Veterans say Orchard Knolls housing project has problem with drugs, prostitution
Prostitutes naked in the halls, rampant and obvious drug use, whiskey bottles in the trash.
Those are among the descriptions given by some veterans who are current or former tenants at Orchard Knoll, a low-income housing project on the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus. Two said after they complained to management about the problems, they were handed eviction notices.
Though it’s on the VA campus, Orchard Knoll is owned by the Housing Authority of Douglas County, or HADCO, an independent government body that provides low-income housing at several locations around the county. Orchard Knoll gives preference to veterans who wish to be tenants there. It’s short-term housing. Tenants are limited to a two-year stay and pay low rent for their apartments. HADCO asserts Orchard Knoll is drug and alcohol free.
Samantha Frost, a veteran who moved out of Orchard Knoll in December, disagrees.
Frost is a Roseburg High School graduate who served in the Air Force from 1997 to 2000 in Oman. After leaving the Air Force, Frost went to school in Honolulu and worked in forensic science in several states before family problems brought her back to Roseburg. She was in a car accident about a year ago and lived at the VA’s rehabilitation center for awhile before getting a spot at Orchard Knoll.
Frost said her troubles with management at Orchard Knoll began shortly after she moved there on April 19. In that first week, she complained her apartment had not been properly cleaned. On April 26, she received a “14/30” notice threatening eviction.
The notice stated that her cat had been loose in the halls and that “clumps of cat hair and debris” had accumulated in the hall. Frost asserts the hair came from a dog that was often loose in the hallways.
The “14/30” gave her 14 days to correct the alleged cat problem, or she would be evicted in 30 days.
Frost was allowed to stay, but it wasn’t long before she developed more serious concerns.
She said she observed residents who were visibly intoxicated and on drugs. She also came to the conclusion that several suspicious women who frequented the place were not residents but prostitutes, and that one of the tenants was their pimp.
Frost said when she contacted police about that, they told her to obtain some evidence. So she started taking pictures and asking questions.
The management’s response was to issue her another “14/30” eviction threat. This time, the eviction notice accused Frost of harassing other tenants, and an email exchange between HADCO Director Janeal Kohler and Frost makes it clear that the man Frost was accused of harassing is the same person she suspected was a pimp. There’s no suggestion in the exchange that Kohler viewed the man in the same way.
In that same post-eviction notice email string, Frost urged Kohler to check the facility’s camera recordings over a weekend in July. Here’s how Frost described her own observations about how some tenants were behaving that weekend:
“... there was dumpster diving, shirt and shoes removed, staring at the wall, calling the police on themselves, carrying a suitcase and boots around, passing [out], laying on the floor, praying on the floor, coming through the kitchen door....[The alleged pimp] was definitely methed out going in and out and in and out of different doors all weekend long. There is even blood on the glass on the front door. This place was a drug mecca over the weekend ...,” Frost wrote.
Frost told The News-Review she felt the management was protecting druggies and pimps while persecuting her — a law-abiding, sober veteran tenant. To Frost, that seemed entirely backward. It also seemed like retaliation.
Frost said the illegal activity taking place at Orchard Knoll over the months she lived there was blatant, and several tenants informed managers about it.
Frost confronted one of the alleged prostitutes, who she said admitted she had sex with tenants for money. Another threatened her, Frost said.
She said some of the prostitutes were so well known that the tenants had nicknames for them like “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Bigfoot.” She said one of the tenants told her he was harassed by a prostitute who was naked outside his door.
Frost said the prostitutes weren’t residents, but they’d go from room to room. She said she once observed a tenant point to a woman accompanying another tenant, and say, “Hey am I going to have her later on? Can I have her next?” The other tenant said he’d bring her.
The News-Review spoke with other former Orchard Knoll residents who echoed Frost’s concerns about prostitution and drug and alcohol use there. They described seeing prostitutes come in. They said some residents appeared to be on drugs while others reeked of alcohol, and whiskey bottles were left in the communal trash. And they said management looked the other way, even after they complained.
Ellsworth Moore, a 73-year-old retired Navy Seal, joined Frost in her quest to rid Orchard Knoll of its alleged criminal element. He said he left multiple notes under the onsite manager’s door about the things he observed, and one on a troublesome tenant’s car. Moore told The News-Review the effort got him an eviction notice.
“I got kicked out because I was trying to get the bad apples out of there,” he said.
After he was threatened with eviction, he moved out. He was basically homeless at that point, he said. When we contacted him, he was living with his sister. Moore has post-traumatic stress disorder, which he said he’s been fighting since his service during the Vietnam War. He also served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The people at the housing authority, he said, don’t “have an inkling” what he’s been through.
“I’m not going to live like that,” he said of his stay at Orchard Knoll. “Drugs, alcohol, I don’t drink and I don’t take drugs. I don’t want to be around it. In a roundabout way they did me a favor by evicting me because I don’t want to live in that kind of atmosphere.”
Ellsworth said he believes his efforts helped remove some of the “bad apples” he mentioned.
The facility has a new onsite manager, and current tenants said they’re hopeful about her efforts. The man Frost alleged was a pimp is no longer living there.
A woman who still lives at Orchard Knoll told The News-Review she moved there after a relative died, because she could not afford the rent at other places. At first, she was thrilled to have a place to live, but as the problems there became more apparent her stress began to build. The woman, who is a senior and Army veteran, feared retaliation and asked that we not publish her name.
“I have post-traumatic stress disorder and I’ve had more episodes since I’ve been in this building than I’ve had since I was diagnosed,” she said.
She confirmed that drugs, alcohol and prostitution have been problems at Orchard Knoll. She first realized there was a problem when she entered the community room one evening to find two old veterans sitting there. One had a joint in his cowboy hat and offered her a smoke, while the other said he had some whiskey and asked if she wanted to get drunk.
She has come to believe that drug and alcohol use happens there every day. She has also seen prostitutes coming into the building and spoken to a male friend who had been propositioned by them and who had observed one running naked down the hallway.
“I noticed that they were here what seemed like all weekend long and then they were gone. They were like vampires, you’d see them at night and then they’d be gone,” she said.
She last saw the “vampires” two weeks ago, she said.
Though the problems aren’t yet solved, the woman said she thinks the new manager is trying to clean up the place and was checking on New Year’s Eve to see if tenants were drunk when they entered the building.
Frost moved out Dec. 2, and now lives in a privately-run apartment complex in Sutherlin. She’s contacted an attorney and hopes to file a lawsuit against HADCO. She said the seven months she spent at Orchard Knoll were the most miserable of her life. She definitely did not feel it was the kind of experience that veterans deserve.
“On the very front of Orchard Knoll it says ‘Proudly Welcoming Veterans.’ Yeah right, proudly serving veterans. You’re not. You’re doing us wrong,” she said.
The News-Review contacted Kohler, the HADCO director, who declined an interview and did not directly respond to specific questions sent via email. Instead, she issued a three-paragraph statement. The first explained the history and governance of HADCO, which was formed in 1944 and is run by an independent board, whose five members are appointed by the Douglas County Board of Commissioners.
In our emailed questions, we had asked Kohler if she thought Orchard Knoll has problems with drugs and prostitution. She didn’t answer directly, but her statement asserted it “is an alcohol and drug free transitional housing program that gives a preference to veterans and individuals with supportive services.” The statement also said the staff is “committed to following all regulations such as Fair Housing and Oregon State Tenant Law and enforcing the lease agreement fair and consistently.”
It said Kohler could not “speak to specific cases due to confidentiality restrictions.”