• Fri. Jul 1st, 2022

The high-profile sweep of a homeless camp at Laurelhurst Park in Portland wasn’t the only one

ByDebra J. Aguilar

Aug 4, 2021

On July 29, TV news trucks pulled up along Laurelhurst Park to witness the city’s removal of a 50-tent homeless camp.

It was a delicate operation: the publicized eviction of people from an emblematic park where they had slept for months. That afternoon, the Portland City Council breathed a sigh of relief in a largely peaceful event that saw at least 65 people offered emergency shelter, and three had the tows free of charge. cars they slept in to another location.

That week, the city conducted 11 more sweeps that received far less media attention.

Moving west along Southeast Powell Boulevard from 79th Avenue, city contractors chased campers out of small parking lots along the road. In one of those parking lanes along Powell at 75th, a man was rocking back and forth on the sidewalk, screaming and sobbing.

“They’re taking my stuff, they’re just taking my stuff,” he moaned. “Why do they keep doing this? »

It was unclear whether he was referring to a sweep of the camp. But other people living in the parking lot said city contractors removed the camp two days earlier.

After a year-long downturn, Portland is once again sweeping large homeless camps from its sidewalks, parks and wetlands. The average number of swipes per week has tripled since the start of this year, according to public documents reviewed by WW.

A spokesperson for the Portland Office of Management and Finance, the office that oversees the sweeps, says WW it’s the new normal: he plans to do 10-15 camp moves a week for the foreseeable future, up from four to six sweeps at the start of the year.

That’s still a fraction of the average of the 40 homeless camps that were swept out each week before the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to the OMF spokesperson.

City commissioners tell WW that this common ground is the result of a carefully crafted policy that sets strict parameters for when and where camps are removed.

But it’s also true that the compromise chosen by City Hall — more sweeps than Portland has seen in a year, but far fewer than the previous average — reflects a political balance between the values ​​of a population that views sweeps as cruel to the underdog and a growing number of residents and business owners who believe the city’s inattention to large encampments threatens neighborhood safety.

“The new protocols attempt to balance the need to manage public space,” Commissioner Mingus Mapps told WW, “and the reality that there is currently not enough accommodation space or housing deeply affordable to get every person off the streets”.

Not everyone thinks the city has struck the right balance. Kaia Sand, executive director of Street Roots, says the city is wrong to resume sweeps at any scale without giving homeless people clear instructions on where they can go. (The city-promised “safe rest sites” are still months away from opening.)

“It’s still pretty vague,” says Sand. “What the city really needs to do is give homeless people a map of where it would be safe to sleep.”

When the pandemic hit, the city temporarily halted all sweeps of homeless encampments, only picking up trash and debris. This fall and winter, camp moves have remained rare, sometimes none in a week.

Meanwhile, the size of the camps has increased.

“Due to our COVID-19 protocols, we have significantly reduced the number of camping moves we have performed. As a result, we have seen an increased number of campsites, and some of them have become much larger than we usually see,” a spokesperson for the Office of Management and Finance said.

The last official count of 2019 showed that more than 2,000 people are living without shelter in Multnomah County. During the week of July 18, according to city documents, officials received 1,758 calls or emails about 205 camps and another 523 complaints about people sleeping in vehicles.

In June, the city council, for the first time, passed an ordinance that codified the standards used by the city team that coordinates sweeps to determine which camps were “high impact” and “low impact.” (City officials don’t like the term “sweep” and in the documents refer to them as “camp moves.”)

Camps where complaints are documented are ranked by the city on a scale of 0 to 5, based on a list of factors that include drug use, presence of litter as it affects the neighborhood, proximity to schools , parks or homes, camp size, environmental impact and reports of crime or violence.

A 2018 decision of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Martin v. Boise ruled that local governments could not criminalize homelessness if they did not provide other housing alternatives.

But Juan Chavez, an attorney with the Oregon Justice Resource Center, says Portland skirted the ruling, arguing that its sweeps are being done for security reasons. The city says camps that qualify for a sweep must contain biohazardous waste, have credible allegations of criminal activity, or consist of eight or more structures, among other criteria.

Last week, the list of camps in the city for sweeps grew even longer.

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has introduced new rules to remove campers from urban forest areas, to reduce the risk of wildfires amid a parched summer.

WW Hardesty asked this week if she thinks the city struck the right balance when deciding which camps to remove.

“Not yet,” Hardesty replied. “But what I hope we showed at Laurelhurst is that you can actually take down a homeless camp with empathy, interpersonal skills and de-escalation. It was heartbreaking to have to pull this camp out. But I think with the whole city council working cooperatively, we were able to do it in a way that caused as little harm as possible.

Raven Drake, an outreach worker at Street Roots, wants the city to exercise the same care in all of its camp moves. “[At] Laurelhurst, all the commissioners were there with us talking. A big camp like Laurelhurst is in the public eye,” says Drake. “But when it comes to a camp off Powell and 82nd, there’s not the same outreach that you would in Laurelhurst, where everyone is screaming about it.”

People who have been wiped out say the treatment they receive varies. At 75th and Powell, a homeless couple named Shea and Michael sat in their van.

Shea, who has been homeless for four years, says she was swept away 15 times. She usually has 24 to 72 hours notice to leave. If the campers haven’t left by then, that’s when the police arrive.

“The quick response [Bioclean] the guys are actually pretty cool, they feel for us,” Shea says. “They actually bought me a few things because I needed the money at the time. I had this vintage mini shopping cart, and one of the guys said his daughter would love it and bought it. bought for $5.

But when the police come after the notice has expired? “They look down on us.”

Others say that removing a camp only prevents people from living there for a few days.

While that’s probably not the case for Laurelhurst due to the noisy nature of the neighborhood and the media coverage that surrounds it, people with street experience know to pack their things and come back a few days later.

Paul Woods, a landlord who lives along Powell on 60th Avenue, said the camp in a parking lot near his house was swept away last month. It was repopulated a few days later. It now has nearly 20 tents and 10 cars. He thinks that the camp presents no danger and that the sweeps are useless.

“My grandkids come over and we play in the yard, and I’ve never had anyone disrespect my boundaries,” Woods says. “They’ve moved everyone at least three times in the past two years. Within days they are back.