Parole officers Lisa Lewis and Ron Kates roll through Old Town on bikes to check in on clients. The bikes are part of a new pilot program with the Multnomah County Department of Community Justice.
It’s about 10 a.m. in Old Town, when parole and probation officers Lisa Lewis and Ron Kates hit the streets. This time of day is when many of their clients are waking up in their single occupancy rooms in transitional housing buildings, or wherever they’ve laid down for the night.
The officers want to check up on them to make sure they’re not drinking, using drugs, and are generally keeping on the straight and narrow.
But during the last month, the routine of Lewis and Kates, along with three other probation officers with the Multnomah County Department of Community Justice, has been a bit different. Instead of spending hours pounding the pavement on foot or searching for parking spaces to get to tucked-away places their clients have sequestered themselves, they’ve taken to a new means of transportation.
In April, the Multnomah County Department of Community Justice launched the bicycle pilot project with the aim of making it easier to make contact with clients, many of which are homeless and difficult to contact.
“Being on a bike, you see so much more,” said Lewis.
Wearing black shirts with “Parole Officer” emblazoned on the back and tan cargo pants, Lewis and Kates mount two mountain bikes and head out to several transitional housing buildings run by Central City Concern.
While riding through downtown the officers draw bewildered looks from passersby. One man yelps “whoop, whoop” in imitation of a police siren.
After arriving at the Shoreline, a transitional housing facility, officers ditch their bikes in the lobby and climb the stairs to knock on doors of clients, a routine they’ll do at two more facilites.
“I didn’t do it,” exclaims a man in the hallway jokingly, a claim Lewis said parole officers quickly get used to hearing.
After asking a couple clients how they’re doing, how the job search is going, and doing a quick search for contraband, it’s off to the waterfront to check on some harder-to-reach clients.
Kates works mainly with sex offenders out on parole, many of which are homeless and hard to find. He’s looking for a client in white van that he usually parks by the river that he thinks he’s spotted from the west side of the Willamette. The officers cross the Morrison Bridge and delve into the warehouses that line the Eastside of the Willamette River.
After a quick search, the officers find their man. He’s in his early 60s and wearing a plaid shirt, seated in a white van with the door open. Kates inspects a crumpled paper bag full of medication, while chatting with him. The rapport he’s developed with Kates is evident from the loud bursts of laughter that pepper their conversation.
Kates said that he used to spend hours walking all over down town and the river front and downtown to contact clients, and now gets the same amount of work done on bike.
“You are just more aware of everything,” said Kates who on the ride spotted a particularly dangerous sex offender downtown, and makes contact with him.
On the way back to the office for the paperwork that will consume the rest of the day several passersby stop to banter or ask for directions, an aspect Lewis is fond of.
“I really like the community building aspect,” she said. “You’re more approachable on a bike.”