A pilot program in Portland that offers treatment option instead of jail time for low-level drug offenders has reached the one year mark.
The LEAD Program, which stands for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, is a partnership between the Portland Police Bureau and Multnomah County. The program allows patrol officers to offer low-level drug offenders a path to treatment instead of a trip to jail.
FOX 12 spoke to Ty Grove who, until recently, camped next to the Steel Bridge.
"It's pretty miserable in a lot of ways. I don't know why I did it. I don't know where I was at in my mind. I guess I was just kind of in a hopeless place," said Grove.
Grove was a heroin addict. One morning, as usual, he was about to shoot up when he was confronted by police.
"I was getting ready to do it and somebody said, 'hold it right there, you're under arrest.' And I really thought it was a joke. And I look back and there are two police bicycle police officers there, so I squirted it out and that made them pretty mad," Grove explained.
The officers may have been angry, but they offered the life-time addict a choice: jail or treatment through the LEAD program.
County legal authorities and the city started the program just over a year ago. A recognition that addiction is a health problem not a criminal problem, and that jail doesn't stop addiction but treatment can.
"The message I got was that instead of going to jail, you know, I was going to talk to someone and not go to jail. So of course I agreed to that," said Grove.
The LEAD program through Central City Concern assigned a case manager to work with Grove. This was not an immediate success, and for months Grove resisted.
That behavior is not unusual according to Karen Kern, Director of Substance Use Disorder Services with Central City Concern.
"Everybody's not ready to just jump into treatment, necessarily, after that first contract," said Kern.
"He would hunt me down over by the bridge and talk to me, and usually I think, 'oh here he comes.' But he never pushed on me," Grove said of his case manager. "He would just tell me, 'man, I'm here to help you get your life together.' And his approach was so good, we ended up becoming really good friends, and one day I woke up and decided it's time."
In Old Town and the Lloyd District, both police and case managers make repeated contacts with drug users like Grove.
Grove was one of 94 people who voluntarily entered the LEAD program over the past year. Roughly 20-25 percent left the program, went to jail, or can't be found anymore.
The LEAD program is a program that can work by repeated and persistent contacts.
"That is done by intensive care management with high encounter, so first year we had over 2,000 encounters within our individuals," said Kern.
Those in the LEAD program are in various stages of treatment, which may also include mental and physical health care as well as drug treatment.
Grove is one of the most successful and he credits his case manager who never gave up on him.
"In my addiction, I was a mess. I was lonely and he would show up and he always had a smile on his face and he was positive, and he was there to help me and he'd let me know that," said Grove.
Grove is now 53 years old but he was just a kid when his father first let him try what he called a "funny cigarette."
"At 5 years old when I started using drugs, I guess the message that I learned was happiness was found in drugs. It wasn't relationships," he said.
What followed was a life of drugs, crime, juvenile facilities, jail and prison. He repeatedly tried to kick his drug habit but failed.
Kern says its the growing relationship between the addict and the case worker that's critical to helping people like Grove.
"Things start to improve and then through the relationship they're willing to take the next step to treatment, and we're sort of able to leverage that into housing, employment," said Kern.
With the help of Central City Concern, Grove now has a subsidized studio apartment. The secondhand furniture was all donated.
"It's such a blessing. I thank God first and foremost, but knowing that there's people that He's working through to help me is really important," said Grove.
Grove says he is looking for work. He says he has been a burden on society and he looks forward to the day he longer needs any help.
Grove is one of 14 people in LEAD who now have housing. Central City Concern says there is no time limit for those in recovery in the LEAD program.
The LEAD program is a pilot program and it cost the county about $800,000 over the last year. In May, county commissioners will decide whether to fund the program for a second year.
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