You Paid For It: Cleaning up camps on Portland streets

You Paid For It: Cleaning up camps on Portland streets – May 15, 2015

The City of Portland has been working on problems with homelessness long before Charlie Hales was mayor.

“People see that, and it’s frustrating on a human level, and it’s frustrating because it’s an unpleasant part of living in the city,” said Hales, “We have a system to get people off the streets and into services.”

We followed a city crew and county inmates as they evicted folks from a stretch of sidewalk in Southeast Portland. Shortly after it was cleaned up, a new camp was set up right across the street.

A few blocks away, David Scott Allen is forced out from beneath a bridge.

“I’m not a street person. I want off the street, I just got stuck with depression from what happened to my mom,” Allen said.

Now he has to find another street where he can set up his four cartloads of stuff. He’s been living this way for five years.

“I gotta do what I gotta do here,” he said.

“It’s kind of a whack-a-mole situation, is that the way you see it?” KATU’s Steve Dunn asks Mayor Hales

“Well just chasing people around and saying you can’t sleep here is not a good solution,” Hales replied.

That’s what the city has done to David. There are non-profit groups in the city that offer help, but David is still homeless.

“I don’t have a good strategy,” Allen said.

The city warns homeless camps before they clear them out. A posted flyer lets everyone know the date and time of the eviction, and a phone number for services to help people get back on their feet.

Homeless groups like the one camping on the Southeast Portland sidewalk see the eviction warning and leave early.

The city has to clean up what’s left behind. Most of it goes in the garbage, but if anything looks valuable – like tents – it’s left for contractors to clean up. The city pays them about thirty dollars an hour to pick up the items, photograph, catalog and store them for thirty days.

There’s a phone number for people to reclaim their possessions, but in a year of doing this, not a single item has ever been retrieved.

“No one has ever come to claim that stuff. Is this something we should be paying for?” Dunn asks the mayor.

“We actually are going to try to change that system and provide places for people who are homeless can store their things and then reclaim them in exchange for agreeing to some basic understanding of how you live on the street and how you interact with other people,” Hales said. “Some code of conduct for those folks who are not yet housed.”

Albany took a tougher approach to the problem. Camp Boondoggle had up to forty people living in a city park in 2006.

Now the city’s mayor, Sharon Konopa was a city councilor when they gave people 30 days to vacate the camp. She worries that people living outside are putting their lives in danger.

She told KATU News that Albany’s homeless population is in decline.

“Since then we have just been more proactive in making sure that tent camps do not start getting established in the city limits,” she said.

When asked why some folks think Portland needs a little bit more tough love when dealing with the homeless, Portland’s Mayor replied, “Well, some folks think we are being too tough.”

Hales said homelessness is a priority. He wants to spend over a million dollars ($1,024,989) of the city budget surplus to help the situation.

“To serve people who are outside in a more humane way then sleep in a doorway or under a bridge,” Hales said.

Most of the money will go to providing housing and rental assistance. The idea is that if people are in a home, it will be easier for them to find a job and deal with drug addiction and mental illness. It might be what gets David back on his feet.