everything is brand new. We want people to be empowered, so we have brand new clothing and hygiene (supplies).

We also have transitional housing for African American men and one for women, with eight beds at each, for people who are 30 to 60 days clean. We’re about to open up an expression house for people that may identify “other,” and a stabilization house for people that aren’t clean, that maybe want to get clean, who are getting out of Hooper (Detox) and don’t have a safe place to go – that’s opening in January. It will be a duplex with six beds on each side.

It’s direly needed, because when people get out of Hooper with nowhere to go, they’re already coming out of homelessness, so sending them to a stabilization house will be a godsend so they can actually begin to get clean and get into treatment so they get to where they need to go. It’s a very vulnerable time, so we’re trying to provide that service.

Measure 110 has really helped us grow expeditiously and we are doing what we need to do to help our community.

The Skanner: What are the dangers of recriminalizing small amounts of drug possession?

Mines: Even though we’re a small population, we’re the targeted population. So if we recriminalize, what happens? We start going back to jail, the jails become overcrowded, for small amounts of drugs.

I just took a trip to Portugal. Their decriminalization is working there. It took time to get off the ground, it took 4 to 8 years just for them to see their numbers go down. But it’s working now. But what it takes is for everybody to be on the same page: Law enforcement, the attorneys, the judicial system, the treatment centers.

What I hear in the news is Measure 110 isn’t working. Well, you’re not giving it time to work! You didn’t destroy our communities overnight!

It took you time to destroy our communities. So what makes you think that we can fix it overnight?

This has only been in effect for 18 months, and we’ve only had our money for a year. So what do you want?

Let us get our feet on the ground, do the work, and over time things will change. 

The Skanner: What model did you observe in Portugal?

Mines: The police bought into the issue, and they started this because they had a heroin and marijuana problem and HIV. So 90% of Portugal, there was one person in every family that was actively using. So if you get caught using drugs, or with drugs on you, they confiscate them. And then they give you a ticket or what have you, and you have 72 hours to go to this court assessment. They will assess you as a user, mid-level user, or dependent. They then give you the opportunity to work through whatever it is, if you’re going to go to treatment, outpatient, residential, transitional housing, maybe you just stay on your own because you’re just a recreational user and got caught.

Then they give you six months to complete whatever it is you need to complete, like a treatment plan. And then your record is wiped clean, but you stay on the registry for five years so if something else comes up, we’re going to do this again. But you don’t automatically go to jail.

That’s a lot of what we found: They have transitional housing for men and women where they can go and get their lives stable. They have safe shooting galleries that are manned by medical staff, and they’re clean, they’re kept. There’s a place where you can go in and smoke your weed and get your dogs watered and fed, they have back rooms where you can go smoke your heroin or crack. Medical staff is there to monitor all of it. It’s not a whole lot of bureaucracy around it.

Portugal is a small country, but it’s working. And it can work here in Oregon.

We know Oregon is a White supremacist state. So where’s the buy-in from just the people of Oregon? The whole state. Where’s the buy-in from the justice system? They want us to fix (things), but where’s your buy-in? Where’s the investment in humanity? 

The Skanner: What kind of success stories have you witnessed at Miracles?

Mines: I have several. Men have come through our transitional house, gone through treatment, gone through peer services, and we’ve hired them. We have folks that have come through our program, got into permanent housing and have been there for years.

Miracles creates Miracles. People that would otherwise not be where they’re at have come through Miracles and have changed their lives. 

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