Drugs, prostitution & break-ins, neighbors say homeless camp must go

Items from homeless people litter a homeless camp south of Interstate 84 and north of Northeast 34th and Halsey. (KATU Photo)

Camouflaged by green and black tarps, it's easy to miss this homeless camp south of Interstate 84 and north of Northeast 34th and Halsey. Look closely, though, and you'll find tents dotting the embankment.

Neighbors say it's the source of an increase in crime in the area. Rampant drug use, prostitution, thievery -- neighbors say it attracts more than the homeless.

In the last year Ray Gordon says he and his neighbors have spent hours on the phone reporting this camp to city, county and state agencies.

"You know, it's funny, because I think it's a big shuffling act," Gordon said. "They get moved, and I've seen a guy pushing a cart, and then a week later they come right back."

The majority of the land is owned and operated by the Oregon Department of Transportation. A nearby auto shop owns a vacant lot used to park cars nearby.

ODOT spokesperson Don Hamilton says the state agency frequently enforces illegal camping at this location. Currently, the camp is not "posted," meaning a sweep is not planned. However, Hamilton says crews have been there "a number of times" before.

"We've got to make sure that we are looking out for the well-being of these people, but we also have to follow our obligations under the law," Hamilton said. "[That's] to make sure that the degradation and the litter is not a problem, to make sure the neighbors are protected and to make sure these people are safe."

Gordon says during January's snow and ice storm, the camp swelled to approximately 100 people. He says transients also use his block as a freeway to come and go from the camp.

"I've had a man sleeping on my front yard, and I've called the city, and the police showed up and they said there was nothing they could do," he said. "I make sure I have a point to let them know that I am not happy that this is happening."

Stacy Kean with the Union Gospel Mission says there isn't a one-size fits-all solution to homelessness.

"It's not because you have individual people who are all dealing with her own individual issues," Kean said. "How do we compassionately connect people to the resources that they need?"

Kean says Portland would benefit from a single resource center for the homeless, where they can sleep safely, receive medical attention and get connected to employers.

"We've grown into a much bigger city," she said. "This is one of our growing pains."

Kean says her organization points the homeless to shelters, but currently most shelters are full, and there are daily waiting lists. She says others simply refuse to stay at shelters because they may be victims of abuse or suffer from addictions and don't trust the system or organizations that want to help them.

"There are some hurtles for people to get help when they do want to get help," she said. "If everybody does a little bit, I think that would go a long way to helping people ... ignoring it is not going to solve it."

Gordon says the camp is a major public health risk and safety issue. He doesn't want tragedy to be the breaking point for the city.

"It's not that nobody is doing anything about it; they're helping," Gordon said. "But, it falls on a deaf ear, the city doesn't ... want to hear anything."

Kean says reliable funding will provide more services.

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