PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Two long-term homeless camps along Northwest 16th Avenue were partially cleared this week.
On Wednesday, Jan. 12, people living under the Interstate 405 overpass in large wooden shacks and tents were rousted by a team of 14 people from Rapid Response Bio-Clean. The team filled six box trucks and one large dumpster with stuff from the camps. Some things will go straight to the landfill, some are deemed personal possessions and can be collected from a warehouse within 30 days.
Kyle Ryan has been a resident since April 2021 on the block between Northwest Quimby and Pettygrove Street. What he calls his bike repair business has spilled into the street over the winter. Ryan said he was surprised by the action.
“I didn’t take it serious because my friend got the flyer and he posted it,” Ryan told the Portland Tribune. “So, I was just waiting to see when the city would come in. And then they did today.”
He said the Rapid Response Bio-Clean team was friendly.
“When they first got here, they came over to figure out what stuff was mine and what stuff was just trash,” he said.
As he spoke he was attempting to build a trailer from a box and bike wheels. He accepted that he had too much stuff to transport. About half of it was bike parts. He had three overflowing tents and sleeps in a covered cot someone dropped off. Rapid Response said they would help him move some of his belongings.
“They said, if it doesn’t have wheels, they can’t move it,” Ryan said. “It’s going into trash, pretty much.”
Ryan said he was looking to move to another camp under I-405, around Northwest 18th Avenue and Savier Street. He said he isn’t interested in a shelter or moving temporarily in with friends in an apartment. “I have too much stuff to bring to somebody’s house. It’s kind of a burden.”
Ryan said he expects to be accepted at this other camp if he doesn’t bring too many possessions.
“I know most of the people around here,” he said. “The people are … chill. They understand what’s going on. It’s kind of a good thing, because I want to downsize anyways.”
A team leader with Rapid Response Bio-Clean, who did not wish his name to be used, explained that although many people at the bigger camp on the next block south were surprised by the call to move, his team allowed them time to sort and move their possessions. The material ranged from furniture to electronics to food to bottles of urine and buckets of feces.
He said the company is used to clearing hoarder houses, and has a process for safely disposing of biohazards such as human waste and used syringes. Tents in good condition that were left behind are cleaned and donated to other homeless people. Rapid Response Bio-Clean is a “second chance company,” meaning it gives people done with prison and probation a chance at employment. He said many on the crew were sympathetic, having been inmates or having experienced homelessness.
As the crew worked, residents wandered the neighborhood with small loads of possessions looking for new, dry spaces to bed down. By 2:30 in the afternoon, only one resident, who gave his name as Brandon, was still there on the site between Pettygrove and Overton streets. He scrambled to move his possessions across the street, making a pile. By 4 p.m. the crew had gone, still leaving significant piles of garbage behind.
Brandon and said he had lived there for two years. He was still carrying bags away on his mountain bike. He said the police had taken all his clothes and his cell phone and was going to protest to Portland’s chief of police.
Back in the bike zone a block north, Kyle Ryan said he had had some close calls working in the roadway with cars almost hitting him. Worse was when a passerby punched him one night, which he assumed was part of a gang initiation.
“I thought it was just some drug addict and a bunch of random nonsense. Since I wasn’t looking at him or engaging with him, he got mad and came into the space and punched me and then walked away,” he said. “It didn’t really hurt that much, but it just caught me off guard. It hurt my pride more than anything. Fortunately, there weren’t anybody to witness it.”
Ryan said, in the bike trade, name-brand frames are popular. Also BMX. “Nobody really uses the brakes … the wheels are the hardest part to keep. BMX is really popular right now. Everybody wants BMX 20-inch wheels with fat tires now.”
He was born in New London, Connecticut, but his family moved to Beaverton when he was small. His family moved back east last year. He has had jobs as a personal trainer and a machinist but quit because he didn’t want to work for someone else. When his family left, he became homeless. During the pandemic, he couldn’t find work.
“If I asked for help, they would probably do what they can, which is not very much right now,” he said.
In the Navy
Ryan was soft-spoken despite the noise of the freeway. “I have chronic back, hip, ankle and knee pain,” he said. “And some mental health stuff like PTSD.”
He said he has post-traumatic stress disorder from being shot at in Afghanistan as a Navy corpsman, a medic for the U.S. Marines. He is on a list for veterans with disabilities housing. He gets medical treatment for past illnesses from the Veterans Benefits Administration. For newer illnesses, he would need to buy health insurance.
He said the orange syringe caps in his camp were left by friends whom he allows to inject drugs “I just made sure that there’s a safe place for them to do it, so they need clean stuff,” he said. “It’s harm reduction.”
What is the worst thing about being on the streets?
“If you’re a materialistic person, probably your stuff getting stolen,” Ryan said. “That’s pretty much constant. And constantly having to be on high alert for the weather, for the people. There some really weird people who come out at night.”