By Nancy Tannler

A meeting of SE Uplift board members and local citizens  quickly convened to discuss Mayor Hales proposal to move the Right 2 Dream Too (R2D2), a nonprofit organization, camp to the Central east side. Board members were under the assumption that a decision about the location of this property was imminent.

In October of 2011 the homeless camp was established on private property at 4th and W Burnside with the property owners consent. R2D2 developed into a closely monitored rest area for Portland’s homeless. Mayor, Charlie Hales believes that over the years the community “is doing valid work in a special way that no government agency ever thought of.”

Now the owner of the property wants to sell the land and R2D2 needs to find a new home. That is why Josh Alpert, director of strategic initiatives to the mayor, attended the SE Uplift Board meeting, to explain the City’s position and to assure those in attendance that the urgency that percipitated the meeting wasn’t an accurate timeline.

According to Alpert the City has been searching for property to move the camp for a couple of years. When asked about the fact that once again the east side was chosen for another social service site, his response was that they had looked everywhere including the west side. A piece of property under the Burnside Bridge was proposed three years ago but developers bought the property and in compensation gave the city $850,000 towards the next R2D2 location.

A parcel of ODOT’s surplus property at 3rd & SE Harrison became available and it has a lot of the criteria needed to form another R2D2 camp. It meets the  $850,000 financial budget; it is within  two miles of central city; there’s minimal impact on neighbors and the neighborhood; there’s enough space for the amount of campers and the zoning is compliant. Currently an environmental review is being conducted to find out if it is a safe location.

Alpert has actually spent time in the R2D2 encampment on W. Burnside so he had some first hand experience about how the place is run and what it’s like to sleep ten feet from W. Burnside Street.

R2D2 is open 24 hours a day with a quiet time between 8 pm and 6 am. It is offered as a place for people to sleep safely without having to worry about their belongings being stolen or physical injury being inflicted upon themselves.*

The founders of R2D2 no longer live at the site because they have found work and housing elsewhere. Their involvement keeps it running smoothly because of their experience as houseless people. Otherwise it is managed and organized by the campers who patrol the vicinity to keep an eye on any potential problems throughout the day and night, they keep the place clean and do some graffitti removal. There’s a cooking area where people are encouraged to prepare and share meals  The campers are checked in and out every night.

There are about 15 – 20 permanent members who have the training to help new residents get stabilized. There is space for seventy campers per night, first come, first serve. No drugs or alcohol are allowed on site.

Alpert said that these people don’t require much, they are used to living in harsh conditions and find some solace and security here at R2D2. But even in this protected zone it is noisy and bright all night long–difficult to stay asleep he said.

Since SE Uplift learned from Alpert that the 3rd & SE Harrison location is not a done deal they decided to gather more information before giving a formal response. Debbie Kitchin, president of the CEID, and one other citizen voiced their concern that the idea of a tent city sets a bad precedent. The OMSI representative is opposed to the location since it is so close to their parking lot.

R2D2 board member and co-founder Ibrahim Mubarek spoke with The Southeast Examiner and the HAND neighborhood association. The term Mubarek uses to describe the customer’s he serves is houseless. He said they’ve changed the name to better define the situation and  people. There’s the adage, “home is where the heart is,” and these are not heartless individuals.

So far the R2D2 program has helped 250 people find housing and 235 people find employment. “We know that sleep is the important first step in helping people become productive again,” Mubarek said.

When asked about his thoughts on the proposed new site, Mubarek said that it will work if that is all the city can find. His concerns are the transportation to services and the comraderie that happens around the current location on West Brunside.

Homelessness (houselessness) has been with society forever. In the 1980s Ronald Reagan’s administration cut the funding to the Federal Housing and Urban Development budget forcing a lot more marginal people out of their homes and onto the streets. Plus many public mental health institutions closed, which forced these people to live independently too.

Here in Portland, Mayor Bud Clark offered unprecedented leadership on solving homelessness. Since that time we have a national reputation in the fight to reduce and end homelessness.

The ideal said Mubarek is for the people to be able to afford housing but until that is a possibility “this problem will remain the problem.”

It is no wonder that Mayor Hales and the City plan to move ahead with this model for the homeless and if the location at 3rd & SE Harrison isn’t the solution than they will find someplace else. As Albert put it this isn’t a conversation about convenience but necessity.

*(Over the years the drug of choice for users has changed from heroin to cocaine and now meth. Meth addicts are much more aggressive, ruthless and have less conscience than either heroin or cocaine users so the problem of violence is accelerating towards the innocent homeless. There has been a huge influx of these homeless users to Portland and that is why places like the Springwater Corridor, the Eastbank Esplanade and the CEID are becoming overrun with campers.)