PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — For months, Portland city officials have struggled to find a solution for both the housed and unhoused people living at a Laurelhurst camp. Sunday morning, the city posted notices that the campers had 72 hours to leave.
Despite ongoing reports from neighbors, the city said it posted the notices at the camp because a city contractor who showed up to service the porta-potties witnessed several guns being pulled and violence threatened.
Portland officials said they’ve tried to balance public health and safety for everyone in the area of Laurelhurst Park.
When KOIN 6 News went there Monday, there are rows of tents, cars, RVs, garbage and other items that span two streets. The city said it’s dedicated numerous resources to picking up trash and hazardous materials.
“The Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program has spent a total of $144,566.50 for Rapid Response Bio Clean to perform cleanups at Laurelhurst Park from May 13, 2020 through July 15, 2021,” said a spokesperson for the program. That does not include the costs connected with responses from PPB, PFR and Portland Parks and Rec.
The cost to lease and service the porta-potties is $650 per week, funded by the city’s CARES act, she said.
The neighborhood association said several people have been attacked and harassed by campers outside their homes and in the park. One neighbor told KOIN 6 News they hear screaming coming from the camp at night and have made countless reports about outdoor fires.
They told KOIN 6 News a tent caught fire in the middle of the night once.
“There’s garbage everywhere,” said TJ Browning, the safety committe chair for the Laurelhurst Neighborhood Safety Association. “Sharps containers were put in the camps. There’s used syringes everywhere and it isn’t all campers. But because it’s so unsafe for anybody to go into that camp that even if neighbors wanted to help, how do you identify who is safe and who isn’t safe?”
Salamander Bass, who lives at the camp, said everybody seems surprised and confused by the order to move.
“We don’t know where they expect us to go,” Bass said. “The best thing we can do is cross the street.”
The city said outreach workers visited the park at least weekly for a year to try to connect people with services and are holding shelter beds for people displaced from the park.
“You shouldn’t have to choose between somebody living outside in the elements being able to have housing of some sort and people living in fear in their houses who can’t go outside because of being attacked by somebody in a mental health crisis,” Browning said.
A spokesperson for Governor Brown’s office said every person in the state coping with mental struggles should have help ready and available for when they need it.
“Governor Brown believes that every person in Oregon grappling with a serious mental illness deserves access to the services they need, when they need them, regardless of their income level or background,” Deputy Communications Director Charles Boyle told KOIN 6 News Monday. “The Governor worked with the Legislature to pass a $350 million groundbreaking investment and system reforms this session, and she continues to stand ready to work with willing local government leaders to address long-term issues of housing, homelessness, and behavioral health in our communities.”
“Governor Brown’s recommended budget made investments informed by the recommendations of the Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission (ADPC) Strategic Plan, the Tribal Behavioral Health Strategic Plan, the Governor’s Behavioral Health Advisory Council, and the Racial Justice Council. The final package she and the Legislature agreed to included investments in workforce development, grants for innovative community investments and, with HB 2086, a new integrated approach that will align behavioral health programs statewide to improve services for Oregonians. In addition, the Legislature passed a historic investment of approximately $700 million in affordable housing development and permanent supportive housing.”
“State agencies are working to distribute these resources quickly and efficiently, so more Oregonians can be connected with behavioral health and housing services. We have more work to do, and look forward to partnering with willing local leaders to connect Oregonians with the services they need. It will take all of us working together, at the local, state, and federal levels, to address these issues. Cities and counties must use the mental health dollars they receive to work to identify mental health needs and access to services if they pursue options like clearing public areas where people have set up camps.”