By Nancy Tannler
Homeless camping and the negative impact on the neighborhood compelled the Laurelhurst Neighborhood Association (LNA) to hold the Laurelhurst Safety Meeting last month. In attendance were hundreds of neighbors and several City employees who could supply answers to their concerns.
Scott Pratt, moderator and chair of LNA said that they want the situation to change but they want real solutions, not to move the problem to other neighborhoods.
The LNA suggests the City pass a Safe Zone Ordinance that sets a 1,000 foot boundary around athletic fields, playgrounds parks and beaches, fining or imprisoning anyone who uses drugs, urinates or defecates or camps within those boundaries.
Speakers from the four quadrants of Laurelhurst gave testimonials about the impact this new migration of homeless people has had on their lives.
Everyday, neighbors are confronted with a shanty town, its inhabitants and their pets. Since there are no restrooms, trash receptacles, drug control or sanitation, this all spills out onto the sidewalks, the park and in people’s yards.
Every one of the speakers told shocking stories of watching people defecate in their yards and having to clean it up; 400 needles were recently collected in the area; trash is thrown everywhere and attracts rats and gross smells; after multiple crimes of violence, Laurelhurst Park is not a safe place for the children to play anymore.
Complaints throughout the evening noted that, until now, no one in any of the City departments seemed capable of doing anything about the many problems. Each department pointed the finger at one another to solve it. The question is why?
When given the opportunity to defend the allegations, each of the bureaus’ representatives tried to reassure residents that things would improve in the future and to explain why circumstances have become so extreme.
Commissioner Dan Saltzman said the Mayor’s new budget includes money to address the issue. An example of a hidden City expense is the many abandoned automobile and RVs that need to be towed. In 2012, 7,000 cars and 2,500 RVs were towed. In 2016, 27,000 cars and 4,000 RVs needed to be disposed of. Saltzman said it is time all the bureaus come together and try to solve the homeless difficulty.
James Allison, Land Steward of Portland Parks & Recreation says that there are only twelve Park Rangers for the 144 parks in the City. They work seven days a week and sometimes there aren’t enough Rangers to do a thorough job at each park. Consequently needles are left lying around, and human waste and trash goes unattended.
Marc Jolin, Joint Office of Homeless Services, lives close to Laurelhurst Park and understands the urgency of the problem. He said that on any given night, more than 4,000 people are camped on the streets of Portland.
What his agency has done recently to encourage more people to take advantage of services available is to lower the barrier for admittance to housing that is already available. This means men and women can stay together, they can keep their pets and have a place to safely store their belongings.
Jolin said a new 650 bed facility recently opened and they are working with Cascadia Behavioral Health Care to get help for those willing to accept it. Jolin denies that most homeless people come from out of state to Portland because of the programs and leniency of the people towards them. He says only a small percentage does.
Larry Graham, Captain at Portland Police Bureau, gave a compassionate view of the difficulty the police department is having dealing with this humanitarian crisis. From personal experience, he spoke about the pain in the life of a homeless person. They are often mentally and/or physically ill and addicted to something.
The previous City administration had the Anderson Agreement that stated police had to give twenty-four to forty-eight hour notice before taking action on a camper. Going forward, this will no longer be the case. Campers will be asked to leave immediately.
The One Point of Contact app is the best way to let police know if people are camping illegally. Unfortunately, when police try to direct the homeless to agencies that will help them they are sometimes refused.
Another problem for the police is they are understaffed in Portland. Captain Graham said that, in a city this size, there should be 1,300 police but Portland has 900. They are being asked to serve overtime and extended to capacity.
There is camping on ODOT land too and spokesman Jeff Peters said they have never seen anything like this. The percent of people camping illegally has gone up 800%. They clear 1,000 camps a month and there staff is stretched thin trying to maintain roads in the state too.
The different bureaus agreed to join together and begin to problem-solve this crisis.
In closing, Scott Pratt reminded people that this problem has become worse over the years due to the fact that federal funding for affordable housing has been diminishing each year.
It’s important that citizens most impacted by this issue contact their representatives and put some pressure on them to get this agenda back on the table.
It’s time to resolve this national humanitarian crisis.