As the Pacific Northwest pushes through a prolonged heat wave, Multnomah County, along with partner organizations, outreach teams and mutual aid groups continue to work hard to reach people in the field.
Multnomah County’s Department of Community Justice’s Mental Health Mobile Unit is a part of the important effort. The unit typically provides “drop-in” service to people regularly reached by the team and others who may need a lifeline. Though the unit was originally created to reach people in an additional way amid the COVID-19 pandemic, its method of connecting with people in need is being leveraged more and more often during extreme heat and cold weather events.
“It’s an attempt to meet people where they’re at and change the way services are delivered,” said John McVay, a sworn community justice manager with the Department of Community Justice (DCJ), the department that provides community supervision for people involved in the justice system.
On Wednesday afternoon, the team set up at one of its normal outreach locations on Southeast 122nd Ave. and East Burnside. The three-person unit, which typically includes two parole and probation officers and a corrections technician, also makes visits to Old Town and areas of Northeast Portland.
However, the team strives to be present at the same spot on the same days and at the same time.
“That’s meant to establish consistency, because what we’re doing is working hard to build relationships with the people we’re working with,” said McVay. “We’re working hard to connect people to services and, in this case, cool places amid sweltering heat.”
During a two-hour window on Wednesday morning, the team handed out four cases of water and 75 lunches catered by Multnomah County’s Juvenile Services Division Courtyard Cafe and Catering Services, as well as basic supplies and cooling towels as temperatures continued to climb.
“We are also distributing cooling kits and providing information about misting stations and cooling shelters and cool spaces, especially at the nearby East Portland Community Center, as well as the Midland Library,” said McVay.
Among the many goals of the team is to re-engage people who are on community supervision or parole and probation, and also to simply work with vulnerable populations to provide basic services.
“A lot of times people have an image of parole and probation as only about taking people to custody,” said McVay. “While we hold people accountable, what we also do is help people re-engage and move on with their lives. We develop relationships with people who we’re working with.”