Formerly homeless people say illegal deals spoil safe haven

Judy Dietrich would change only one thing about life at Bud Clark Commons Apartments. She’d like to see the drug dealers kicked out.

“The less dealers we have, the better off we are,” says Dietrich, 49, one of the first tenants placed at the commons.

Before taking a test that rated her among the city’s most vulnerable and qualified her for one of the 130 apartments at the Old Town complex, Dietrich spent three years living on the street. A heroin addict, she says she is being treated with methadone.

Dietrich’s studio apartment at the commons is crammed full with her stuff. She feeds barbecue-flavored potato chips to her pet rat, Mother, and her pet mouse,

Neonasha, who live in cages near her bed.

Since moving into the commons, Dietrich has made use of the social services available on the building’s fourth floor. Social workers helped her apply for Social Security Disability benefits, which she now receives.

On the street, according to Dietrich, she didn’t have the wherewithal to apply for benefits. “I spent all my time making sure I would be warm at night,” she says. “The people on the fourth floor, I really do love them.”

Dietrich also is seeing a mental health counselor as a result of connections made through the commons, and she is having dental work performed. She says her husband is a patient at Oregon Health & Science University and social workers at the commons supplied her with a taxi voucher so she could visit him. The apartment at the commons is intended for Dietrich alone, but before his hospitalization, she says, her husband would stay with her a few nights at a time. When he is well, she says, staff have told her they will help the two of them move into public housing.

“If they could just get rid of some of the people doing wrong, selling drugs,” Dietrich says. “On every floor here there are at least one or two people who (will) sell you something.”

Good idea poorly executed

Jason Isbell spends a lot of time in Bud Clark Commons. Isbell says he knows about 40 percent of the building’s tenants through his years on the street. He can often be found visiting a friend in one apartment or another. He calls himself “high-functioning crazy” and admits to a life of using and dealing drugs. He is being treated with methadone.

According to Isbell, about eight in 10 residents at the commons are substance abusers. Heroin is the drug of choice for about two-thirds of the drug-abusing residents, he says. Hand-off drug deals in front of the building are common, he says, and users know which apartments to ring if they want to buy heroin or meth. It’s not uncommon, Isbell says, for people using the services at the day center to buy drugs in the apartments.

Isbell says he knows a man who has a Bud Clark Commons apartment but rarely is there — he stays at a friend’s apartment in the building and allows a dealer to use his apartment as a base of operations.

Isbell says there are six or seven heroin dealers and four or five meth dealers in the building that he knows personally. Another 20 tenants, he estimates, serve as middlemen or runners for dealers. Isbell says the setup at the commons provides a perfect situation for addicts who were unable to deal on the street.

“They’re just doing it because they’re able to do it,” he says. “Because they have a safe place to do their transactions. They’d get busted in a minute on the street.”

Isbell says the staff at the commons should be aware of the dealing. “Everybody knows everybody who lives there,” he says. “As long as you’re not disturbing the people around you, they don’t care.”

“It’s a great idea poorly executed,” Isbell says of the commons. He says as long as tenants know they can stay there rent-free for life, they won’t be motivated to make changes in their lives. For those with income — usually Social Security Disability — the commons takes about 30 percent for monthly rent.

“A lot of those people, they’re not on the street, so they have no further goals,” he says. “They’re happy. They need to stop allowing people to placate themselves by doing nothing. They need to ensure that people are using this place as an opportunity to improve their lives rather than do the same thing indoors. That is the waste of money.”

A safe place for some

A police officer who patrols the area around Bud Clark Commons says he knows of residents who have moved out of the building because of too much criminal activity. He adds that he gets called to the apartments once or twice a day.

But the officer, who asked that his name not be published, says he prefers to take a big-picture look, and from that perspective he calls the apartments a success. “This provides a place for homeless alcoholics and drug users to live,” he says. “The good news is they’re not doing it out there in front of the MAX stop.”

Another tenant of the commons, a woman in her late 20s with a history of heroin abuse who says she is bipolar, who also asked to remain anonymous, says the heroin scene in the building is “crazy,” but calls her apartment “a godsend.”

“I was living out of a plastic bag for 13 years,” she says, adding that she was raped multiple times while living on the street, but has been safe at the commons.

She wonders if the commons is a more dangerous place to be for heroin addicts because it gives them a safe place to shoot up, and might lead to overdoses. In fact, the tenant says she knows of residents who had never done heroin until moving into Bud Clark Commons, but became hooked on the drug through other


For her, feeling safe trumps all other concerns. “We need more buildings like this,” she says.

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