It’s the simple things that make a difference, Ty Grove says. This week, for example, it’s his new 55-inch TV with surround sound. “It’s in my beautiful apartment, and I just got internet service, so I can watch movies on my TV,” he says while showing off his east Portland studio apartment.
His place is small but has everything he needs — a bed with his Green Bay Packers blanket, a bathroom, and a kitchen with a stove and a refrigerator. There’s simple decor — plants, a soft pink petal flower sitting on his lamp shade and trinkets he’s picked up over his past two years in recovery.
The last time Grove publicly spoke about his recovery, he had just found his studio apartment and was interviewing for jobs. Today, he works for Central City Concern’s Clean and Safe and Clean Start Program.
He helps clear debris off Portland’s downtown and eastside streets and sidewalks. He helps maintain the daytime storage containers where he once stored his belongings when he was homeless. Today, he is thinking about those times. The Central City Concern case manager who has worked with him for over a year, Brennan Edwards, has come to visit.
It was Edwards who helped Grove in his journey from temporary shelter to permanent housing with services offered through LEAD® or Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion.
The pilot project, now entering its third year, has connected more than 145 people struggling with addiction to services. LEAD® allows police to redirect someone facing low-level drug offenses to case managers or treatment programs and away from jail or prosecution. Caseworkers like Edwards reach out to clients on the streets and can also refer people into the program.
Grove was one of the first to participate. Police found him underneath the Steel Bridge with a syringe in hand and a serious heroin addiction more than two years ago.
“The officer who was going to arrest me asked me if I had heard of the LEAD® program, and I told him no,” Grove said. ”And he said, ‘Would you be willing to go into a program instead of going to jail?’ and I said, ‘absolutely.’”
Grove’s path toward recovery was not quick. Or easy. He experienced more than one relapse since his entry into LEAD®. And he’s working to overcome his challenging past. Family life was never stable for Grove — who grew up in Florida and California and many neighborhoods in between. At age 5, Grove was introduced to drugs. By age 8, he believes he had been introduced to every drug there was. He was in and out of schools and jail.
“I was taught that happiness was found in drugs. Not in relationships or love but drugs,” he says.
Grove first encountered law enforcement around age 13, when he stole gold chains and jewelry from an acquaintance's home. His criminal record grew from there, culminating in a 15-year federal sentence for illegal gun sales in his early 20s. At times, he was able to move past addiction and incarceration. He had a family, a job and a home. But dependence on heroin and other drugs crept back.
When officers found Grove under the Steel Bridge, he was privately skeptical a diversion program could work. “I was pretty resistant at first, probably for a couple months, but the caseworker would help me down and talk to me.”
A program designed to reduce harm
It took Grove several months before he trusted another of his caseworkers, Whelan Welch. When Grove failed to show for scheduled meetings, Welch would find him on the streets and take him to lunch.
“He never pushed on me. He would just tell me that I want to help you get your life together, and we ended up becoming good friends,” Grove said. “And one day I woke up and said, ‘It’s time.’”
The “non-pushy” style is a core principle of LEAD®. It recognizes that recovery doesn’t happen overnight — and not until a participant is truly ready.
It requires patience, Edwards says. “We don’t tell people what they have to do. We really try to be as collaborative as possible and empower people to access resources that are appropriate for them rather than push them into something that they’re not comfortable with and not likely to engage with.”
The LEAD® program originated in Seattle in 2011 in response to sex trafficking victims and low-level drug offenders churning through the criminal justice system. A 2015 study by the University of Washington found that fifty-eight percent of participants were less likely to be arrested after enrollment in LEAD® compared to those who went through the “system as usual.” The Seattle program and Multnomah County’s program were designed to reduce the harm that drug offenders cause themselves and the surrounding community. Developing a relationship with a caseworker and — allowing the client to advance toward goals they’ve personally identified, such as treatment, employment, and mental and physical health needs — makes the difference in their recovery, Edwards says.
Grove had access to resources through the program: A place to wash his clothes. A place to shower. Even a place to heat up his food while he waited to get on a list for housing. While staying in a local shelter, Grove stored his belongings in Central City Concern daytime storage containers. Freed from having to haul his things around, “I could go to court, I could see my PO (parole officer), I could go to the housing office,” Grove said. “I could go to the food stamp office. I could do things during the day that normally I wouldn’t be able to do with if I had to lug a bunch of stuff.”
Edwards was able to move Grove from temporary housing to permanent housing — and into a “nice livable space.” “Ty had already been participating in Community Volunteer Corps, which then led to him becoming a Central City employee himself, which is still the case today,” said Edwards.
It was not a free ride, Grove stresses.
“Don’t just think that you’re just going to get into the LEAD® program and that’s it. You’re going to have to make appointments and go places and do things and be positive. And you’re going to have to put some energy into it and work. But,’’ he added, “ they’re going to be there to help you put it all together.”
Belief in a different way
LEAD® officially launched in Multnomah County in March 2017 with a start-up grant through the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge. The program has continued into its third year with funding from Multnomah County.
As of May 2019, 182 individuals have been enrolled in LEAD®, with 145 still actively engaging in services and meetings with caseworkers.
As part of efforts to evaluate the program’s effectiveness, the County is undergoing an extensive review — analyzing both quantitative and qualitative data.
“We’ll be answering questions such as ‘Do LEAD® participants engage in less criminal activity or do participants perceive a change to their own ability to support themselves,’” Abbey Stamp, executive director of the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council.
“We’ll be looking at the program’s impact on the community, and whether LEAD® participants are having their legal, housing, health, and financial needs met,” she said.
Last year, LEAD® expanded from downtown Portland, Old Town/Chinatown and the Lloyd District, east across the Willamette out to SE/NE 12th, north to Interstate 84 and south to SE Powell. In addition to Portland Police, Multnomah County Sheriff’s Officers can also make referrals to LEAD®.
"Ty's story illustrates how the LEAD® model can be highly successful in assisting some of our most vulnerable community members find a recovery path," said Karen Kern senior director for Substance Use Disorder Services at Central City Concern. "Because of the unique approach partnering with law enforcement and utilizing harm reduction and self-directed strategies, people who have had multiple contacts with the criminal justice and emergency medical systems are finding hope, health and a new life."
“It’s important that we take these steps,” said Stamp. “We know that behavior can change, but we need a continuum of services so that when an individual is ready to make that change, someone is there for them.”
Today, Grove describes himself as self-sufficient. He is able to pay his bills and rent.
“Brennan here helped me get my new license and got it all changed over,” Grove said. “I also participate in society. I give, I help instead of taking.”
Grove aspires to one day work in the LEAD® program.
“The opportunity to dig myself out of that hell that I was in,” Grove said. “I have come a long way."
For the first time in my life I don’t have to rely on other people, he continued. “I’ve had a lot of help getting here.”