Battling a meth charge in Multnomah Circuit Court, prominent homeless advocate Ibrahim Mubarak is taking the case to trial rather than go into a treatment-based diversion program.
Mubarak's court case, which has previously gone unreported, began with his arrest by Portland police May 2 on charges of possession of a controlled substance.
The following day he was charged with the misdemeanor. Trial was set to begin last week — but instead was postponed until September due to a judge's scheduling conflict.
It might seem odd he's going to trial, as Mubarak, who has pleaded not guilty, was deemed eligible for District Attorney Rod Underhill's relatively new Treatment First diversion program, which allows charges to be dismissed on completion of a treatment program.
But Jan Radle Roberson, a friend of Mubarak, says the word going around the homeless community community is that the meth actually was not Mubarak's, but was in the possession of a homeless person he was transporting.
"He does not use meth. that you can take the bank," she said.
Ree Campbell, another friend, echoed Radle Roberson, saying Mubarak was driving someone else's car who needed moving, and it was that person's meth.
Cambell and Radle Roberson said they, like Mubarak, help homeless people move their possessions when facing sweeps.
Radle Roberson lamented the bust, saying "I'll tell you, this has caused some of us to second-guess those who we transport."
Her account was echoed in a statement released to the Portland Mercury Tuesday morning by the Village Coalition, of which Mubarak is a member. The statement said Mubarak "does not use illegal drugs."
While Mubarak declined to discuss the case, in a phone call he was asked about his feelings about the diversion and treatment. options available to him. He said that he doesn't believe in compelled treatment, saying it should be the choice the person affected. "I think people that's on drugs need to make that decision," he said. Citing the pending case, he added, "And that's all I want to say right now."
In recent years Mubarak has become a well-known face of homelessness in Portland.
The co-founder and longtime head of Portland's first formal homeless encampment, Dignity Village, he then moved on to lead Right 2 Dream, Too.
He now works for a nonprofit known a Harbor of Hope that was set up by developer Homer Williams. The group is trying to set up a new homeless encampment.
Contacted to talk about Mubarak, Williams declined to comment on the meth charge, but said, "He's a complicated person. He's a very smart guy. I think sometimes he lets his emotions get maybe further out than they should. I think he's committed to doing good."
Mubarak's latest arrest follows a cycle in which time and time again, a period of leadership for Mubarak has been followed by strife and interactions with police.
Mubarak was born Keith Jackson and grew up in Chicago. Upon moving to Portland, he was arrested several times on charges of dealing crack cocaine.
In 2000, taking up the mantle of helping the homeless, he helped found Dignity Village. Under his leadership, residents were discouraged from calling 911 and from participating in treatment programs for drugs or alcohol.
"They don't work," Mubarak told Willamette Week in 2002. "People generally do what they want to do. If you want to stop, you do it."
Mubarak's tenure with Dignity Village became stormy that year, when he talked about calling off elections amidst growing complaints over his leadership style. Homeless advocates openly expressed concern over reports of an atmosphere that sounded like Lord of the Flies. There were reports that leaders were abusing drugs and alcohol, and police received several calls about Mubarak, including about assaults he was alleged to have committed. He left the village in 2003.
In 2004, meal providers for the homeless at St. Francis Dining Hall asked Mubarak and a group of youths he associated with, known as the Portland Riders, to stop coming there. They did so based on reports the youths were robbing and assaulting people, including the homeless, though Mubarak said he was unaware of the allegations.
In 2016, the city reportedly blocked developer Williams' proposal to set up a massive homeless shelter, citing plans to put Mubarak in charge.
In February of this year, having helped form the R2D2 camp in 2011, Mubarak left. In an interview with the Portland Mercury, he cited "directional differences" with leadership.
This article has been modified to reflect additional reporting.